A very young KG5U and his little ham radio station in his barracks at the U.S. Naval Station, Keflavik, Iceland. For the hams out there seeing this: Yes, that is a Globe Chief 90 transmitter--I had only 2 crystals: 7030 and 7020 kHz-- a Hallicrafters SX-110 receiver, with matching speaker, Heathkit Q-Multiplier, and a Vibroplex bug.
I have been an amateur radio operator since 1959. It began by having the opportunity to listen to a friend of my father’s shortwave radio. I was intrigued with then and am intrigued now the idea of being able to communicate with other people over long distances via radio waves.
A few months later I took the FCC exam for my amateur radio license and
have been having fun with it ever since. As a teenager, it gave me a perspective of the world that most of my high school friends didn’t have.
Amateur radio opened new doors for me that I otherwise would have missed. Because I knew the Morse code when I joined the Navy in 1963, I was sent to Radioman School and spent my 4 years working in the naval communications field, which I enjoyed immensely--imagine, at my first duty station (U.S. Naval Communications Station, Keflavik, Iceland), I got to sit at a ship-to-shore, Morse code (we call it CW--for Continuous Wave) operating position for 8 or 10 hours a shift, receiving messages via CW from U.S. Navy warships at sea in the Atlantic (and sometimes in the Pacific). After the shift, I would return to my barracks room and sit down and operate my own little radio station, 'talking' via CW to ham operators in Europe, North America, and South America during my off-duty hours. What more could anyone ask for!
One night, while operating my station on 20 meters CW, I met another ham radio operator who was also stationed at the base on the air. It turned out he was my commanding officer, a captain (that’s equivalent to a colonel, for you Army/Marine/Air Force types), and me, a lowly E-3 or Seaman 1st class. One morning, my Comm Chief, my co-workers, and I were startled when the CO and his usual entourage of staff officers came in to the CommCenter on an inspection tour. He (and they with him) walked right over to me and handed me his QSL card (See my QSL card). We shook hands (the Navy is cool: they don't salute inside where they have our hats off) and ‘chatted’ (he talked, I listened and nodded a lot) a bit about radio conditions in Iceland.
About 4 years prior to my my tour on Iceland, a large piece of flat ice floe broke off from the North Slope near Barrow, Alaska. Scientists established a research station and landing strip on the now floating ice island, named ARLISS II, and staffed the facility throughout its wandering drift around the arctic. While I was at Iceland, ARLISS II came into reliable radio range. We took the radio ‘watch’ for them, sending and
receiving their messages.
A few months later, the CO called me and asked if I wanted to go on temporary duty on the U.S.S. Edisto, an icebreaker, which was heading to Iceland from Boston. My first Sea Duty! I jumped at the chance. The Edisto’s mission was to replenish at Keflavik, then proceed north up into the Arctic ice pack to rescue the scientists on ARLISS II. The ice island had been floating in the ice pack, slowly moving south toward the Denmark Straits (the seaway between Greenland and Iceland) and warmer waters. The ‘warmer’ waters were contributing to its breakup. It’s airstrip was cracked, unrepairable and unuseable. Rescue by sea was their only chance.
On Edisto's arrival at Keflavik harbor, I boarded and began my first tour onboard a U.S. Navy ship. It was even better than being on Iceland! The radio gang was short of operators, so I got to spend long hours in the ‘radio shack’ receiving weather and other messages, and sending out position reports, status reports, and news releases (we had a couple of really wordy reporters onboard). Of course, I was not on board for more than a few minutes before I learned the ship had a ham radio station. It wasn’t long before I was sharing the space with the only other ham radio operator onboard, helping him make phone patches for the crewmembers back to the States so they could talk to their families. Neat!
My off hours were spent either hanging over the bow watching the ships bow cut through or ride up and break the ice, in the ham radio ‘shack,’ or in my bunk asleep (mostly the first two and less of the latter).
During our transit to intercept the moving ice island, we crossed the Arctic Circle. On most naval vessels, crossing one of the major 'lines' of the world (Equator, Antarctic Circle, Arctic Circle, Prime Meridian (0 deg long.), International Date Line (180 deg. long) is cause for celebration and, for those who are crossing the line for the first time, a rite of initiation. In my case, this being my first time to cross the Arctic Circle, I and 5 or 6 other sailors went through the Bluenose initiation. It began with having to serve meals to those who had crossed before--steak, potatoes, pie, ice cream, soft drinks, coffee, etc. After we cleaned the messdecks, we got to eat our meals, which consisted of various lesser preferred foods heavily spiced and dyed different colors and which we could leave nothing uneaten on our trays.
Then the formal ceremonies began. We approached on hands and knees to kneel before Neptune and kiss the royal belly--liberally coated with various spices and condiments--a peck was not enough: Neptune would pull your head into his belly smearing your face in the mess. Then we had to suck from the royal bottle (a condiment squeeze bottle) filled with hot sauces and other assorted liquids--you sipped, but the person holding squeezed the bottle filling your mouth. There followed other degrading and abusive things I can't even remember. Finally, we were steered to the passageway leading outside and to our berthing compartments. But the passageway was lined with those who had crossed the line before--and they were a truly happy lot--it was THEIR chance to give what they got when they first crossed the line. As we crawled through the line, we were hit, slapped, punched, and pummelled with stuffed socks, with bearing grease, oil, and other muck stuffed down our pants and smeared on our backs and heads. Finally, we reached the door to outside, sunlight and freedom! As we rounded a corner of the superstructure to make our way to our berthing compartments, we were doused with buckets of seawater pulled up from the sea (temp ~ 32 degs. F) by still more happy . When we finally got to our berthing compartment and we jumped in the showers to try to rid ourselves of the muck and stench. We found there was almost no hot water. Bathing took an agonizingly long time. It was a truly humiliating and miserable experience. In all, it was great fun.
Each of us were given this card to certifying we had crossed the Arctic Circle.
We successfully rescued the scientists, and most of their equipment off the island (they had 4 years accumulation of stuff; the Edisto was only about 180 feet long; some equipment had to stay behind). It was great to meet the people I had communicated with via radio for so long. It took us 3.5 weeks to work our way up into the ice pack to a point where we could start the actual rescue, but once we turned toward Iceland, it took us only 3 or 4 days.
Back on Iceland, I unpacked and then repacked a few days later when my travel orders came in to change duty station to the U.S.S. Okinawa, a 600 ft long helicopter carrier (in Navy parlance it was an LPH: a Landing Platform Helicopter).
That was a fun tour, too.