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Ken Johnson (W6FU)
Ken Johnson, W6FU, was one such Depression-era whiz kid. While manning a jeep mobile station in France, he and three fellow signalmen found themselves in a life-threatening situation: the Germans had learned to recognize their generator's distinctive whine and were lobbing shells at it. All hams, the team responded with Field Day ingenuity: they improvised a long extension cord. "If the enemy laid in any mortar fire, the jeep would take it and not us," laughs Ken. "The difference between the Germans and the Americans was that we were innovative and could get ourselves out of a jam. If a situation wasn't in the book, the Germans didn't know what to do."
Ken got his first whiff of amateur radio on a boyhood visit to the local railroad telegrapher's house. "He had an amateur rig, and I could smell the Bakelite," Ken remembers. "What a beautiful smell!" He was hooked. Determined to earn his Class C amateur ticket, Ken started practicing Morse code... on a cow! He sent CQs against the side of the pail as he milked. The "Elsie method" worked, and soon Ken tore into ham radio from a homebrew, battery-powered station. (The family farm had no electricity.) "I used to take the crystal out and suck on it to make it oscillate better," he remembers.
Radio was an expensive hobby for a farm boy, so in November of 1941 Ken joined the Army. He'd heard infantry radios had VFOs and was hoping to use one. Unfortunately the Army had other ideas. Ken was trained as a rifleman. One day he happened on a grizzled sergeant swearing at a jeep's mobile rig. Ken suggested he connect the radio to its antenna. The impressed sergeant got Ken a Signal Corps try-out, which led to regimental radio duty. "If that hadn't happened, I'd probably be dead," he says. "My rifle company's casualty rate in Europe was 80 percent."
But Ken's radio duties rated combat pay, too. During General Patton's grueling drive through France and Germany, Ken and three comrades roamed the lines in a jeep, relaying vital intelligence via CW and FM phone. It was line-of-sight operation, and in battle that means line-of-fire as well. They banged out code on a leg key while jolting down shell-torn roads, or stood beside the jeep and transmitted from the roadside. They also tapped into telephone lines with a TG-6 portable telegraph and shouldered a 50-pound "portable" SCR 284 HF rig. In the winter of 1944 Ken's battalion attacked Fort Driant, a training center for Hitler's elite SS near Luxembourg. The Americans suffered appalling casualties as crack SS troops shredded the assault. As the tide of battle turned, GIs stripped to their shorts and swam the icy river to escape the German counter-assault. Because Ken and his teammates were essential to communication, they were among the last to pull out. "We could actually see the road by the light of the tracers flying over our heads," Ken remembers. "We lost a lot of guys that night."
After the war years, Ken became the lead instructor at Pasadena City College, formed a ham club and taugh CW. Ken was instermental in setting up the College FM radio station as its trustee helping many a student get their FCC commercal license.
A true CW op to the end he still would get on and op the Morse telegraph net weekly on 7.084
Ken passed away after a long bout with cancer and will be missed by all who knew him AR SK
Contributed by: (QRZDXR2)
So sorry to hear that he passed on!! When I used to live in Monrovia, CA, there was a coffee shop that we all used to congregate for breakfast and of course Ken was a vital member of our group. Always fun to be around and to lend a helping hand - especial the CW that he championed.
After Ken lost his wife, I used to take him out to dinner just to listen to some of his stories, and what stories they were. I would sit and listen with amzemnet.
Yes, ken will be missed, but always remembered!! :-)
Contributed by: Ron Bracklow, W6BR (W6BR)
Ken was my mentor—my "elmer"—in several categories. He
got me involved in hamming during the sixties. When he
started working full time for the L.A. Dodgers as broadcast
technician for the games, I took over the instruction of the
Amateur Radio Licensing course he had taught for years. When
he retired from Pasadena City College, I assumed
responsibility for his Audio Controls and Master Control
Operation courses. He was a dear friend to many, including
me. Here is an interview we did of him near the end of his
The attached photo was taken the day he visited my shack
while I was a Novice. He brought along his Collins KWM-2; my
surplus U.S. Navy RBC receiver is to his right.
Of course as with all who knew him, I am proud to have been
one of his associates.
Stan Coutant, AA6SC
Contributed by: Stan Coutant (AA6SC)
Ken was my Ham Radio mentor and one of the nicest guys ever. I miss him.
Contributed by: Kim Bottles (K7IM)
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