I am sad that we are nearing the end of Papaw's memoirs--there are still a few chapters left, but then we are done. Such a wealth of knowledge and personality this is. Fuzzy and I are working on scanning Papaw's old documents and photos to put up as a supplement--hopefully we will have some of those up soon. I hope you are still enjoying reading!
Update: The whole autobiography is now collected in one place in a variety of formats (as a web page, a PDF, and a printed book).
Read Part One Here
Read Part Two Here
Read Part Three Here
Read Part Four Here
Read Part Five Here
We left the ship and went about three or four miles out of Karachi to a vacant Indian army camp. The only thing here was a few tents and wash pots to cook old tough buffalo and a few other things in. You had to have a strong stomach and be real hungry to eat this stuff.
One of the things that sticks in my mind is the birds and the P40. There is a black bird over there about half way between a crow and our black birds in size. These things would come in swarms at chow time and dive down and knock your mess kit out of your hand, especially if you was foolish enough not to have your thumb hooked over the rim.
The reason I am including the diving birds is not to tell about the birds, but to mention one fine officer and a top notch fighter pilot that came over with us. At chow time, he would take a P40 and buzz the chow area to keep the darn birds away so we could eat. The bird probably would have tasted better. The years seem to have dimmed my memory, and I cannot remember his name. I do know he was one of the top fighter ace pilots in the CBI. He came back to the states with the rank of Colonel, and was killed in an airplane crash. He was up with a student pilot and something went wrong.
They started unloading our equipment, as well as other things, and putting it in a warehouse at the docks. I was down there a few times and managed to get my hooks on some 1 gallon cans of peaches. I carried a couple cans back to the tent, and we had a peachy meal. It helped to get some of the buffalo taste out of our system though.
On the second day after we moved into the tents, all got a pass to go into town. I believe the bicycle wallas knew we were going to get a pass before we did, because about five PM, our walla showed up, leading about a dozen bikes. Everyone but me rented one. The truth of the matter was, I couldn't ride the blessed things. When that bunch of yahoos figured this out, they put me on a bike and one got on each side of me and started pushing. I got my feet on the peddles and didn't stop peddling until we were up town on Elfinstone Street. We ate a delicious meal at the Chung King Restaurant. Believe me, this was a treat to us, after the chow we had been eating for the past few weeks.
We moved from the tents to the Moslem Hostel, a long two story masonary building, one room deep, with a porch on each floor the full length of the building. We had one window in each room facing the ocean. There was a cool breeze most all the time, day and night. There were three of us un each room. The whole setup was real nice, we even had a tennis court at one end of the building. The hostel was used as a college dormitory before we moved in.
We started setting up the radio station about six miles out of Karachi on the edge of the Sind Desert. Our major problem was getting power to operate the transmitters. We had a small generator that would allow us to use the one KW transmitter and the receivers. It didn't take the maintenance crew long to get our antennas up; we used two rombie antennas to begin with.
Our first operating positions were in tents.
After the maintenance men threw the switch and gave us the go ahead, it was left up to us operators to contact WAR in Washington on 13.300 MC. The Chief and a few more of the upper crust tried for several nights without any luck. I was pulling Guard duty during all their efforts after they left, or they didn't try that night, I forget which. I went in the operating tent and turned on the old trusty super pro, and tuned around a bit, and low and behold, there was WAR calling us. I couldn't fire up the transmitter, so I couldn't answer him.
I told the Chief about it, but he acted as if I didn't know what I was talking about. Within the next night or two they did make contact with WAR and started handling traffic. This went on for several days while I was still walking guard. By this time, I was getting pretty upset. I think our Chief decided to let me make an ass out of myself so he could have me transferred to an M.P. outfit. So he put me on watch. Luck was with me that night. When I went on duty, there was a stack waiting for me, in fact, two or three days accumulation. (This was not the fault of the operator, it was weak or non-existant signals.) Well, signals happened to be good that night. I cleared the whole stack, and when I got off watch, I was nil, all traffic cleared. I got word some time later our Chief went to the message center and wanted to know if any of the traffic I handled would break (decode). I was told the answer he got was 'Break hell!' They were perfect copy, not an error in any of it. A few days later I cleared another backlog through WVN in San Juan, PR. A couple of days later we got a message from the chief signal operator in WN, stating, quote, "You will not, repeat, will not use San Juan as a relay point," then assigned Iceland as a relay station. I didn't make the first contact with Iceland, but the operator on watch told me the first thing that was said when he made contact was "Is GB there?" It was ole TW that was with me at Ft Jackson.
Needless to say, my stock went up with the Chief considerably. I don't know what made him think I was no good, unless it was my sharecropping Mississippi brogue.
We only lost one man during the whole operation. We had no communication link between the radio tents and the message center, downtown in the American Embassy. We had a motorcycle messenger to carry messages to and fro between the two places. Late one evening he made his delivery and pickup, and I helped him gas up his motorcycle before he left. About 45 minutes or an hour later a jeep drove up and told us that he was killed on his way back. He tried to dodge a camel cart and lost control of the bike, hit the curb, and bashed his head against a concrete wall.
We got our hands on two large airplane crates, Liberator Bombers, I think. We moved our desks, typewriters, receivers, in fact the entire receiving station into these crates. This was far better than the tents. Each one of the crates made a fair size room. We made one big mistake; we didn't put a rainproof roof on the crates. Whoever heard of it raining in the desert. Anyhow, we were to soon to find out different.
We were just getting comfortable in our new setup when the monsoon season set in. When it started raining, it just poured down. Water on the main streets in Karachi got two to three feet deep.
We covered up our equipment the best we could to keep the water off. I copied and sent messages to Washington and China with someone holding a a raincoat over my typewriter and bug (telegraph key.)
The transmitters were about half a mile from the receivers. This made it neccessary for us to have a pair of wires between the receivers and transmitters for a keying line. We had a pair laying on the ground, but when it started raining, it didn't take long for these to get wet and short out. We told WAR what was happening, but they would not believe a word of it. Our maintenance crew had a setup on the back of a jeep that would hold a roll of W110 wire. When one of the keying lines shorted out, they would take off across the desert unrolling wire. When the monsoon season was over, there was enough W110 wire strung out across the desert to build a fence around the whole area.
If my memory serves me right, the rains lasted for about a month, and that was the last rain you would see for another year.
Things were getting to be a regular routine now. We only had about two to four hours to work Washington. We tried all possible frequencies, but when propagation was not in our favor, there was not anything we could do but wait until the following day and hope it would be better.
We started making preparations to move into our new brick building. We were anxious to get out of the blessed airplane crates and get set up in our new building.
We got set up in the new building without any major problems. We were all glad to get our of the airplane crates and into a decent place to work. By this time, the power company had run power lines out from Karachi, so we didn't have to depend on our own plant for power.
We were still handling all traffic direct from Washington and that, of course, means we had very limited time to work WAR, caused by the erratic, propagation conditions, due partly to the great distance between Washington USA and Karachi, India. Really between Karachi and Rocky Point, New York, because the transmitters and receivers that WAR were using was located on Rocky Point Long Island and owned by RCA with a land line hook up between them. We tried for some time to get a Bohme System, and finally did, but it took a long time. This didn't help our propagation problem, though. It only allowed us to handle twice or three times as many messages as we could, working manually. When sigs got too weak to copy on the Bohme circuit, we went manual and copied and sent as long as we could hear a signal at all, sometime repeating each group until the receiving end operator acknowledged for it. They put in a relay station at Asmara Africa that gave us almost twenty-four hour signals. this was an automatic relay from Washington, and it solved the backlog problems from the States.
Somewhere along about this time, one of our operators starting hitting the bottle too heavy and didn't show up for several days. When the MP's finally found him, he was busted down to Pvt and sent back to the States. Maybe he wasn't so dumb after all. Even though I got his T3 strips, I was sorry to see him go this way because he was a good radio operator and I kindly liked the guy. This promotion gave me the same pay as a staff Sgt, but without field command authority. Not too long after this, I was promoted to regular staff Sgt.
A few months later, JGTA in New Delhi was designated headquarters radio station for the CBI theater of war. This left us twiddling our thumbs, because all traffic was being rerouted through New Delhi. A Bohme system had been installed at JGTA in anticipation of becoming the headquarters station. There was only one hangup in this changeover. The operators at JGTA had absolutely no experience in transcribing slip. Consequently, live tape continued to stack up and created a serious backlog of important unanswered messages.
Our officer in charge received a priority message from headquarters to put three of the top slip operators on the first available airplane to New Delhi, with top priority. I was one of the three. This is the only time I ever had the authority to bump a General. I am glad I didn't have to use it.
(to be continued)
Read Part Seven Here