By Don Gardner
In 1952 I was enrolled in radio class 67 and
was the senior of four section leaders—the only seaman who had served a
three-year tour and reenlisted.
But first a short digression.
One person in my section was Nicholas
Adamshock. Nick had been a movie extra in Hollywood until joining the Coast
Guard. Nick kept our class entertained with the usual imitations of Cagney,
Grant, Bogart, and Edgar G Robinson. Everyone liked his impersonations and
personality. His stage name was Nick Adams, the name of a character in one of
One night outside our barracks, Nick and I
talked about Hollywood. Like so many others during this period, Nick had joined
the Coast Guard to put in his military time during the Korean War. Drafting men
into the Army or Marines was law then, and recruiting was no problem for the
Coast Guard, for many young men thought the Coast Guard was a better choice.
Nick wondered what I thought of his chances in
Hollywood after his enlistment expired. His only on-screen role had been as a
Western Union messenger boy who delivered a telegram. His one line had been,
“Telegram, M’am.” Nick may have hoped I could provide sagacious advice—I
told him to forget a career in Hollywood because his chances of breaking into
the acting business were miniscule.
A few years later my wife and I were watching No
Time for Sergeants, starring Andy Griffith, when Nick’s face popped up on
the screen as Andy’s sidekick. Nick made quite a few movies in minor roles. He
was in Mister Roberts and had a
starring role as Johnny Yuma in the TV series The
Rebel. I don’t give advice anymore about Hollywood.
One of our instructors, and most interesting,
was Chief Roach, a strange personality who smoked a corn-cob pipe a
là General MacArthur. Oddly enough, he also looked like MacArthur. During
the first week of RM school, I noticed Chief Roach had a distinct limp in his
left leg. The next day, the limp was in his right leg. When I asked one of the
instructors about this, he diplomatically advised me that Chief Roach was
‘different’ and I should ‘continue copying code because it won’t affect
you like that’. Well, I did and it did.
Chief Roach regaled us several times with his
code-copying ability. He could send the code characters backward, and at the
same time go from Z to A in the alphabet. For example, Z is ‘dah dah di dit’,
backward it is ‘di di dah dah’. Combine backward Morse with going through
the alphabet backwards and you have something only someone who is
‘different’ could do—or want to do, for that matter.
But even though Chief Roach dwelt in the outer
limits, his enthusiasm for Morse code made itself felt among us lowly students.
His advice was to read signs aloud and spell them out in Morse. On the liberty
bus into New London on Friday afternoon, one could tell the RM school students
by the sounds they made while reading the advertisements aloud in code.
Near the end of our training, Chief Roach gave
a remarkable demonstration of his code-copying ability. We had heard that he
once held the world record for copying code and asked him to demonstrate. Roach
mounted a tape in the keyer, set the speed to 45 or 50 wpm and began copying,
but not until thirty seconds or so had passed. Several of us had been copying in
the 30-somethings, but not solid. Occasionally, I could pick up a long
character, usually a number, as Roach punched away at the telegraphic
typewriter. It dumbfounded me how he could copy so far behind hearing the actual
character and carry on a conversation with us at the same time.
Sure enough, when the tape stopped, Chief
Roach continued typing. When we looked at the paper in the typewriter, it was
perfect copy. A classmate, Bill Heidig, who was a ‘ham’ operator (now W2KM)
and could copy faster than anyone in our class, verified the speed as 45 plus.
Since that time, I learned to copy somewhat behind the actual character as it was transmitted. You can ‘replay’ in your mind the code you heard, but it requires many hours of copying to do this. Chief Roach had spent years in order to display that ability in radio school
Postscript From Jack - As a staff instructor at the Groton Training Station several years later, there was a story told about a Chief Radioman from the past who walked down the street reading code into flashing neon lights. I wonder what he would have read into the Seven Brothers sign.
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