RM 2/C WE, USCGC Kickapoo, USCG Algonquin, USCGC Faunce, Radio Station WAX, USCG
CHAPTERS * The Farm * The Coast Guard * After the War *
Where do I start? Well start at beginning I guess. I was born August 7, 1920 in Orangeburgh, South Carolina. My dad and his brother owned a grocery store. They carried the local farmers for credit til cotton picking time, when they would come in and pay after the sale of cotton. When I was a year or so, they would let me ride on the wagon on delivery of groceries. The boale weaver came and ruined all the cotton and the farmers were unable pay. The store was no longer able to stay in business. So we must leave South Carolina, but where?
I guess they talked over the problems and decided on Florida. Dad left and traveled to Florida and found a place near Orlando called Winter Garden, a place that was a farming community. He planned to use his Model T Ford to buy produce and sell to stores in Orlando. He bought a house in Winter Garden and somehow asked his brother to bring my mother, my sister six weeks of age, and me, two years old, in his 1920' s buick. So to Florida we went.
We were seated at last in the buick ready to go to Florida. There were no roads just wagon trails. When we would come to rivers and streams, the driver would let the passengers out of the car and he would drive across the bridge and the passengers would walk across. This was because they did not consider the bridges safe. If something happened they would only lose the driver and car. That did not make much sense because passengers would be stranded in the woods. The driver also cut lots of fences that was across the wagon trail.
So far all was told to me by my Uncle Gary who owned the Buick. I was too young to remember. From here on out though it will be from memory.
Not much happened after arriving in Florida except getting to know our neighbors. Sometimes I would go with Dad on his model T truck. If it was winter time he would try starting his truck some time by cranking the truck. If that did not work he would try jacking up rear wheels and try turning the wheel which would make the truck engine turn over. If none of that worked my mother would boil some water to pour on the engine. Somehow he always got it started.
We would travel the country side looking for vegetables he could sell in Orlando. One of our neighbors owned a service station. They had a son named Wilson. We became very good friends.
The time spent in Winter Garden was carefree. Wilson and I would visit each other. Sometime we would visit Lake Apoka. I dont remember the distance, but I I do know it was too far for a couple of kids to roam and possibly get in trouble. There was some ones row boat, we would turn it over. On the way home we threw rocks at passing motorcars, but we were not strong enough to hit any cars. The Griffins had a very nice house. On one visit I spilled grease on kitchen floor. I was sure I WAS IN TROUBLE but was forgiven. Not long now I will be going to grade school in Winter Garden and soon to have a little brother.
From 1920 to 1924 life was pretty well typical. But then things begin to change. The stork brought me a baby brother. We named him George. Things begin to change maybe my parents thought I should begin to take some responsibility. Well I was getting close to grade school. But Wilson still would get in our little problems such as the trips to the lake.
A Mister Tucker lived across the dirt road. He was from Kentucky. He had a dog that contacted rabies in his front yard and was coming toward him. Mr. Tucker got his gun and shot the dog. Suppose the gun did not fire! He was a brave man. Wilson and I had been playing over there. I was watching from the dirt road. I am still afraid of rabid animals.
I'm six years now, at this point, and will be astarting school soon. But first Dad and Mother went to Orlando and brought home a new phonograph. The neighbors sat around the living room and listened to records and said the sound was wonderful. It was a Sonora. Of course you had ro wind it up. Mother still had it and the records when I left.
Well next I started to school and was beginning to write, but Dad was working on future plans. He traded his truck for a two seat touring car model T. One morning my sister Mom and Dad and baby brother and I would take a trip from Winter Garden. I did not know we would not come back. We arrived in Clermont and not much there other than a flowing well with shade trees and had lunch which mother fixed for the trip. That must have been our first rest stop. After lunch down the road a piece we ran into a rain storm Dad put up side curtians, but my sister and I in back still got still got wet.
We continued on our way and finally came to a steel bridge with enough room for one car. If you met a car on the bridge, one car must back off the bridge in the direction he came from. We crossed the bridge and saw nothing except thick woods and a very steep hill. I doubted the model T could climb the hill. The model T ford to our surprise did climb the hill and a beautiful small city came in view.
We are in Worthington. We rode down the street sight seeing our new home and one side of the business district. We see two stores. The other side was a Bapist church and a Methodist. Next came two more stores and a natural spring which was a beautiful resort and recreation area. There was a dance pavilion and swimming in the spring. Folks did not travel much. Why should they, all any one would want any place was in the little town. There was a railroad station and a hotel. Folks from afar woul take the train and spend their vacation in the resort town of Worthington. Very nice for young people; swimming in the pool, a building for eating and dancing, also a bank if you wanted to cash a check.
After we toured the town dad met Mr. Tom Rimes, who owned a farm and house near edge of town. We went to work and planted a crop. I guess he leased the farm and house for a year. Next we moved about a mile into a small house and farm near the railroad tracks. I watched the trains go by. I think the year was about 1927, which made me about seven years old. We walked to school, about a mile to school. While there Dad bought a 1928 truck, no body or cab, just a motor and chassis.
When I was about Dad made a deal with Mr Rance Andrews for 320 acreas of land Dad promised to pay 5000 dollars, payments due when he sold vegetables. He bought 4 mules and a truck, the property had a house and 2 tennant houses. The farm would have to support the farm animals, our family, grand father and grandmother. This was 1928 I was in second grade in Worthington School. I soon learned how to work during summer and before and after school. Mr Hale who was our neighbor about a mile down the dirt road told Dad "that land would not grow anything and had enough snakes to put a fence around the entire farm. We soon found all this to be true.
Ok here we go well we are settled in our new home. The days went something like this; up around six eat, a good breaskfast, and go work in the fields, come in for lunch, back in fields around 1 oclock, and work til sundown, then feed the mules, the chickens, the hogs, get wood in house to cook with, go about several hundred yards to a well for water for horses household use, by then it is well after dark, eat supper and to bed. We never needed sleeping pills.
No electricty. We used Kerosene lamps and wood for cooking and heat. Sometimes we had a battery radio. When the battries went bad I would ask my mother "when can we get some batteries?" answer "when we pick the beans". We had vegetables Dad sold at market in Jacksonville. Of course we planted other things for our own use and the animals they took care of us and we them.
This was in the hot summer time but when we went to school things changed. Eat breakfast dressed for school, and do your chores while watching for the school bus, drop everything and catch the bus, after school change clothes and get in the fields till dark, get your supper, and to bed. It sounds a little rough but not a bad way to bring up a kid. He will not fear anything or any one and it will give him a long life and respect for other people. This routine lasted about 12 years. Saturday after noon some times we would go fishing in the New River. Saturday night we would visit the girls. They were always home. Nobody had a phone.
We did have our good times. On Sunday to church or Sunday school and riding in the woods on horses or taking the pickup and go riding with friends. One Sunday my friend Elton, his cousin Ruth, Clara and I were riding around and suddenly the girls said there is JF and friend from Gainesville in a nice Plymouth. Do we want to go with JF? I said fine and let Ruth and my sister out. I aggravated them a little to teach the girls a lesson, when you go with me you come back with me. I said to myself I knew a mudhole down the road a car could not go through. I headed for the mud hole. I knew car could not go thru but the truck had 700 x 17 tires for heavy loads. The truck went on thru but the Plymouth stuck down to the axles. Clara got home sometime before daylight monday morning. She did not forgive me for a long time but she learned her lesson.
One Sunday while riding around I noticed the gas gauge told me time to buy some fuel. I stopped at Cox gas and grocery station and asked Mrs. Cox for a gallon of gas. I will be back later and pay her for the gas. Her answer no you pay for the gas now. One gallon of gas was ten cents. My family had a good reputation, a hand shake was all that was necessary for any contract. One thing for sure, I am probably the only person that remembers her. What an insult not trusted for ten cents! I drove home and dad ran out of gas miles from a station.
Dad and I spent our Saturday cutting oak wood with crosscut saw and axes. We loaded the pickup and he said take the truck deliver the wood and bring back five dollars. I did this except the five dollars. I started for home. There was a cross road in Lake Butler. When I came to the cross road there came a chauffer driven Lincoln far exceeding the speed limit. I put on brakes on the old truck had no brakes. The truck bent the rear hub cap. A man got out of the car and said boy you got brakes on that truck. I replied yes sir, good brakes. Well you owe me four tires and a hub cap. No sir but I will replace your hub cap. We drove up the street and bought one Lincoln hubcap. The Lincoln left and I drove on home. Dad was waiting and asked me if I delivered the wood. I replied yes. He said well give me the five dollars. I replied I can't. Why not? Cause I bought a Lincoln hub cap. This little story would have more meaning if you knew my dad. He would repair nothing on his truck.
About 1939 or 1940 I spent part of the summer working at Camp Blanding, as an army camp civilian employee working for Starret Bros. and Edden, General Contractor. My job was digging stumps and palmettos for 30 cents an hour. Later I got a raise loading lumber on trucks, now making 49 cents an hour. I saved enough to buy a 1937 Chevrolet. I thought I was doing pretty good. 40 cents would buy 4 gallons of gas. I was thinking then about joining the military, although with out my knowledge Dad had got me a farm deferment which I did not want.
My last days on the farm. Dad planted forty acreas of butter beans. That was unheard of. Eventually the began to bear fruit. Dad hired someone with a truck and he stayed on at the farmers market and left me to see to the beans. I hired people to pick the beans haul them to the barn and spread them on the floor so they will not turn yellow. Stores would think they were old if they were yellow. The truck would come by and I had to put the beans in sacks and load the truck. We did this during the growing season and I was getting pretty tired. Dad came home and I was going to work. He said in a rough voice what are you doing going to work after eight o clock. Dad had paid off the mortgage and was debt free and I was pretty weary and very angry. I will not repeat what I said to him except "I will be leaving in the morning."
The Coast Guard
I left the farm here shortly after the outbreak of WWII and joined the Coast Guard in April of 1942. I went through boot camp.
The boot camp was in Portland, Maine. Along with learning to fire machine gun and 45 pistols and rifles my other duties was as mess cook. The captain made inspections and gave me an excellent report but after he left I found an old dish cloth with which I had cleaned the area a FEW DAYS AGO, it was full of maggots. Goes to show no one is perfect, even commanding officers.
As I said I was in charge of steam table and coffee maker for a while. Then I was given a promotion which was captian of the head. Not bad it consisted of running a hose around the crews bath room then go on liberty. I would go out side there in Portland. Maine, catch a semi and visit neighboring towns. It was winter time in Portland and pretty cold. I went to saco biddefore or portland for liberty. I also did my part of guard duty around the training station. Once saw a phesant wanted to shoot it with rifle but sure would cause a commotion if they heard a gun shot out side the station. After about six weeks training was given ten days leave to go home to Florida, I took the train to Florida but when I arrived home after traveling probably about 1800 miles a telegram was waiting report back to Portland immediately. So after staying home for four hours and caught a train back to portlandafter arriving in portland they told me radio school in atlantic city is starting so better get on down to radio school so much for thatt travel another thousand miles or so. Well that is what I had asked for I wanted radio school.
So Boot camp was followed up with radio school for six months. The school was located in the Morton Hotel in Atlantic City, two blocks from the ocean.
Here I began to see some of the signs of the war on the home front. During the war Gasoline was rationed to three gallons a week. You could not get many types of food no meat no icecream etc. People said we in the service was getting it all . This was not true, our crews almost starved and the army had k rations in a can. We also had signs for instance loose lips sink ships and many others. One more thing, America was together we had no groups for this or that, all for war effort.
At the Radio School we were up at six am. We assembled and went marching on the board walk with a drum and bugle corps. I imagine the folks living in atlantic cith hated us.
It was a tough course. We had classes five days a week but Saturdays and Sundays allowed plenty time to go to philadelphia or stay in atlantic city. We had a musician came in every meal at lunch time and played organ music for us. Radio school was plesant as long as you kept your grades but unplesant duties came later as you see. I managed to make a score 22 wpm code. and then I became RM 3/c.
I was on several ships while in the service, the first being the Kickapoo.
The Kickapoo was a World War I coal burner. I went aboard her in Maine, from which she was bound for Provincetown. When I first went aboard the radioman I relieved told me to be careful. The last man on watch had been washed over board and never found.
This was my first time at sea and my first radio watch. I did manage to get a CW message from Boston down on my first watch. My time on the Kickapoo was brief, though, for when we reached Cape Cod and Provincetown, Massachussetts I went on Liberty. While I was gone something happened to the old ship. At least I had nothing to do with the poor old thing breaking down.
But with the Kickapoo out of service I was without a ship. I was sent to Argentia, New Foundland and went aboard the troop transport Yarmouth for a trip to Greenland. She was a replacement for the Fairfax, a transport which had been sunk in the North Atlantic by Submarine. During the sinking three chaplains; a rabbi, a priest and a protestant minister, gave their life jackets to three sailors. All three chaplains died. All around me were Fairfax survivors on the trip to Greenland. I felt lucky.
Lets take an imaginary trip. You are permanently stationed at Navy 1503 Base in Greenland after the trip on the Yarmouth where most people were praying for a safe passage. Now you have settled in Greenland and are standing your radio watches. Nothing but desolation, no trees, no green grass. Nothing. You are asked to deliver the messages in a cigar box you go out to get in your jeep. It cranked all right but would not move because transmission is frozen. Well after a while it goes and you start out to hand deliver the messages. The wind is so hard it blows you and the jeep into the ditch alongside the road. There you sit in sub zero weather, no one around to help. You have to start wondering if you are going to be able to deliver those messages or not.
Well there I was sitting there in the jeep thinking about home 3600 miles away across miles of water. But I am in a foreign desolate land, nothing green, and very inclement weather. Everyone here is a stranger, no one will know to look for me. There may be hours before any one comes along, maybe even days.
Eventually I thought of something. This jeep has four wheel drive and high and low speed! It just may climb the ice covered side of the ditch! Guess what! The faithful old jeep did climb the icy bank!
So I got the back on the road. A mile or so along the road made a 90 degree turn, now the wind is to my rear. I did not need the engine in the jeep so I switched off the engine and the wind carried me along. I finally reached the communication building, parked the jeep and took the cigar box full of messages. I was ready to deliver them, but the door would not open. I thought it must have been frozen. So I put the messages on the ground and found door was locked. In the meantime the wind caught my box of messages and scattered them all over the yard. I spent a while trying to gather them all up. I looked around all the places I thought the messages might have gone. Well I was lucky, and found all but one low predecent message. I delivered messages and went back to the jeep and put it in high low range and went back to the radio building. There I got a duplicate message went back to communications building and complete ddelivery of the messages, mission complete . All messages were coded. If the enemy could have broken that code I'm sure we would have lost the war. Also if I were captured I could have expected torture for what I knew.
Soon again I was back working my four to eight radio watch in the radio communications building, where the work was copying code from Washington. As always they sent some messages which I then had to deliver. A top secret message, so I figured I better get going. This time though I didn't use a cigar box, but will carry this one in front dungarees pocket and keep my hand on the message!
Sometimes after work in Greenland I would take a walk around for exercise. Going out involved heavy dressing. The young coast guard sailor, if he is granted liberty in Greenland or if he is just going about his duites, had to wear alot of clothing. First layer of clothing consisted of long woolen underwear, in other words woolen long johns. Next is some kind of leather with fur, next to long johns. Then comes another layer of fur covered leather worn with leather turned out away from the first layer. On top of all that he would wear a peacoat. he would top this off with a hat like Daniel Boone and a face mask with polarized sun glasses to prevent snow blindness. Now the man is completely covered completely unrecognizable, If you should meet him you would sure hope he was not the emeny.
I was out on one of my walks once when a fellow sailor asked if I knew the dangers of what I was doing. When I asked why, he replied that if you wander off the road there are deep crevices covered with snow. If you fall through the snow we could never find you, imagine you are stuck deep between the ice with no chance of escape. Greenland was a hostile unforgiving environment.
I was out on another little walk, this time along the road, when I looked at the ships at dock and see that the nearest one is a Coast Guard Cutter. She was named the Algonquin. I figured, I can at least say hello, so I went down to her. Well who is standing at the gangway but my old friend, a code instructor from radio school in Atlantic City. Never thought he would go to sea. My friend, Wassilkowitz, who we called Silkowitz, was so sea sick when I saw him, and his ship is just tied at the dock. I felt sorry for him so I told him "if you can make the transfer I will trade with you". Well after a little talk I went on back to the radio building and went on radio watch and forgot all about what I told Wassilkowitz. I did not really think he could arrange a transfer.
After my four hours on watch I received notice to report to the Algonquin. I was thinking me and my big mouth.
So after Greenland my next tour of duty was aboard the Cutter Algonquin. I went aboard the Algonquin on Thanksgiving Day, 1943. We soon got the ship underway and had to break the ice in the fjord to the ocean, a distance of several miles. That was quite an accomplishment. The ship would get started and run up on the ice about to midships, the props turning all the while. The weight of the ship would break the ice. The ship had thick plates sides AND bottom and weight of the ship was one thousand and five tons. She was 165 ft in length, thirty feet beam and steam turbine engines, very powerfully geared in low, with a top speed of thirteen knots.
For lunch we had dehydrated potatoes and some kind of red meat. Oh yes we don't want to forget the dehydrated ice cream. I never heard from Silkowitz again, but I never forgot him. Never even got a thanks. But that's ok.
The Algonquin during this time was one of three ships on weather patrol from Greenland. The other two were the Tahoma and the Commanche. The Algonquin was the flagship because we carried the senior officer. We also took most of the patrols. The patrols were important to the war planners in England as most of Europe's Weather originated in the Greenland area. But the patrol's were dangerous, being made in small ships alone in rough Northern seas for long periods. No one really expected to survive.
I was in the North Atlantic on the Algonquin on weather patrol for 18 months for preparation for the Normandy invasion. There normally were no other ships in the vicinity during this duty. We also got daily reports about submarines in the area and took on some rescue missions.
We once rescued a couple of British sailors that had been in the water 15 minutes. They were helpless. The Doctor said they would have lasted only five minutes more, twenty minutes as a limit, because the water was so cold.
Occasionally there would be contacts with enemy submarines. There is no more fearsome sound to be in your sack and hear sonar pinging on a contact, especially when there is no other ship around.
The Algonquin was a 165 foot ship. She carried two 3 inch fifty caliber guns and port, starboard and stern depth charges. My general Quarters station was Talker for the port side depth charges. The Algonquin was a good ship with 130 sailors aboard but it took a good sailor to ride. I thought those farm animals could buck but not like the Algonquin in the North Atlantic. When you ate you put your legs around a station and one arm too, it was too rough to sit down. On watch we would get so sea sick we would have to carry a bucket with us. And this lasted for eight months. I have heard that the winters of 1942 and 1943 were the worst in the North Atlantic in 50 years.
We had really rough living. Our chow was dehydrated milk, ice cream, dehydrated burnt toast and some kind of red meat. Quarters was double bunks and very crowded. 130 men on a 165 foot ship. There was no water to bathe or shave with and no hair cuts for up to 8 months.
For entertainment we had first class movies in mess deck when we could get them. One I remember was bathing a beauty film. And there were alway rumors we were going to Boston, which the crew would always believe was coming from the radio room. News was copied from radio station WCX daily. On Code CW we were constantly in contact with Washington with coded messages for the fleet. This was an annoyance to the engineer officer who was in the radio room late at night since he did not know what we were doing.
There was also liberty in Greenland when you got lucky enough to get a little time ashore for a 3 point beer. Some liberty time in Iceland also. Two men had a fight in the radio room and almost killed each other over an Iceland girl they would never see again. No wonder it is that many a sailor's face turns red at the mention of the word Liberty.
There were humorous moments as well. One was a shipmate looking all over the ship for his dress blues - I had hidden them because he had missed our radio message to go to Boston. It took us three weeks to get it from a passing freighter by blinker on a stormy night.
Another humorous incident occured once when we were host to the Commandant of the Coast Guard, "Iceberg" Smith. He was giving a speech on the fantail of the Algonquin. The crew was at attention and as such couldn't move. The wind blew up and the sailor's hats wound up blowing into the ocean in the middle of the speech.
After eighteen months in the North Atlantic we had long beards, glassy eyes and poor health. Our ship doctor gave most of us a diagnosis of malnutrition and we were then given a day off and a ten day leave. I came back to Florida and then returned to Boston.
One day while walking down a street in Boston I noticed an Ensign walking toward me, as he came near I gave him a snappy salute and he offered me a dollar which I refused. When I refused his reply was, You must take it; it is tradition for a new officer's first salute. I accepted the dollar.
I want to mention that we had a nice party in Boston for the ships crew and I still have the picture they took, sometimes I wonder where all the crew are today. I met a lifetime friend on this ship and we still keep in touch although we have seen each other only once since 1944. Our sea time totaled about three years.
After the tour of duty in the North Atlantic and when our party was over the Captain of the Algonquin talked to each of us and said you can select your next duty station, any place in the United States. Most services had their way of rehab, this was our reward for the long sea duty in the Algonquin.
"How about Puerto Rico. San Juan. I hear it is warm there," I replied.
He said "In the United States."
"Well how about Miami. I hear it is warm there too." So Miami it was.
But there was a mistake on my part. I went from subzero temp to eighty or ninety degrees. My blood was so thick from being up North that I was very uncomfortable in Miami. My skin would burn from the heat.
When I first got to Miami, they told me "just report once a day we have nothing else for you. You are on subsistance and quarters." Being on subsistance and quarters meant the service paid for your room and board, not your normal pay. We would have only a hundred bucks a month to live on. So a friend and I rented a house together to save money while we waited for an assignment.
We had liberty all night and not subject to any restrictions except to report in at 8 oclock. We were free the rest of the time. But Miami had a rule, Sailors were required to be off the streets at midnight. This led to the district admiral gave me a little talk. The admiral told me off for being out after midnight. Although I got chewed out, no disciplinary action taken.
After transfer to Miami while still in the Coast Guard was transferred to communication truck for hurricane duty. Pretty soft, sit around charge batteries take truck to beach and call back test signals. One day we did have a hurricane, I think 1945. A fellow named Hickman and I were sent to Richman Air Force base to report on a fire there going on during the hurricane. I stood on the running board and told Hickman where to go, he could not see for the terrific rain. We arrived at the base ok and a reporter was waiting for us to send a report back to the Miami Herald. Hickman and I stayed on the radio telegraph all night and never could get Coast Guard in Miami. I wondered why. They told us later their antenna was down. I would not accept that excuse. There were two communication trucks on hurricane duty. In charge was a chief radioman and two second class rms. Carried on bed of the truck was a large gasoline generator - probably enough to light a sub divisionn. You will not guess what happened, they got stuck in the mud and accomplished nothing. The best plans of mice and men.
I was finally given my station at Hialeah, RM 2/c near Miami. Station WAX owned by IT and T. During this time I met a sales girl in a drug store in Miami. I had no more dates after that being busy. But after the war I went back to see her and we were later married.
The war in Europe ended while I was in Miami. Alot of cars got their tops caved in from the crowds jumping up on them celebrating on VE Day. I remember one Lieutenant chasing a sailor down Biscayne Boulevard to get his hat back. All discipline was off for that day.
From Hialeah, I was sent to the Faunce, a one hundred twenty five foot Cutter stationed at Key West. We just went out and went fishing and waited for planes from Boca Chica air base to crash so we could rescue them.
None ever did. Soon the war was over and everyone was just waiting for points for their discharge.
I went home on leave from Faunce CG Cutter for Christmas 1945. I looked forward to seeing the folks and the boys and girls I ran with. It was a disappointment. At home mules, horses, livestock and barn were all gone. My mother had advanced cancer. There was nothing but weeds in the fields. The boys and girls could not be found. My car had seen its best days. It was a very disappointed Christmas. I did not feel at home. All seemed strange. I sold the car and caught the train back to Key West. I felt more at home aboard the Cutter Faunce.
After arriving back in Key West I went to see Geri and back to the ship. All was friendly and all welcomed me back. Gerry and I were to be married. I got the ring and required blood test January 6, 1946. After a few days my discharge came through. I thought I would take the easy way. I was trained to be a sailor. No further training necessary. Her reply, I did not marry you to be a sailor. That ended that conversation. The wedding party consisted of two shipmates, the bride and groom, and the Methodist minister. I went to the discharge center at Cockspur, Georgia and I sent Gerry home to the farm and to meet the folks. I joined her there about a week later.
After The War
Geri and I stayed at the old farm and came to Jacksonville looking for a place to stay and some kind of job. We had 54 40 from the government but not sufficient for a career. I had a seabag and little savings in Lake Butler Bank stayed home 1 day i do not know how we made it tell
Gerry and I left the farm and arrived in Jacksonville. I went to see, still in uniform, Mr. Hale who was a family friend about a job. He sent me to see Mr. Smith who was a business manager of local IBEW 177. Mr. Smith was upset, but sent me back to Mr. Hale.
Mr. Hale gave me a job as an apprentice neon service man. I went to work erecting neon signs with a journeyman. I made seventy five cent an hour with a raise once a year. Mr. Hale also made arrangement for us to rent a vacant room which had been a store. It was not much, but we now had a roof over our heads and a job with the large amout seventy five dollars a week. We could have done better with the 56 40 from the government but no future.
At the same time I joined a school to learn electricity, which was sponsored by the US government. If I advanced to next grade, once a year a raise in pay. I worked under supervision of a journey neon service or a journeyman electrician. Training lasted four years.
Building a new neon sign. First the pattern man draws a pattern much like a road map from instructions from the salesman, and gives it to the glass man. The glass man is he who heats the glass tubing to form a message. After cooling he pumps neon which gives color red or mecury which gives a blue glow, mix the two in the tube then gives color pink. Different gases in the tube gives different color. In the meantime the sheet metal mechanic is building a metal box, unless the neon will be installed on a building then no box necessary. The neon mechanic will then install the neon and wire the neon using a series of circuit material consisting of a maximun 15000 volt transformer and high voltage wire capable of withstanding the voltage. This info will help one understand the work coming later. Anyway I had a job.
I once spent 8 hours drilling a hole through a brick wall to install a guy wire. They could find most difficult places to hang a sign. Our equipment consisted of three ladders, a block and tackle, and a bosun chair when ladders would not reach.
The work on a neon sign shop was not easy. Sometimes work was erecting box sign. Some times service existing sign. The apprentice or sometimes called a helper was expected to drive the truck, unload the ladders and most of the time repair the sign. If on service duty the tourney would keep time spent on each call for instance change a transformer he put on time about one hour, broken glass tubing one half for each piece. Take the tubing to glass mechanic he would use torch melt the glass together pump glass in repaired tube neon gas for red mercury for blue or combination for pink transformers usually fifteen thousand volts and twenty five pounds. At end of the day jobs must add up to eight hours. When in bosun chair or forty foot ladder it was often necessary to hold on and remove transformer with one hand.
All the electricians and sheet metal men and probably the salesmen were all ship yard employees during the war. I except one exnavy and I was not really happy working there. But I stuck it out for four years till got my neon license electrician license and my fcc amateur license. I would play little tricks on them when I had the opportunity. A journeyman neon man told me to stay in the shop and remove insulation on some wire, do all you can til I come back. Ok, will do he thought I would take the insulation off with a knife but I had other idea the sheet metal crimper would peel the insulation as fast as you could turn a crank. When Mac returned I had wire all over the shop, just bare copper. The shop had bare copper when I left couple years later.
One time I was working on a bill board installing neon on the face when the drill motor shorted. The motor when shorted out became a transformer. I was standing up high on a scaffold. The high current went through me. I almost lost my balance I think it was the worse shock I ever received. Another time I was testing transformers by shorting across two terminals. This was a good transformer. I started to remove the current and pick it up by terminals when one of employees was talking to me. I forgot to disconnect the current and picked up the transformer by the hot terminals and fifteen thousand volts and 30 miliamps went thru my body. I was not the only one playing jokes.
After living in the converted apartment we bought a house. It was rather small with two bath. And we bought an old buick to go to work. We were too far to walk. The kids began to come along and we out grew the house. We spent our weekends traveling the city. We finally found what were looking for out side the city. But it was a dead end street and great for kids. All the kids in the neighbor would come down to play with our kids. A salesman came by one day and asked if all the porch was hers, she said no none of them mine are playing in the back yard with some other neighbor kids.
After about four years with general outdoor advertising, think it is time to move on now. A fully qualified neon service license electrician. I went down to cape canaveral as electrician. I had bought a new ford for 800 dollars and went down there to the mosqito infested sand hill to help build the place which lasted about ten years. Worked six ten hour days, came home Saturday night and went back Sunday night to be ready for work monday am. Interesting work most time as supervisor. I worked in a sensitive area. As you know what was sensitive info probably still is, so though tempting I won't tell any secrets.
I checked in at Canaveral and reported for work. The electrical told me to go on a high scalfold and help the electricians install four inch conduit. I went up the scaffold and the electricians all stopped work to meet the new employee and all showed their union card. Feeling mischievious I replied oh my goodness I passed by sears and forgot to buy my card. The men all said we are not working with that xxxxxx and climbed down to the floor with that I held my card over the scaffold and said here it is. The electricias came back up and went back to work. All is well so much for working union my card now is over fifty years old.
One trip leaving Jacksonville, I took a little known short cut and was talking to a fellow on my mobile radio. It was a wilderless area and telling him about the wild animals in Florida when I came across an old bridge with loose boards. It made a terrible noise which the microphone broadcast. The fellow got excited and told me please be careful in those woods. I told him I will try not to let a tiger attack. His reply I will stay on this frequency and talk to you. I wondered how he could be any assistance a thousand miles away.
As for after the war, I am a licensed electrician. I worked as electrician after the war. I was working as an electrician, as a construction electrian in missles, building Cape Kennedy. We had installed giant pumps to cool the pad when missle was fired. After completion of this phase I came home to jax. I received a call the project would not work and a request to return. Naturally I went back and checked the systen and found a small capacitor that was shorted. I removed the capacitor, something I learned in radio school. I told them to turn it on and the pumps flooded the pad. A crew had worked on the system for sometime before that trouble shooting to find the problem. I was an instant hero. My thought is when young learn all you can about everything, sooner or later you will need it during a lifetime.
One place I recall I worked on was on pad 12 14 17 and verticle assembly near where some of the staff VIP observation is for the shuttle launches. Near where the crawler that transfers the missle from the assembly building there. There is a 16 lead cable one one side of the road and 32 on right side - some of the work I did.
During construction of missle sites I remember once I was told to take my crew and wire the missle silo. I was given two sets of prints after examing them I saw they were conflicting. I asked the engineers which print do we use. His answer was wire at your personal print and we will draw it as is. I used to wonder sometimes why we needed engineers. Many funny stories, like run the conduit and find it went through a supporting member of the building.
I was a member of the Civil Air Patrol after the war. I was teaching cadets morse code til I found out they were using it to pass tests, shall we say, cheat. The teacher did not know what they were doing cause she could not read morse code. I guess they all made hundreds or a+! The students told me it worked, I'm sure it did, but it did not help my class. Well had to give them A for effort.
For ten years I traveled working the missile bases, sometimes with the Air Force, all over the country. Most of my time in missles were Cape Kennedy, Colorado, Montana and Idaho.
I then spent another twenty years employed at several of the prisons in Florida as general electrician for ten years, then instructor and finally as supervisor for ten more. I finished my carrer at Homestead, Florida as Superintendent of Maintenance and Construction and retired in 1982.
I still do radio as a hobby. I have two all bands antennas in the back yard. They are designed by me to withstand hurricane winds, I think. My equipment is American.
My Wife who I met in Miami and I have been married fifty-three years, have 3 sons and 1 daughter, 6 grandchildren and 2 great-grandsons. I am now 78 and in pretty good health.
My favorite duty was as a radioman The duty I was trained for and still my hobby, call sign k4grv, has always been fascinating. I also like to communiate with people and radiomen in and out of the service, in my opinion some of the most respected. I'm sure we would have lost WW2 without radiomen and our codes. Nothing I have said is to be taken as a complaint. America was united in those days, not the same since. They told us in the Discharge Center near Savannah that "Once in the Coast Guard, Always in the Coast Guard". I'm still loyal to that service.
Bob Sandel K4GRV
Robert Sandel in Navy Blues, RM2CWE, USCGC Kickapoo, USCG Algonquin, USCGC Faunce, Radio Station WAX, USCG
USCGC Algonquin - Circa 1937
USCGC Algonquin, Crew - At Hotel Tourine, Boston
Back To Justin Oral History, Navy Biographies
Please Share your Stories! E-mail the Curator to share or discuss or with any questions!