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William (Bill) Webb (WB7NKR)
Sept 21, 2010
My father, like my brother shared a common bond as both had served in the military - brother Randall a Marine was proud to serve as one of "Ripley's Raiders" in Vietnam. My father served in World War II and the Korean War as a Naval Radio Officer serving aboard a number of ships including an LST stationed a close 50 yards from Iwo Jima during the famous battle.
The stories came little by little - in my brothers case too late. Father on the other hand offered up many stories from the era that in little ways shaped my life. My earliest recollections of his determination and study to do things right. His technical abilities - math, electrical engineering and radio operational experience gave me an early appreciation and respect for my old man.. something I find rare in our current generation.
Of all the war stories Dad told and retold to his bug eyed son we're his favorite radio trials and tribulations. On Iwo he witnessed the first planting of the flag on Suribachi, only to find it gone and concerned we had "lost" the hill. Sometime later a larger flag was raised and that's the one featured in the iconic photo from Joe Rosenthal - being a radio operator Dad would hear scuttlebutt that some general had wanted a larger flag and that was the reason for the flag leaving the hill for a short time.
He also recounted how the scene in his late teenage years was like a "widescreen movie", and how the sea in front of the LST turned blood red and bodies floating... the stench of war and death hanging in the air. The battleships pounding the small island for weeks with large shells, dad recounts at night the flash from the guns and the scene like some surreal fourth of July celebration.
His LST had two Quonset huts spread end to end on the deck - one housed food stores, a huge freezer, dining hall and the other a large scale bakery of all things.. transports of weary troops would pull up along side, board and be offered coffee, ice cream donuts, cake.. quite a surreal scene in contrast to the backdrop of intense battle and death just a few yards away.
Dad and a fellow radio operator worked in shifts - the radio equipment housed along an L-shaped desk with both local radiotelephone and long haul CW (Morse Code) capabilities. Father would recount times he was copying CW traffic (radio communication) from the SFO Naval Command Radio Station - traffic known as the "Fox Schedules" - long strings of encrypted text sent as a random characters decoded and used as communications to the entire group. Now I've copied Morse on shortwave before and it's hard enough just to speak English - let alone random blocks of text - but here is my father in the middle of the Pacific on a ship bound for battle copying these Fox Schedules at 30 WPM - for long stretches. At one point he told me he was using a mill (typewriter) during a Fox run and had dozed off a moment only to find his paper was error free and complete!
Dad was proud of his CW skills - having received 100% accuracy in both naval radio school and in battle - July 2010, while visiting, I was tuning the CW portion of the 20 meter ham band with dad in tow. We stopped and heard a station, far off in the noise sending CW at around 20 WPM - the distinct delay of polar flutter on the signal and here is my father in his 80's - eyes perk up.. leaning in.. and sure as rain - dad is copying big chunks of the conversation in his head. Me looking dumbfounded and silly as I pick out a few characters here and there... after 60 years my father the radio operator hasn't lost it!
In WWII - Jamming was in it's infancy, today we have powerful wide spectrum transmitters that can shut down EVERYTHING - DC to daylight. But in WWII it took on a personal side - Dad's radio callsign at one point on AM was "wiseman" - the Japanese in an attempt to jam or disrupt via radiotelephony would repeat in broken English - "wiseman is a son of a bitch" for hours! Dad would smile as his transmitters power and American technology would rise above the radio wisecracks and do the job he was supposed to do.
Naval Radio Op's had to do much of their own minor maintenance on the smaller ships - some at dad's peril! At one point he was having issues with the main Hallicrafters exciter and the 500 watt rack sized PA (power amplifier) and decided he needed to DISABLE THE INTERLOCKS to make an adjustment to a live tuned circuit! He stuck a long wooden handled screwdriver into the cavity to tweak something, the ship took a dip and BANG the tip of his screwdriver hit the high voltage and it melted down to the handle... to say the least dad never disabled interlocks again... he laughed about that incident when interviewed just a few short years ago..
Another story when coming into port - the ships captain tended to drink to some degree and somehow missed the berth where the ship was to tie up... it's rather hard to back up a ship without tug boats so they tied up further down the pier.. dad would later find out that the ship that DID tie up to where they we're supposed too was struck with Japanese bombs and the radio room and sleeping quarters we're destroyed - a flush came over him as he realized he came darn close to dying.. So fate, place and booze all conspire to save my fathers bacon so to speak.
Last night my father became a “silent key” - a ham radio expression for an operator that has passed away.
I got to know him better later in his life – his stories, the unknown chapters of his life, I was fortunate to witness the love in his eyes for his wife, family and friends. He lived the last 30 years in a beautiful farm in Southern, Oregon – surrounded by animals large and small, hoards of wild turkeys and a peacock.
My fathers final days we're resting on warm summer mornings with the insistent humming birds hanging mid-air for a snack, a loyal dog at his feet and the peacock poking out curious from behind a bush – it wasn't far from perfect and it was here I really got a chance to say good bye for the last time. He passed away while his loving wife Donna was holding his hand, peacefully with only nature, loving pets and animals as witness.
Dad, WB7NKR – I love you and may you rest in peace
Contributed by: John Webb (W7NWH)
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