VOL 10  NO 2



The GIRA 1999 Reunion is set for September 30th and October 1st & 2nd. (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday). If you plan to attend and have not yet registered, please do so as soon as possible. The get-together will be at the Radisson Hotel in Branson.  The Radisson’s phone number is (417) 335-5767.  Please refer all reservations and information requests to the tour operator, Branson Music Tours at (417) 335-6007 or (417) 336-5350.  Ask for Buddy.   Branson Music Tours’ E-mail address is: Buddy@bransonmusic.com.

If any other questions arise, call Bob Mitchell at (918) 355-3907 between 0700 and 1900 (7am to 7pm) central time.


Our thanks and kudos to Bob and Virginia for taking over from the peripatetic Dr. Sam on short notice to handle the myriad details for a convention in Branson.  Ideally most tour companies want a year’s advance notice for such a popular spot.  As Bob pointed out, Branson is a booming destination in a sizzling economy. Group events require a bit of time.




South Calif Mini-Reunion       Page 2

Voyage # 3                          Page 3

Regional Director Change     Page 5

Ideal Exercise Machine         Page 5

Voyage # 4                          Page 6

National Call WWII Vets      Page 10

Prepare for Y2K                  Page 11

Hospitalization Side Effect     Page 12

Sea & Shore Adventure        Page 13

Book Review                        Page 14

Flotsom & Jetsom                 Page 15

In the Mail                            Page 17

Branson Map                        Page 22


by Bob Mitchell R-034

Looks to us as though Branson is all set.  We thought the banquet menu would be the usual roast beef, chicken, and fish, but, boys, this is Branson.  The hotel wanted EXACT numbers of who gets what, so after a lot of haggling by Buddy at Branson Music Tours and discussions with us, we settled on a buffet.  There will be two lines so you won’t have to queue up for very long, and inasmuch as Buddy doesn’t want anyone to faint from hunger while you’re waiting for food, Branson Music Tours is furnishing hors d’oeuvres for “nibbling and grazing” while the line moves.

Here’s the Menu:


Pineapple Sugar Coated Baked Ham

Pecan Glazed Breast of Chicken

Seasoned Rice Pilaf

Coconut Topped Sweet Potatoes

Broccoli Cheese Casserole

Ambrosia Fruit Salad

Chef’s Assorted Pastries & Desserts

Coffee, Iced Tea, & Water

A No-host or Cash Bar provided.


Some of you may have little details you want to sort out, such as special dietary needs, and  most importantly, let Branson Music Tours (417 336 5350) know your airline, flight number, and arrival time in Springfield (SGF).

If there is anything not clear to you, call Buddy (417 336 5350) or ring us (918 355 3907) from 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., and we’ll do our utmost to answer any and all questions. The final date for a full return of payment is September 14, 1999. As of this writing there are 127 registered guests with only 14 choosing to fly.  If you decide to come at the last minute, call Buddy. He can possibly get you into the Radisson (if he can catch a cancellation) otherwise he’ll do his best to find nearby accommodations, and try to obtain tickets for late comers. Each Radisson room has a little coffee maker with fixings for two cups. Sufficient for some but a little shy for the caffeine afflicted. So, like us, you may want to bring extra fixings in your luggage.  See you in September. 73’s Bob (W2CSL) R-34 and Virginia (KA2QHE)



South Calif GIRA Mini-Reunion Great

by Ed Wilder

The Southern California GIRA mini-reunion on May 18, 1999, at Yorba Linda, CA attracted 23 GIRA members and guests. We met in a special room at Polly’s Restaurant from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Afterwards we visited Nixon’s birthplace nearby and toured the Nixon Library only two blocks away from the restaurant. Dolores and I skipped the library in order to avoid the rush-hour(s) LA traffic returning home to Crestline.

Attending were:

Ed & Dolores Wilder, R19

Jim & Rose Jolly, R8

Bob & Carolyn Sherman, R4

Don Smith, R87

Jim Smith, R19

John Willner, R48

Vic & Ruthie Carpenter, R97

Robert Wilson, R19

Ray & Mavis Sutcliff, R48

Dewey French & Mary, R100

Robert Field, R43

Howard Bellman, R7

Bob Clough, R7

Joe Gilmaker, R95


Also Andy Draghi & Joan came. Draghi is a friend of GIRA and EX-radio operator who works on Lane Victory. He was on a Liberty ship that beached at Utah Beachhead on D-Day. He didn’t attend Gallups but went to the RCA Radio School.

Still in the incubating stage is a possible GIRA mini-meeting in Palm Springs next year teaming up with Arizona, Nevada and any other interested members and friends. Palm Springs rates drop precipitately after the winter season. For Sonny Bono and Frank Sinatra fans, both are buried there. Give it some thought.




Left to right, top:  Ray Sutcliffr, R-48; Bob Clough, R-7;

Ed Wilder, R-19; Jim Jolly, R-8

bottom:  Howad Bellman, R-7; Bob Wilson, R-19




Joe Gilmaker, R-95, and his 1920 Ford.

Ed Wilder’s reflection in the windshield makes it look as if he is sitting in the back seat, but, actually he’s taking the picture.

We don’t know if Joe is going to drive his Ford to Branson, but he  could if he wished. Pure luxury compared to the man who crossed the country on a lawnmower.






by Bill DeVoe, R-19

Baltimore-Khorramshahr-New York

I joined the new Liberty ship SS Joyce Kilmer KTLR in Sparrows Point, MD, 9 October 1943 as chief RO. We became part of a trans-Atlantic convoy that formed up at Hampton Roads with four corvettes and a destroyer as escorts. U-boat attacks began after we crossed longitude of 50 west. With no air cover until we neared the Portugal coast, the convoy had a number of ships torpedoed. A Dutch seagoing tug designated as our rescue ship was kept very busy each morning.  The Kilmer was in the second column on the port side of the 50-ship convoy and kept station well with the course changes signaled from the Commodore with flags.

About two days out of Gibraltar the Commodore ordered the ships so equipped to lower their anti-torpedo nets. We swung out our booms and strung out the nets like draperies on either side of the ship.  The convoy had to reduce speed slightly when the nets were deployed. I doubt their effectiveness, but didn’t hear of a ship with the nets deployed being torpedoed.

The next afternoon, within sight of land, we formed into a double column to go through the Straits of Gibraltar, and were attacked from the air with radio controlled gliding bombs. Aircraft circled at an altitude safe from AA fire and released their gliding bombs that made spectacular explosions when the they hit the water. No ships were damaged by the bombs, but we took a lot of “friendly” fire as the bombs lost altitude. The Kilmer had 22 mm holes in the stack and some went through the fiddley where we hung laundry to dry. I never witnessed another glider bomb attack after this totally unsuccessful attempt.

The two columns of ships proceeded past the “Rock” and as night fell, the action recommenced with Stukas that came roaring over at mast height, scaring the hell out of us.  Air support arrived in about 30 minutes and the Stukas departed. At least four ships were burning, but in the darkness it was impossible to see if any were sinking.  A bad scene.

There were no additional attacks en route to Port Said wherein the British provided air cover.


The canal transit required two days including an overnight anchorage at Ismailia, the canal headquarters about mid-way. There was nothing but desert on both sides of the canal. I studied the gun emplacements on both sides through binoculars revealing they were only wooden dummies.

Arriving at Port Tufic on the Red Sea end of the canal, we anchored among other freighters and awaited orders to proceed. Four of the other ships were Liberties, and I was able to communicate with them via Aldis lamp, leading to an interesting adventure.

The RO on the nearest Liberty signaled that we were invited to their get together the next night. Although the bosun said no boats were available, Flags cooked up a scheme to get us over to the party ship. I embraced his scheme to fashion a raft with two empty 55 gallon drums, two boards and some lashings. We launched this contraption the next night, and wearing cork life jackets, propelled it the quarter-of-a-mile to the host ship.

We were welcomed royally and had a great time. We headed back to the Kilmer after midnight. The water was warm and a cool breeze whipped up a heavy mist obscuring the Kilmer. The host ship could see our mast and shouted directions for us to paddle.

As we scrambled aboard the Kilmer, I was told to report to Captain Wilson ASAP, and did I get it. He informed me that I was never, ever to leave the ship without his express permission, that I had jeopardized the ship’s mission, and that these waters were shark infested.

After this unfortunate incident, I tread carefully trying to please the Captain, and got back in his good graces when I was able to repair the gyro compass.

In early December 1943, we finally were instructed to proceed to the Persian Gulf. I’ll never forget the next night when the second assistant and I were on the main deck smoking our last cigarette before sunset.  As we watched the sunset, we spotted what appeared to be a torpedo boring straight as an arrow for our starboard side where we were standing. Happily, it was a huge hammerhead shark that veered off and swam away.

…continued on page 4



Voyage 3  …continued from page 3

Another interesting event occurred in the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz when the sea literally turned red. I grabbed a bucket on a line that the crew used to get water to pour over their heads and retrieved it full of water. It was clear. In reference books I learned there are red tides in the ocean, but a but a small bucket full seems clear.  We arrived at Khorramshahr to unload our cargo of trucks, mines, and ammunition which required some time. We anchored in the Shatt el Arab to load ballast of stones from lighters. We spent Christmas 1943 anchored in the dirty river formed by the Tigris and the Euphrates that merge just above Basra.   Daytime temperatures reached 115 degrees F, dropping to about 100 at night.   One day Armed Guard Lt. Kerrigan asked me to pick up the ship’s mail at the officers’ club in Khorramshahr.  I took a water taxi to the docks and hitched a ride to the US Army Officer’s Club and presented the note from the Lt. For the mail. The friendly group insisted we share some beers. Exiting the club house, I noted that the main road back to the docks was about 1,000 feet to the right, but a short cut to the main highway appeared in front of me. I walked across this field to the main road and climbed a fence to see a sobering sign that said “Achtung Minen” with skull and cross bones. I had been guided by angels through a mine field.

We upped anchor on 27 December 1943 and departed from that hot and dirty place. During a day’s stop at Bahrein, pearl divers swam to the ship and climbed up the anchor chain trying to sell us pearls. The pearls were embedded in wax on pieces of cardboard which the divers carried in their mouths. The pearls were unimpressive.

Several days later we had another scare while steaming through the Arabian Sea toward the Red Sea when about 19:00, we sighted a sail on the horizon. The vessel, hull down, was going against the prevailing wind and we couldn’t identify it. So we changed course as did the sail. Captain Wilson called me to the bridge and ordered me to send a QQQQ signal for an unidentified raider.  Bombay responded immediately and the message was rebroadcast by Bombay, Mombasa, and Bahrein radio

stations. I sent a coded amplifying report to Aden

at 23:00.  We increased speed to 11.5 knots and zig- zagged in our run for Aden. This speed was well above the three-cylinder steam engine’s design causing increased vibration throughout the night.  We anchored in Aden the next morning.

The chief engineer reported that in our quest to outrun the possible raider we’d burned out the number 3 cylinder. I helped in the repeated efforts to repair and reinstall the equipment. We arrived in Suez at 09:30 on 10 January 1944 (according to my dairy) and rigged a large searchlight delivered by lighter for canal transit. After the pilot came aboard, we steamed northward through the canal, anchoring at Great Bitter Lake for an hour and a half before preceding on to Port Said with arrival at 22:00.

There was no shore leave due to reported bubonic plague although the purser and gunnery officer went ashore for mail.  None.  A lighter brought out sand for ballast loaded manually by local  labor. On 14 January, a barrage balloon with 200 feet of cable was attached to the stern.  A strong gust of wind blew it into the aft gun of a passing British freighter before falling into the sea. It was recovered, repaired, and reattached.

After the morning convoy conference in Port Said  with Capt. Wilson and Lt. Kerrigan  we departed at 15:15 and took position 32 in the outside column of the convoy. We formed into 4 columns to go through the Strait of Sicily that triggered a lot of air activity. Every evening we raised our barrage balloons to a thousand feet until an hour after sunset, a process repeated in the morning. Some of the balloons were lost but we kept ours.

We picked up a new OS in Egypt who was mentally unbalanced. He claimed to be Jesus and stood his watch in bare feet. He was restrained but got loose and ran up to the captain’s cabin scaring the hell out of the old man. He was subsequently locked in his cabin. I reported by Aldis lamp the situation to the Commodore.  A trawler came along side off Oran and took the crazy off to everybody’s relief.

Each day more ships joined our convoy, and the air activity accelerated. On 24 January my diary entry indicates that three hospital ships were bombed. The St. David was sunk, and the St. Andrew, which had rescued survivors, had been crippled by bombs. After getting out of the Med,

…continued on page 5



Voyage 3  …continued from page 4

our convoy westbound across the Atlantic was uneventful except that we broke down (oil line rupture) in rough weather. On 15 February I took an ADF bearing on Ambrose (light vessel) and by 16:00 the next day we were docked at pier 74 in NYC.  When we departed Baltimore I weighed 155 pounds, but was down to 130 when we docked in New York. I had gained weight steadily after leaving Egypt so must have been about 125 when we left the Red sea. The weight loss resulted from the intense natural heat in that area and, perhaps, the heat of conflict.



Verne D. Hegge R-15, M253,  long-time director of Region or Zone 7, requested to step down after many years in the post. Spark Gap editor JJ Ward agreed to serve in the interim inasmuch as the director’s duties usually aren’t overwhelming. After his sea-going days, Hegge had a long and satisfying career in Army electronics at Fort Huachuca, Sierra Vista, Arizona. He is still an active realtor in Sierra Vista and other parts of Cochise County. GIRA sends its warmest thanks and best wishes to Verne and Veda Hegge. God bless.  Interestingly, this leaves the three far-west regions ( 7, 8, and 9) with R-19 directors:

Ray Jorgeson of Plains, MT in Region 8 and

Ed Wilder, of Crestline, CA  in Region 9.

Believe us, this is mere happenstance and is not a conspiracy.



If you’ve ever thought about writing the SPARK GAP or the GALLUPS ISLANDER, it’s time to give in to temptation. We’re interested in myriad subjects and activities along with pictures (always worth a lot of words).

The GALLUPS ISLANDER concentrates on historical aspects of GIRA and Gallups Islanders in general.  Editor Stan Jennings had a long career as a photo journalist and does wonders with pictures.

While SPARK GAP strives to cover all the other bases, it’s sometimes a fine line to separate the two. We look forward to your submissions.




We’re constantly told that regular exercise and a good diet are important for good health. Fifty-two percent of Americans own exercise equipment. Only 35 percent continue to use their equipment and 8 percent never have used it. I know several people who bought those ski machines The only exercise they got was assembling them. It wasn’t easy like the svelte model in the ad made it seem.

Bonnie Lassie is the perfect answer. Bonnie is a Border Collie, a breed that would rather work than eat, and once they learn that taking you for a walk is their job, you won’t be allowed to skip. Try telling her it’s too hot, too cold, too windy, too wet, or I don’t feel like it today. Ha!  Together we do at least 20 miles per week, cross country, uphill and down.  Border collies are rated as the most intelligent of the approximately 500 breeds (the poodle is second) and were originally bred in the Borders, an 1808 square-mile area between England and Scotland primarily to herd sheep. That area is full of brambles, which rarely bother the dogs.  Amazingly, Bonnie can run through the cacti-filled Sonoran Desert hardly ever getting any spines in her paws or elsewhere.  Border Collies are virtually worthless as watch dogs, but bug you constantly until you go through all the day’s routines such as trekking over hill and dale. Together we leave millions of footprints in the sand each year.






by Bill DeVoe, R-19

New York-Archangel-Baltimore - February 28, 1944 to June 6, 1944.

Back from the Persian Gulf in mid-February 1944, the Liberty ship SS Joyce Kilmer was docked at Pier 74 in Manhattan. Workmen swarmed over the ship adding special equipment.

The Kilmer moved to Hoboken, then to Craven Point to load 3000 tons of high explosives. With steam radiators added to my cabin and the radio shack, obviously we weren’t going to the tropics. We also got such clothing articles as a fox-fur vest, felt boot liners, a Russian type fur hat, and a fur-lined pea jacket.

During the refurbishing and loading, I took Tommy Vachon, Navy RM 3/c, my assistant on the previous voyage, to my home in Tenafly, NJ, for a good time visiting with my HS friends.  For this voyage, in addition to Vachon, we also got another Navy man, J. Gunn, S 1/c as third assistant.  Gunn knew little but learned fast.

The convoy formed up off Ambrose Light Ship and steamed east at 9 rolling knots. The bosun helped me put up the emergency antenna, then, more importantly, I put up the Coronet Magazine “gatefold” nudes on the cabin wall. Captain Wilson saw them and exclaimed, “Well, I’ll be damned, Sparky, got any more?”

I repaired two 12-inch navy blinker searchlights, finding blown fuses. I copied news from Reuters on the mill and daily posted a page in the crew’s mess and in the engine room.

By 10 May snow began to fall, and the weather steadily deteriorated. My diary says the First Mate was the best I’ve ever sailed with. Together we stowed the medicine checks and promptly had to use it for treating the dishwasher’s infected finger. I held the light, the patient, and the medicine while the First Mate did the slicing.

After 44 north and 41 west, enemy activity began. We had a large escort including a British “pocket” aircraft carrier in the center of the convoy. A swordfish (biplane) crashed on landing, the pilot survived. On the 17th we changed positions from # 53 to #63 due to loss of two ships as stragglers.

I copied several distress signals that day, and a

diary entry says the chow was poor. We passed

close to Scotland on the 19th as I took repeated DF bearings.  At 04:00 we were off Tory Island and by noon left the column of ships and started up the Clyde River. At 21:00 on March 20, we anchored out in the middle of Lock Long, a precaution about blowing up the place if hit by a bomb.  I helped two local shipyard electricians install a new short-wave receiver in the shack. We had a lifeboat drill and went ashore for a fun two hours in Greenock.   My journal says we had fun—apparently true since I broke my glasses, and our boat had to tow the other one with 25 aboard because they had engine trouble.

The next day we calibrated the D/F then sailed independently for Lock Ewe while I took visual bearings for the First Mate. We had to wait outside while a departing convoy formed up before going in to anchor. The Captain, Armed Guard Officer and I attended the convoy conference at Aides Point on March 27 at 08:45. The Kilmer was designated special W/T ship upon request from the Commodore.

The convoy began forming up at 18:00 as heavy fog set in  I was busy on the bridge with blinker signaling other ships. We were assigned position # 94 with three other Liberty ships also carrying high explosives.

The next morning under clear skies, the Commodore signaled a course change and that enemy aircraft were overhead. The Luftwaffe was apparently only keeping tabs on us since there were no attacks. The wind freshened to about 30 knots.

The weather continued clear and the next day (Wednesday) two aircraft carriers and three cruisers (including the Milwaukee) joined us. At 17:30 our general alarm sounded signaling the start of U-boat action. Depth charges and white flares increased. No ships were lost, but the Commodore reported one U-boat was sunk.

On Thursday morning we had fire and boat drills as air temperature dropped to 35 degrees and snow flurries began as we reached 68 N, the beginning of danger area foretold at the convoy conference.

On March 31 we crossed the Arctic Circle, sighted floating mines, and had a single Stuka attack

which departed when a cruiser launched a

…continued on page 7



Voyage 4  …continued form page 6

Mustang fighter that had to fly back to Scotland. Our two pocket carriers were active, each having a crashed plane but both pilots survived.

Air temperature dropped to 22 degrees with a 30 mph wind and snow. Our ship had a 2 inch coating of ice as we continued steaming northward.

On April 1 at 00:25 the activity proliferated and at 02:30 it became obvious we were under U-boat attacks. After three hours there was a lull, but at 10:15 the cruiser Milwaukee began firing their 6-inch guns and anti-aircraft weapons. At 11:00 another plane crashed on one of the British carriers with much black smoke that turned white by 11:15.

We were averaging 15 to 20 depth charge explosions per hour getting closer to us as evening approached. The convoy, in close formation, went to full speed of 11 knots amid several course changes. The depth charging continued all night and during the early morning hours of Sunday. The Commodore signaled that our escorts sunk three U-boats during the night, but gave no figures on our losses.

We passed Bear Island at 12:30 and had a brief respite from U-boats until 22:00 when they were at us again. Snow fell intermittently and bone chilling cold came through my heavy weather gear.

On April 4, we were attacked at 10:00, then after a lull a Russian escort joined the convoy with the report that our destination was the White Sea  (Archangel ) which angered Captain Wilson who thought we would be in that night.

I took D.F. bearings all afternoon. Our hopes of reaching Archangel on Friday were dashed. The bosun cut his hand that night, and the First Mate sewed it up as I held the light and served as operating nurse. On April 5 we were boarded by a Russian pilot in the White Sea. Two ice breakers, the largest was the “Lenin,” forged a channel for the nine merchant ships to follow in a single line.

Occasionally the pack ice would close in and we would be stuck. An ice breaker would circle and

gouge out a new channel.  Along with the other Liberties, we got stuck many times. It took several days to reach Molotovsk (64.34 N 39.46 E),


where there were gantry cranes. The ship’s booms couldn’t handle a huge anvil, part of a metal stamping press so we needed the gantry cranes.  The temperature was 25 degrees F and holding. The following day Captain Wilson, the Chief Engineer, and Gunnery Officer got shore leave. They returned with bonus rubles for us: 1,000 each for Captain, Mate, and Chief, 600 for each officer including me, and 300 for the crew. Unfortunately the rubles could only be spent in the USSR, and a ration card was required. Since none of us had cards, they were of little use.

On the evening of April 8, the Third Mate and I were given passes and walked the 2 miles into Molotovsk. The town’s Intourist club was closed. Loudspeakers blasted war news on the busier street corners. After having my pocket picked, of the virtually worthless rubles, we then walked back to the ship.

On Sunday (April 9) I walked with the third mate into town and had a glass of vodka at the Intourist club, a very dreary place. Managed a jeep ride back to the ship. My diary tells of scotch whiskey with the Captain and Purser in the skipper’s cabin later that night.   The next morning we moved away from the dock and a floating crane off-loaded our deck cargo of steam locomotives. A pilot boarded us and the Kilmer with three other ships moved to Bakaritza, near Archangel. It took 24 hours for the icebreaker to clear a channel for the four ships. By 18:00 we began unloading the explosives which required 12 days to complete. I made several trips into Archangel, six miles away, sometimes hitching rides on wood-burning locomotives. We had to cross the river afoot; boards were laid across wide cracks in the ice. The weather continued miserable with snow off and on. Archangel, a very dreary city, had mostly two or three story buildings of wood construction, unpainted.

The Kilmer’s propeller was bent when the Captain reversed the engines trying to get unstuck, and sucked great chunks of ice into it. We pumped water into the forward hold raising the stern so

that we could attempt to straighten the propeller blade. This big effort was only partially successful but otherwise we’d have been stuck there for an untold number of months.

…continued on page 8



Voyage 4  …continued from page 7

Next a group of Russian sailors came aboard to build quarters in number 4 hold. We were going to have passengers: a group of Russians that would make up a crew for a warship in England donated to them by the British. We departed Archangel April 21, 1944, ballasted with sea water and a total of 90 Russians including two pilots. The Russians sailors numbered 82 plus 6 officers, none of whom ever visited us.

On Sunday, April 23, we sailed across the “bar” into the Gulf of Archangel and the ice-packed White Sea in molasses-slow progress of 35 miles in two days. The Liberty William Pepper that left a day earlier was waiting for us in Murmansk, but the Barbara Fritchie broke down to be towed back by an Ice Breaker with no hope of leaving before November.    The voyage back through the White Sea resembled our trip inbound, frequently getting stuck in the ice to be freed by the icebreakers. At the mouth of the White Sea where we could see open water again, the Russian pilots got off. After the Russians escorted us along the Kola Peninsula to the inlet to Murmansk on April 27, we anchored and a P.T. boat came to take the Captain and me to a convoy conference. It stopped to pick up members from each anchored ship. There would be no convoy conference. Instead we went alongside a British aircraft carrier where an officer handed us sealed orders. I had been on the deck of that PT boat four hours which was wet, windy and very cold.  A miserable trip.

We departed Murmansk at 06:30 on the 28th with the first depth charges dropped at 15:00. The sea was calm and it was now light around the clock. We had no enemy contacts until 20:00 on Sunday the 30th  when depth charges broke the calm. After two sharp explosions, the Liberty ship William Thayer, three columns away on our port beam, broke in two. The stern floated away, but the bow sank in minutes. As depth charges went off on all sides, the Kilmer’s guns opened up on a periscope.   The William Thayer, empty and in ballast like the rest of us,  had 178 men on board. The torpedoes hit on her port side at the # 4 hold. The engine room and bridge went under then the bow rose up out of the sea before slipping under.


The sea was alive with men from the ship’s bow in 33-degree water. A liberty and two escorts, standing by, disappeared over the horizon.

About 20:00 we sighted periscopes off the convoy’s port as I took the daily time signal from GBR (18:00 GMT) and depth charges exploded near us. A swordfish took off from one of our carrier escorts and flew ahead of the convoy. Three Liberty ships in columns 1 and 2 fired into the sea. Depth charges, dropped all around us, caused terrific concussions. Minutes later an escort carrier began firing at the sea 2 cables from us then our guns opened up over the our starboard bow.  We swung out of column on a ramming course for a periscope 3 cables away. Five of our 20 mm guns blazed away along with the forward 3-inch. The first shot carried away the U-boat’s periscope as she submerged. No escort was available to depth charge this one since all were busy outside the convoy attacking other subs. As we swung out of line on the ramming course with all our guns firing, I couldn’t hear myself think, but said a prayer and called out to my Mother.

About 21:00 a destroyer tore into the convoy off our port dropping 8 charges in a row shaking up the Kilmer severely. I was in the radio room monitoring the distress frequency, the escorts’ phone channel, and the carriers’ radiophone frequency, relaying periscopes sightings to the bridge. The third mate, ever more nervous from these constant reports, stood by the voice tube from the radio room calling out the data to the skipper.

During the running battle Vechon and Gunn, my assistants, were in the radio room trying to keep out of the way. Vechon shook violently, but Gunn maintained his cool except to break the file drawer catch where the code books were stored.

At 11:00 the next day the rescue Liberty came into view with an escort on either side, one of which listed 20 degrees to port. By blinker we learned the Liberty had rescued 36, but only five

survived effects of the frigid water. Of the 178 (including 110 Russians) aboard, only five survived. The merchant crew lost 27.


…continued on page 9



Voyage 4  …continued from page 8

The Kilmer’s log entry reads:

07:58  Attack by enemy submarine pack. General alarm sounded, guns manned, extra lookouts posted. One vessel sunk.

09:00 - Headed ship for and opened fire on periscope distance 600 yards.

This action took place 100 miles east of Bear Island. The next morning, May 1, was quiet, but depth charge drops resumed in the evening. As I watched out the radio room porthole, a convoy tanker supplying oil to the escorts two columns on our port and just behind, was torpedoed forming a black column of smoke. Depth charges continued to explode into the next day.

The running fight continued as we passed the Lofton Islands off Norway, with the escorts kept busy dropping charges and the carriers kept busy keeping their planes aloft.

On May 2, a 6’6” AB cut his forefinger on the left hand while whittling. With the first mate’s help, I put two stitches in the cut. That night we had ten minutes of darkness and the weather began to warm.

On May 3, we received a message that enemy aircraft were in the vicinity. An escort, doing some high speed maneuvering in front, dropped a few charges.

On May 4 , with seas getting choppy, we began to roll. The two aircraft carriers along with the cruisers departed. A BAMS message gave our destination as the Clyde.  Except for floating mines, there was no more enemy activity.

On May 5, the convoy entered the Minch forming into two columns. It was our first day of spring as we sighted the New Hebrides. It was a great feeling that we were now safe from the U-boats. I took many bearings with the Polaris on the bridge wing as we progressed past Lock Ewe into the Firth of Clyde where we picked up the Glasgow pilot. We passed through the submarine nets at 23:00, and after testing the radio transmitters, I turned in to sleep for 12 hours.

Pleased to be alive I went in #3 lifeboat across Holy Lock to Greenock to the Argyle Inn to sip tepid beer. Returning aboard I found mail waiting and stayed up until 03:00 reading it.



On May 8, the Russians disembarked and we began to be fitted with anti-torpedo nets. The purser and I spent the night in a private home for 7 shillings and 6 pence, a reasonable price except I had to share a double bed with the purser.

On May 11, we sailed up the Clyde to Glasgow for 1,500 tons of sand for ballast and refilled our fresh water tanks. I cabled a box of candy to my mother for Mother’s Day and enjoyed the brief respite.

After the 10:30 convoy conference in Gourock, I went with Captain Wilson to the Bay Hotel and several English radio officers for some serious beer drinking. The convoy set sail for New York at 17:44 on May 19.

The trip home began on a pleasant sunny day, but the tranquillity was short lived. At 15:00 May 23 the Commodore hoisted the “enemy subs in area” flag.

The wind came up during the night and by morning hit 40 mph. The Kilmer pitched badly bringing the propeller out of the water frequently causing shuddering and disconcerting vibration. A black gang man was stationed by the high pressure steam inlet butterfly valve and tried to reduce the shaking when the stern came out of the water, but had little success.

That evening our escort had a firm U-boat contact and the general alarm sounding the beginning of a now familiar activity that continued until morning when the alert ended. The Commodore reported two U-boats had been damaged, possibly sunk, with some damage to an escort.

Heavy seas continued. I secured my chair by the typewriter. The spares cabinet burst open during a roll and the shack was awash in carbon tet, glue, and spare parts.

The weather system was with us for several days, and each evening the Commodore reported U-boats in the vicinity.

Finally on May 28 at 04:20, fog engulfed the convoy, staying with us all night. The next morning found us in the center of the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. Six ships pealed off for Canadian ports when the fog lifted in mid-afternoon. That evening the saw the sunset followed by a sky filled with stars.

The next several days were halcyon sans depth

charges, and the air became perceptibly warmer,

…continued on page 10



Voyage 4  …continued form page 9

increasing from 45 to 70 degrees as we entered the Gulf Stream.

On June 2 as we neared New York, the Commodore blinked that we should sail independently for Baltimore. The fog returned and whistling resumed thus eliminating any chance for sleep before my 4 to 8 watch. The Kilmer became the commodore for a mini-convoy of several ships heading south along the coast for Cape Henry.

In the Chesapeake Bay I transmitted three messages to WMH (Baltimore), one for the Master and two for the pilots. After the ship was cleared in the anchorage, we docked at 10:00.

In a taxi headed for Pennsylvania RR Station, the driver asked if it was OK to stop for another “fare” who had been waiting interminably. “Yes, of course,” I agreed.  The “other fare” turned out to be two girls who jumped into the cab, one on either side of me. At the station the girls offered to pay the fare. Generous, I thought, but at the ticket window I discovered that my money clip had been stolen so I had nothing left to pay for the train ticket to New York.  Travelers Aid sprung for a phone call to Tenafly, and after several hours the money my Mother telegraphed was authorized.

That evening as I told my parents about the voyage, my Mother said she remembered being awakened from an afternoon nap with a very strong feeling something had happened to me. She got out her diary and read an entry made on Sunday, April 30 at 14:30 that she “heard me call her.” I checked my diary and sure enough, after correcting for the time difference, that was when I cried out during the frantic encounter with the sub and our firing at its periscope. I was certain of the time inasmuch as I’d just received the time signal from GBR when the action began. This “mental telepathy” has never happened to me since.


Every good story has a transforming moment and

this is certainly one.   More of Bill DeVoe’s seagoing adventures will be featured in future issues of SPARK GAP.



The 1999 GIRA reunion will be held in Branson, Missouri September 30th thru October 2nd.

If you haven’t already done so, register soon.


Glendale Industries is launching a nationwide effort over the next 12 months for WWII veterans to write their war experiences and submit them to Glendale for compilation and publication. The resulting book will be available in stores and in Glendale’s catalog to schools and libraries. Profits will be donated to The National World War II Memorial.

Americans owe a great debt to men and women who served their country in WWII in a common cause. After liberating Europe and restoring peace in the Pacific, they returned home to strengthen our economy, enrich our society and create opportunities for succeeding generations.

The National WWII Memorial will be built on the National Mall in Washington, DC, encircling the Rainbow Pool to honor the 16 million who served in the U.S. Armed forces in that conflict. It will be flanked by two of America’s most cherished shrines, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.

World War II veterans need to share their memories for their children, grandchildren, and for future generations. Sen. Bob Dole, National Chairman of the WWII Memorial Campaign said, ”…in another 50 years…there will be no one left who heard those voices. It is important that we remember the voices and deeds of those young men and women who liberated whole continents from tyranny…”

World War II veterans wanting to take part in this historical project should send their comments and narratives—short or long, paragraphs or pages—directly to Glendale. Please include contributor’s name and address. Mail to:  Glendale;

192 Paris Avenue;  Northvale, NJ 07647-2016.

Fax (201) 767-3323, or e-mail: glendale@Glendale.com.

Glendale is an international catalog company that outfits military, police, fire units, honor guards, color guards, and drill teams. The American Battle Monuments Commission, an independent agency of the government’s executive branch is responsible for design and creation of The National World War II Memorial and endorses Glendale’s book project. For more information call 1-800-639-4WW2.




Suggestions by James E. Smith, R-19

Jim Smith, an IBM engineer for 35 years,  survived the Great Depression, two wars, one house destroyed by earthquake, another by flood waters, and, I think, did some time in a life boat. He doesn’t believe there will be any catastrophic “Melt Down” suggested by doomsdayers, but doesn’t rule out some troublesome glitches.

Jim says:  Consider the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared”, the Coast Guard’s “Semper Paratus” and the Army’s “Take the High Ground” and be a survivalist.


1.   Water will be needed first and most often. Suggest plastic one/two gallon sizes rather than five gallons. Need at least one gallon/per person/per day. Rotate water. Suggest getting water with sealed caps rather than from dispensers. More can be stored in bathtubs and even pools for non-drinking purposes.  Water never goes to waste. 

2.   Food. Enough dry, canned and dehydrated for two weeks. Maybe double that to help unprepared neighbors needing assistance.

3.   Supplies. First Aid Kit and Prescriptions. Extra eye glasses. Flashlights and portable radios with spare batteries. Paper towels, plastic glasses, plates and eating utensils; toilet paper and plastic trash bags.

4.   Money. Have on hand at least $500 in ones, twos, fives, tens, and twenties. Nothing larger. Prices seem to rise to meet the denomination offered for pay. Also have supplies of quarters, dimes and nickels. We found that often pay phones work when home phones are out.

5.   Paper Work. Keep good hard copies of financial records. Mortgages, Insurance, credit cards, bank accounts and checks. Legal size yellow pads work well.

6.   Cooking. We have four 15# propane tanks for barbecue and ten 1# containers for camp type lanterns. Most canned and preserved items don’t require cooking. Fireplaces will work as will tiny fires outside. Caution: Don’t use charcoal barbecues in enclosed areas.

7.   Extra clothing. Sweat suits, socks and foot wear, sweaters and blankets.


8.    Tools. Pliers, hammer, saw, crescent wrenches, screw drivers,  and knives.

9.    Storage. 20 to 40 gallon galvanized containers with thigh fitting lids, sealed with duct tape. Galvanized containers discourage native (animal) thieves.

10.  If not needed, most of the items can be pressed into use later with little wastage. We don’t expect that 2YK will be a major problem, but think some people may be inconvenienced. (We) want to be in a position to help needy neighbors and our local children.


With time measured by the second on one end and the light year (5.878 trillion miles in a vacuum) on the other, two thousand years has no significance. Our Gregorian calendar, beginning at an arbitrary time—scholars estimate Christ was born 3 to 7 years earlier—is only one of  many calendars in wide use. The most likely problem results from early computer programs that may confuse all the zeroes in the year 2000. Most oversights have been corrected. But there’s nothing amiss with being prepared. Jim And Connie Smith have coped with earthquakes & flood and ready  to help less fortunate neighbors.

Good news: Computer programs  used in vehicles aren’t time (year) sensitive.



Check out:


for a website dedicated to those who served as Radio Officers in the U.S. Merchant Marine during W.W.I.I.  Don Wagner, son of Joe Wagner, R-37, is the web master.


Check out:


for a merchant mariners e-mail network.  GIRA members who wish to be added are welcome.


Ernest Hemmingway would have been 100 this

month (July).   While Hemmingway didn’t make it, opting to take his own life, 70,000 Americans did. Demographers estimate that there will be 850,000 American centenarians by the year 2050.



by Chet Klingensmith, R-0

Six days out of Pearl Harbor, my ship, the tanker SS Fort Fetterman, was diverted from our San Diego destination to Panama. The twinge in my right side relentlessly, if slowly, intensified. I was the second radio officer and feeling far from chipper. The bomb that ended the war had been dropped on Japan some 25 days before, six months after my 18th birthday as we approached the Philippines.  The purser reviewed his medical book, and diagnosed my problem as appendicitis and hospitalized me with an ice pack. When our ship anchored  in Balboa, I was sent ashore to the hospital.  The receptionist at Gorgas Hospital, an attractive brunette, inquired as to our reason for being there. “I have appendicitis,” explained.

“No really, why are you here and whom do you wish to see?”   I repeated my claim.

“You don’t have appendicitis!” she declared, obviously becoming agitated.  I pulled out my seaman’s wallet, extracted a fifty dollar bill and put it on her desk. “If I don’t,” I said, “this is yours. If I do, I want you to bring it back and visit me after the surgery.”  “You’re on,” she said.  Two days later while I was lying in a bed half way down a full ward of patients, I heard the “click, click” staccato of high heels approaching the center of the ward. They slowed, and then stopped at my bed. Myriad sounds of male approval flowed throughout the ward which was filled with Army, Navy, and Merchant Marine patients. The visitor was Reggie Rowe, the pretty receptionist. She had kept her word and returned my fifty dollars. To the delight of all, she visited me almost daily while I was there.  As I recall, we became fond of each other to the degree of holding hands occasionally. This was during my relative age of innocence between 18 and 19 in 1945.  I remember she was from New York, likely the daughter of a hospital official or other canal employee.  She was on duty on the day of my discharge, but there was no chance to say “goodbye” because I was rushed out to board a freighter bound through the canal for New Orleans. Memories of such things remain forever. Too bad youth doesn’t.  Now, 54 years later, I think about her from time to time and wonder whatever happened to her, and of the ships that pass in the night—and through the Canal.



by JJ

A recent front page Wall Street Journal story was pretty much an obituary for our beloved CW. Then an article in the Sierra Vista, Arizona, paper said we shouldn’t write it off yet, that the nearby Fort Huachuca is instructing a new class of Army soldiers in morse code. There may still be some minor uses for the venerable system, but the morse code bell is tolling.

Samuel F. B. Morse, sometimes called the American Leonardo, worked out the system in 1838 independent of similar work being done in Europe at the same time. The code we used was somewhat modified and simplified in Europe and is was widely known as Continental Morse. It was confined to telegraph wire lines until Guglielmo Marconi, finding no backing in Italy, moved to London and demonstrated  in 1896 that signals sent with a spark gap could be picked up by a “coherer” at increasing distances. In 1900, The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company got its famous patent number 7777.

Morse’s code served the World well for about 163 years and Marconi’s wireless telegraph counterpart for a century.

Marconi received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1909. Good old CW, music to some of our ears.



Ten miles north of New River is a little business complex called Rock Springs—restaurant, service station and other shops. Recently, while I was chatting with the manager, their smiling wrecker driver burst in to announce, “Richard, I got my wife back.” She had run off with another man some time ago.

“Yeah? What happened?” Richard asked.

“Yesterday, when I went up to Camp Verde to pick up that wreck, I stopped at the casino (on a Yavapai reservation) and hit the big slot for a cool million.” Such news spreads fast in a small place and his wife  was back within hours.

He used his head by taking the jackpot in 20 annual payments of 55 thousand and kept his job driving the wrecker. The first installment was gone within the month. At last report his wife was still with him anticipating next year.





by George Arney, R-42

I graduated from HS in June 1942 and passed up a basketball scholarship (sports-ship) to Syracuse University thinking I wanted to be a fighter pilot. A Civil Air Patrol friend took me up for a flight convincing me I wanted to join the Merchant Marine. After working on a tug and one short trip to sea, I took the test for the Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point. The class was already full so I was offered radio school. Going to Gallups Island in Class R-42 was one of the best things I ever did.  Boston liberty was unforgettable.

One night Bud Sackett and I got a hotel room and spread the word to classmates. The house detective checked at 4 a.m. and counted 14 of us sleeping all over the place. His only comment was that two rooms would have been more comfortable for us.

One weekend when a girlfriend from HS came to visit, I was restricted to the Island. I asked a good, trustworthy buddy to meet and show her around Boston. Monday morning he smiled a lot and volunteered to help me out anytime.

After getting my Second Class license I went to San Francisco and shipped out on a Liberty. In Port Huememe we loaded Sea Bees (CBs) and construction equipment for New Caledonia where I went up at the Officers’ Club.  A Pretty nurse, who looked familiar, came in and sat next to me. Then I realized she was from my home town of Sodus Point, NY. When I said her name, she reached over and took off my cap and said, “My goodness, you’re the little Arney boy from Sodus Point. We agreed to meet after the war at a local place, but she never came back.

We discharged the Sea Bees and equipment in the Admiralty Islands where they rebuilt the airfield. Back in San Francisco I went home then shipped out on a C-3 for England. A T-2 tanker loaded with gasoline next to us was torpedoed and within seconds only flames and smoke remained. I vowed never to ship out on a tanker—but never say never.

After another Atlantic crossing I signed on a Pacific bound Liberty going in ballast to Oakland to load ammunition. I met a beautiful girl in a


bowling alley, and we dated for a few whirlwind days. On the evening we had planned a gala at the “Top of the Mark,” liberty was over, the ship ready to sail. I penned a quick note of explanation but couldn’t remember the street number, so I drew a simple map on the envelope showing her apartment house, hoping she would get it.

We sailed alone then joined a convoy to Hollandia, then pressed on to Lingayen Gulf for several weeks for unloading with ducks in 100-120 degree weather. Food supplies dwindled and I lost 35 lbs before we restocked back at Hollandia.  Back in San Francisco I learned that Mary Anne had indeed received my letter, and we finally made it to the “Top of the Mark.”

I returned to Sodus Point for a 30-day break, but spent most of the time running a tug on the Erie Canal and the Hudson River. Back in New York I met a girlfriend from school, who, after a few days, decided we should get married the next weekend. I was at the shipping office when they opened the next morning urgently seeking a ship. The officer at the desk laughed and remarked, “You must have girl problems.”

“Yeah, she wants to get married!”

He had a T-2 tanker needing a chief radio officer leaving that day. I was aboard within an hour, and the following day we were in a convoy for England. (Never say never, indeed). After Atlantic crossings we loaded for the Gilbert and Marshall Island. At Enewetak, a Navy Lt. Cmdr came aboard and shared my cabin. He said we would be part of the invasion force reading for Japan, refueling aircraft carriers near the Japanese Islands and likely target for Kamikazes. When asked for how long, he said, “until the war ends or until we get blown up whichever comes first.” Then came news of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The war to end all wars was over.

Returning, we were damaged by a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico and went to Galveston for repairs. I signed off and headed home.

I tried Syracuse University for a semester, but couldn’t settle down. I did some commercial fishing with my father, and even worked for a circus for a time. I went back to tugs and got my Master’s license working as a tug boat skipper.

… continued on page 14



Sea & Shore  …continued from page 13

One summer while working as a life guard I met a New York City model. After six dates we married and I settled down with a subsequent family of a boy and a girl. My daughter, in the restaurant business, lives near me, and now runs our family marina at Sodus Point. My son, a West Pointer, is an Army Colonel. Of five grandchildren, one is an Army Lieutenant, 3 are in college, and one still in high school.

Aside from involvement in the marina, I was involved in politics for 24 years as a Legislator and town supervisor. After retiring 10 years ago I spend most of the time aboard my boat, a 43’ trawler cruising the inter-coastal waterway, around Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. My wife died several years ago, and I have problems with cancer, now in remission.  I’ve had a good life, am happy, with great memories especially my time at Gallups Island. Of course, there were some not-so-good times as well:  Atlantic storms, submarines, torpedoes, and bombs. But how much better to remember the good times, the good friends and the world travel? To think I got paid for the opportunity of having experiences that only the U.S. Merchant Marine could offer.




The Greatest Generation  by Tom Brokaw has been number one on the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list interminably. It doesn’t deserve to be. Beware of books with the author’s name is a number of print points bigger than the book’s title. While Brokaw most certainly had some highly professional editing assistance, he would have done much better to have had it ghosted by George Plimpton or one of a number of real writers.

The Greatest Generation has WWII people telling their stories in their own synoptic way. It’s not a book that you “just can’t” put down.

GIRA’s book We Came from All Over, We Went Everywhere, which used essentially the same technique, is much better done, has far more interesting stories. However, we didn’t have a big, nationally known name splashed across the top so we didn’t make any best-selling lists.

There is no doubt that our generation did

wonders. After surviving the worst depression in our history, we defeated two of the world’s greatest military powers, and a third nation that didn’t have its heart into the conflict. But does that make us the greatest?

What about the WWI Doughboys who also had to cope with pernicious flu that killed more than the bullets did. In fact, WWII was our first conflict in which we didn’t lose more to disease than weapons. And Civil War soldiers on both sides who had to cope with even more diseases and wherein almost any wound had horrible consequences. And the Revolutionists. There’s no such thing as a slower, simpler time. Every generation was facing constant challenges, pushing the envelope. Our generation did, indeed, accomplish miracles. But we also had our share of losers. Remember “that ten per cent?” Whatever the percentage we also had them.

But faced with the challenge, I’m convinced this generation would come through. It might require a lot of metamorphoses of marshmallows, but they’d give a good account of themselves.

I usually make short work of good books but slogging through The Greatest Generation is molasses-slow reading. Makes me wonder if those praising the book have actually read it.

No Merchant Mariner’s story was presented in the un-dynamic tome.

It did contain a photograph of an Army First Lieutenant’s pay slip 3/22/43 based in the U.S.


Monthly base pay was                      $166.67

Additional pay (for svc)                         16.67

Rental allowance                                  75.00

Subsistence (30 day month)                42.00


subtotal:                                            $300.34


Allotment, Class E                            230.00

Allotment, Class N                                 6.70


Total:                                                 $236.70


It’s unclear if the allotment came out of the officer’s pay or was extra.  While no princely sum even in those days, it’s a far cry from Mitchner’s proclaimed 21 dollar average for servicemen and 800 for MM seamen.





by JJ

First Aid: Circa 1949 the Coast Guard mandated that all Merchant Marine officers should be first aid qualified. At the time I was on the USNS Sappa Creek in Algiers, La, ready to leave the reserve fleet on a mission to re-supply our worldwide military bases. I had bought an impressive looking first aid book and set about memorizing it in the old radio Q & A fashion. Awaiting the mid-morning test, I sought out the Missouri-Pacific railroad station to do some last minute cramming. Instantly an old codger stood over me grinning through stained dentures, saying, “I saw you come in. What’re ya readin’?” Obviously this was no place to study so I walked down to the Federal Building, where the test was to be administered, and sat on the front steps.

“Hi,” a pleasant voice said. “What’re ya reading?”

“Studying for a test,” I said, looking up into the smiling face of young woman, more interesting than the apparition in the railroad station.

“Oh, I can think of better things to do than that.”

“Yeah, maybe so, but I need to study.”

“You’re cute,” she said, smiling sweetly.

“Well, everybody has a right to their own opinion, I guess, but I do need to study.” I countered.

“Wanta  have some fun?”

“What kind of fun?” I asked, foolishly.

“Your choice, Honey. Anything you want,” she said.

With that I retreated inside the building confident that I’d memorized my first-aid book cover-to-cover.

There were five of us waiting to be tested, all nervous and insecure. A second mate from a freighter in port suggested, “Fellas, we have to help each other out, and try to keep the old Doc off balance.”

The doctor, a Coast Guard commander, looked us over silently then said, “I’ll have two questions for each of you. They’ll be oral so maybe we can all learn something. I’ll start with the young man there.” He nodded toward me. (Hey, that was a long time ago.) Both his questions for me were about things that I’d never be confronted with in a lifetime at sea and neither was mentioned in my first aid book. “First,” he began, “explain how you should wash dishes on a ship.”

I’d never washed a dish in my life, but tried to bluff with, “ well wash them in warm, soapy water and dry them with a clean towel.”

“No, no,” he shouted, “Never, never touch a dish with a towel. Rinse them with hot, scalding water and let them dry in the rack.” He looked at me disdainfully while making notes on a legal size yellow pad, then pressed on with, “Describe in detail how you would deliver a baby.”

“Well, gee, I’d boil some water like they always do in the movies, cut the umbilical cord, smack the little rascal on the bottom, and hope for the best.”

“What about the placenta?” he targeted me with an awful stare.

“The what?”

“The placenta, the afterbirth. Don’t you know anything?”

After my memorizing the first-aid book, this was all Greek to me. I had no idea there was such a thing as afterbirth. The freighter’s second mate came to the rescue by asking the old commander how many babies he had delivered, and what was his most interesting case. These flattering questions distracted him from my abysmal performance. After asking the others two questions each, most as nonsensical as those given me, he signed my certificate along with the others. In all my years at sea, I’ve never have had to wash a dish nor deliver a baby.


If Baytown, Texas, wasn’t the dreariest and dullest town in the country, it would finish in the money. On a stifling morning while the Sappa Creek was loading AvGas at the refinery, I stopped in a dingy little café more out of boredom than hunger. The narrow interior had a row of wooden, backless stools along the counter and several tiny, crudely constructed booths against the outer wall. It was mid-morning and the coffee-break crowd suddenly filled the place to capacity. After a half hour or so the place emptied as fast as it had filled except for a balding man alone in a booth reading the Houston paper and a young lady, easily a two-hundred pounder, sitting on stool next to me. I considered moving over one or two stools, but decided to take a final sip of the strong, tepid coffee and leave. Suddenly the door burst open and a  huge angry man rushed in and flat-handed the girl across the back with a blow that

…continued on page 16



Flotsam & Jetsam  …continued from page 15

sounded like a rifle shot. Then he gave me a withering look and shouted, “You too, if you don’t like it!” I stared at the angry man’s muscular arms, desperately wanting to be somewhere else. “That’s my wife you’re with,” he screamed.

“But…but I’m not with her,” I stammered.

“You think I’m blind,” he shouted. “You couldn’t get no closer!”

“He never said a word to me,” the huge girl said, quickly paying her check and rushing out.

“Now Ben, settle down,” the balding newspaper reader said. “The place was full just a few minutes ago. Learn to control yourself.”

“But preacher, I know she’s trifling on me when I’m on the rigs at night. Likely with some ship guy”

I left silently and quickly faded away going back to the dull but safer atmosphere of the tanker.

Coos Bay/North Bend, Oregon. 1953.

While my inter-coastal C3 was taking on a deck cargo of lumber in Coos Bay I doddered in the bar of the town’s biggest motel, listening to and trying unskillfully to flirt with a lady piano player. A dozen or so people, all bored-looking males, were scattered about the spacious lounge. Suddenly the door burst open and in sauntered two huge men in red checkered shirts, obviously lumberjacks. The biggest one looked right at me and declared, “I’ll whup everybody in the house, two at a time.”

“I’m late for dinner. See you,” I said, slipping out the door into the dining room.

After midnight, I stopped at a little corner restaurant for breakfast of eggs, ham, potatoes, toast, that always tastes so good at that hour. In walked the two lumberjacks who challenged the bar earlier. Apparently they had found some “takers’ since both had some bruises on their faces and damaged knuckles. “Six eggs with the works,” the leader said. “Same,” his partner echoed.

They made quick work of the huge mass. “Do it again,” the bigger one said. “Same,” his friend agreed.

As the bigger one was mopping up the last of the eggs with a piece of toast, he looked at me with bleary eyes. “Say, haven’t I seen you somewhere before?”

“Nah. Lot of people say that about me. See you.”


Panama Canal WWII

Our skipper knew the pilot that took us eastbound through the canal. “Say Baxter, you don’t seem like your old self,” the Captain quipped.

“Ah Herman, big mistake taking this job. Same old thing all the time. Ain’t had a woman since I’ve been down here, but that ain’t the worst.”

“Ain’t no better at sea either,” the skipper pointed toward the Pacific. “Not many datable girls out on the ocean. But never mind the lack of girls, I’ve never seen you look so down.”

“Oh, talk about putting a foot in your mouth. I had both of them in mine, in spades.”

“What could be so bad?”

“Well, a few days ago I was taking a destroyer through this ditch,  and its skipper was a pleasant, handsome young man. So I says to him, ‘have you heard the latest Elinore joke?’”

“No. And I don’t want to hear it,” he declared.

“Oh, but this is a great one, you got to hear it.” I pressed on.   When I finished, he didn’t laugh but fixed me with a piercing stare. “She’s my mother,” he said.   The destroyer skipper was Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr.

Torpedoed in the Desert

One August afternoon I sat on our back patio (we hillbillies call it a porch) watching thunderheads move in over the foothills. In the desert we commonly watch the rare rain. Increasingly loud thunder kept our puppies barking and running in circles. You remember when a torpedo hits your ship or a bomb explodes nearby, a crushed feeling in the chest and wondering how you ended up knocked to the floor (deck).

Suddenly there was a blinding flash and a deafening blast as a lightning bolt hit a great saguaro cactus in a neighbor’s yard a hundred yards away. My first thought was did I get knocked to the floor or did I fall there for cover. Our dogs barked frantically. The great saguaro stood as if imperious. But a day or two later, its arms fell off then it collapsed into a heap of smelly debris quickly filling with beetles. The next year from the same spot I was “torpedoed “ again as lightening struck another saguaro no more than a hundred feet to the north in another neighbor’s yard.   Later a B-1 bomber was in the area doing some tests, and its sonic booms brought down several of the magnificent monarchs.  Nature-induced and man-induced tragedies.



In The Mail

Ubiquitous CQs

Years ago I worked in a Sales Office for Allstate Insuance Co. It was a large room which housed two secretaries and six agents. In a large room to the rear of the building some adjusters had their desks, as part of a "drive-in" claim service at a side door.  When you punched the number of copies into the copying machine  it made a dit-dah noise much like morse code coming into a radio. Occasionally at the machine I would punch in some call letters (KVNQ de BAMS) just to reminisce.  One afternoon I absently hit dah dit dah dit, dah dah dit dah. A client from the claim office came up to the front and said, "Who's that CQing up here!"  He was a Navy Radio Operator. We had a nice chat. We both confessed to trick of driving down a highway spelling out billboards in morse code to keep in practice.

Chet Klingensmith, R-88


Another testimonial

Although I did not sail merchant marine during WWII, I did fly as 1st Radioman in PBY Squadrons VP-73 and VP-84, out of Reykjavik Iceland, Fleet Air Base for the US Navy.   We covered many convoys en-route to Murmansk and England.  Believe me,  those guys who had been previously en route to Murmansk on other voyages, were really "trigger happy."  Of course, as radioman, I had to fire a very pistol with the correct authenticator color sequence (which changed by the hour) when challenged by the convoy. Then after satisfying the convoy challenge, I had to respond by Aldis Lamp blinker to a visual challenge; then, and only then would we opt to fly over the convoy to look out for their welfare. We would usually fly a sector search ahead of the convoy's intended route (based upon route information that we had received from the RAF controlled operations at briefings prior to out patrol flights). The weather was so unpredictable as anyone who flew during that period would know;  one of our aircraft flew over a convoy during a cloud cover, (I think it was headed for Murmansk), and they took a 20 mm shell which fortunately went through the bottom of the hull and exploded in our old GO-9 Main Transmitter.  Scary? But that was the way it was!

Received via e-mail---

Those guys on the Murmansk route were really heroes, but perhaps, others would call them by other names. I had the misfortune to see, as we approached convoys during some of our patrols, where we came upon burning vessels, life rafts and floating bodies in the waters the results of Nazi Sub action, not a pretty sight, but that was SOP for the times. After they placed armed guard crews on the merchant ships, the gun (a 3 inch gun, I believe) was situated on the bow of the vessel.  During heavy fog, if the subs could penetrate the convoy, the subs would surface and fire point blank at the merchant vessels with the sub's deck gun.  The gun on the bow of the merchant vessel couldn't "tilt" down low enough to hit them, and visibility kept other vessels who might have had an effective advantage from helping them.  If you can't see them, you can't shoot them.  No, we certainly did not call 'em "draft dodgers;"  you had to have balls to do what those guys did in the North Atlantic.  But their alternative if they chose to leave the USMM was they would be sucked up by one of the other services at that time. 

Walter Bourgeois,  W5VB  (via Ralph Albers)


Gallups Island Liberty Boats

Further to my note about ships assigned to Gallups Island:  When class R-7 arrived early July 1941 there was only the Cost Guard Cutter Yeaton.  In the winter of 41/42 they obtained an old trawler for carrying supplies and to take the fellows ashore.  It was called the Roderick.  Coldest damn ship I ever rode on in the winter.  Later on when people started arriving by the 100's they got that floating barn that was called the Calvert.  I never heard of the Conrad.  After December 1943, I was out of there for second and last time--just couldn't stand the politics.  Perhaps there was another  vessel (4) involved. The Yeaton was pulled out and sent to war when the Navy took over from the Coast Guard.

Robert F. Clough


Wasn’t there also a tug they sometimes used ? Late one Sunday when poor visibility kept the sub nets closed,  I remember they took us across Long Island where we were picked up by a tug on the seaward side. -- JJ



more e-mail---


The American Merchant Marine was called

"a national  treasure" by the top uniformed officer of the Military Sealift Command. The comment came from Vice Adm. James Perkins during a retirement ceremony in Washington, D.C., February 12th.  Perkins ended a 35-year career with the Navy in a change-of-command ceremony

 that was attended by the Navy's Chief of Naval Operations,  Adm. Jay L. Johnson, and the Commander in Chief of the U.S. Transportation Command, Gen. Charles T "Tony" Robertson. The ceremony was also attended by MEBA President Larry O'Toole, Secretary-Treasurer Bob McFeeters and other representatives of  the union.  Perkins offered remarks on a wide variety of maritime subjects. About the merchant marine he said:  "Our Merchant Mariner-manned ships spend twice as much time at sea as their sister ships with Sailor crews.…Our pre-positioned ships are deterring the world's tyrants while our sea-lifters are supplying bases around the world. All this takes good ships and equipment but the real secret is, of course, people--our 7,000 civilian and military, afloat and ashore, women and men, active duty and reserve, civil service and commercial mariners are the best in the world….

"A word about the endangered species and national treasure the American Merchant Mariner. Some facts:

Fact 1: We had an American Merchant Marine before we had an American Navy.  Actually, our Navy's founders were not silversmiths like Paul Revere or gentleman farmers like George Washington. John Paul Jones, Truxton, Barry, Preble, Decatur, et al were all Merchant Mariners before they became Naval heroes.

Fact 2: The American Merchant Marine lost more men and women in the Second World War - per capita - than any of the other services.  Which is why I am somewhat impatient when someone asks 'Will they go?' when the shooting starts.

The short answer--I also have a sermonette on this subject--but in two words: 'Murmansk Run.'

Hell yes, they'll go. They'll go just like they always

have. Further, they'll keep answering all bells as our nation and our Navy look to them to take on new tasks to free-up sailors, to free-up warriors, for warships."  ---end

Queen Mary in Boston

I have little memory about the harbor except on October the 7th, '42.... I had some free time and was lollygagging around up on the cliff observing this huge ship headed for Boston. When she came abreast of me, what a sight that was.... It was RMS Queen Mary with about 20-30 feet of her stem crunched in.  By evening, we could observe her in dry dock at the Navy shipyard around South Boston or where ever it was. And would you believe that evening while I was on radio watch standing, she came on the air on 500 kHz with a test  (GBTT) !  How brazen!

They never could catch her, could they?  The torpedoes top speed then was 40 knots and QM cruised at about 35. I wonder if the QM has an American bow today or if she was permanently

repaired in Britain?

Al Hadad


In addition to the mishap that smashed The Queen Mary’s bow at least two other near disastrous events befell her. Upon being launched in Scotland she was caught by gusty winds that almost grounded her on a spit of land before tugs could regain control. It would almost certainly have broken her in two.

Every ship has a degree of roll from which she cannot recover. The mighty QM came within one or two degrees of capsizing off Newfoundland after a rogue wave swamped its pilot house portholes some 90 feet up causing her to sag on her beam ends for an agonizing minute before recovering her normal trim.

In such a situation two forces are locked in opposition: The downward pull of gravity (ship’s weight plus everything on it) and the upward lift of buoyancy ie., all the enclosed air within the hull.

-- JJ




"Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing on one's own sunshine."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson




Comments Received via e-mail:

I think most of us are frustrated and disappointed for the long time it has taken for us WWII Merchant Mariners to receive recognition for the part we played in winning WWII.  In fact, even with extending the date of ending the war to December 31,1946, Mariners are still second class veterans.  I am not really sure if we can consider the passage of the recent legislation as a real victory.  For years I have “preached” the importance for AMMV leadership to build a close relationship with the powers to be in Washington.  The Department of Defense,  The U.S. Coast Guard,  The Maritime Administration,  The Veterans Administration,  The President and the Vice President,  The U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives.  These folks are the ones who control our destiny as far as gaining recognition for our wartime service.  The American Legion and the VFW and the other major Veteran Organizations spend thousands of dollars every year in public relations to curry the favor of these government agencies.  We do nothing!  We do not even bother to invite them to our conventions.  We have had 12 national conventions and probably dozens of mini conventions over the past years and to my knowledge we have never invited these officials to attend our conventions or to be our guest speakers or to honor them for their public service.

We have been quick to blast these agencies and then we turn around and expect them to hand us some goodies.  Let us be realistic.  You don’t bite the hand that feeds you. You catch a hell of a lot more flies with honey than you ever will with vinegar.  Let’s get smart in our old age.  Our elected leadership gets very low marks for building relationships with the heads of these Government Agencies.  I just hope that our newly elected officers will see the light and do much better.  The newly elected officers must remember that for Veterans, the real power is in Washington and we need to play their game on their terms and in their ballpark.  I do not think we can build this close relationship from New Jersey, from San Francisco or from Florida.  The real focal point is Washington, DC.  I have long advocated setting up a premier chapter in

Washington DC.  There are several hundred former WWII Mariners living in and around Washington. Many of them are retired from MARAD.  Such a Chapter would be our official representatives at all functions where Veterans or Veterans organizations take part. That chapter could be our eyes and ears, plus represent us in the Halls of Congress.  Every chapter in the country could help support that premier chapter.

Where do we sit today?  We are still just Second Class Veterans.  Our training time is not included in our service time.  Unlike other Veterans, our sea time and training time is not included to calculate retirement from other government service or from Military reserves.  The new veterans created with the date extension do not have hospital care at VA Hospitals.  We still have a long way to go to be on the same level as the veterans of the other Armed Forces.  The Department of Defense still does not consider Merchant Seamen real Veterans of World War II.  During WWII the War Department considered us “civilians.” Following the war the Defense Department maintained we were always civilians, non-combatants, not subject to the Military Justice System and we were free to come or go as we pleased like a bunch of gypsies.  A Federal Judge decreed we were veterans, thus forcing DOD to issue WWII Mariners Veteran discharges.  As of today, senior Military Officers in the Defense Department still do not recognize WWII Mariners as veterans and refer to WWII Merchant Mariners as a “sub culture.”

I just read official DOD letters to Senators and Congressmen written as recently as a few months ago.  Senior DOD Officers  maintain we are not deserving of being called veterans.  We have nothing to celebrate!  There was no victory as long as DOD has this opinion of our WWII Merchant Marine. What about the future?  In my opinion, if America ever gets involved in another war such as the one we had in the Persian Gulf, I suggest the Navy carry all the sea cargoes.  They should operate their own ships manned with regular Navy Officers and crews.  Leave the “civilian” Merchant Seamen out it completely.

Right now, the navy should be operating and manning with their own Officers and crews all Military Sealift ships and do it without increasing

… continued on page 20



more e-mail  …continued form page 19

their budget by one penny.  If they do it that way, when any war is over, there will be no question on veteran status.  The sealift was done with an all navy crew.  No civilian sub-culture seamen to confuse the issue of veteran status. I am not sure why Senior DOD Officers have such a low opinion of WWII Mariners, but it only demonstrates the importance for our organization’s newly elected officers to build close relationship with DOD and the other government agencies who control our destiny.  Time is running out and the hour is late.

Perry Adams


Dear Perry: Well done! I was only born during WW II and I am an associate member of the AMMV North Atlantic Chapter. I have completed an anthology of US Merchant Marine stories from WW II which will be published next year. I am now writing about the tragic bombing of Bari, Italy on 2 Dec 1943.

The more I write and research about the USMM the more I am convinced how important it is to document and publish the wonderful and heroic deeds you men and women contributed to our history. My viewpoint is that there is a crucial need for perpetuation of the Merchant Marine. Why isn't there a movement underway to form an American Merchant Marine Foundation. Set up like the new foundation that the VFW has? Sail On! Sail ON! Sail On! Regards,

Jerry Reminick


I was on a tanker transferred to the navy after we had been refueling the 7th Fleet in New Guinea. We had 38 civilian crew members, the navy had 20 men (officer, non-coms, and seamen). They did little or nothing, except make trouble. They wouldn’t even pull a line when we’d take on refueling 4 destroyers or two cruisers at once.

After taking over they had a crew of 137 and complained about being short handed. They also had so much junk that the ancient craft’s capacity was barely two thirds of cargo (bunker C) that we handled. With their manning standards, they would have been hard pressed to find enough personnel in the Nation to man all the WWII cargo ships.  -Ed



You might want to check out a good book that I read many years ago. It's titled  Clear the Decks  by Rear Adm. (Ret) C.V. Gallery. Gallery was the C.O. of Fleet Air Base, Iceland.  Also, he was the one who, with his crew on a baby flat top, captured the practically new German U-Boat,

U-505.  While I was serving under him (then a Captain), he was responsible for getting me sent to USN Flight School. Don't know if any of his writings are still available. When I bought “Clear the Decks” in 1967 it cost a whooping $0.60. "amazon.com" may be able to help.

 At Fleet Air Base Iceland, our Quonset Hut camp was called (unofficially, of course, even

though a big sign read):  "Camp KWITCHERBELLAKIN" ... We were also known as members of the FBI: "Forgotten Bastards of Iceland."  It was a different way of life, but we managed to survive the rigors.

The U-505 German Sub that Admiral Gallery

captured is in the museum in Chicago.  As a matter of fact, the Admiral bemoaned the fact that they put it on display and "scrapped" his baby flat top, the USS Guadalcanal and gave the sub such

an "honor."  The Germans did not know it had been captured intact after the crew attempted to scuttle her. The flattop's boarding crew shut off the its scuttle valves.  All of the German Code Books were well intact inasmuch as they just figured that the whole thing would go to the bottom.  They didn't have time to do it up the way it should have been done.  Apparently the Germans assumed it had been lost in action

in its area of operations;  capturing those code books allowed us to “read their mail” which undoubtedly  contributed to termination of the events in Europe several months earlier than would have been the case without the codes.

Walter Bourgeois (forwarded from Ralph Albers)




We welcome your messages.  E-mail us at





more e-mail---

Ah,  those blond Icelandic women ... yes, the "stulkas," as we used to call them.

They were something.  The custom at that time was that you could marry and after six months of marriage, if you chose to opt for incompatibility, either partner could by petition, dissolve the union.  The exception was if there was a child born, or on the way, you were stuck with the arrangement.  Lots of GIs reportedly went for the arrangement, and all was well until some reneged on the part about offspring which infuriated the locals.  Actually, the civilian populace was pro Nazi.  We came in and took over everything that the Nazis had done.

We used to go ice-skating on the big pond in downtown Reykjavik, but the

girls would either skate ahead or behind us, never side by side, lest watchful parents be displeased. They had perfect command of English and would converse, but that was the extent of it.

The Marines (our USMC) were known by the young girls, as "MooRines."  Seems that one of the town's ladies caught a Marine who was supposed to be doing guard duty, making out with a cow.  This didn't go over very well, even with the Marine Captain who was in charge of the Detatchment.  I understand the amorous marine was court martialed and spent time in Portsmouth Naval Prison before being booted-out of the service.  Imagine that item on a resume.

Walter Bourgeois  (forwarded from Ralph Albers)



Lawmakers veto tests

Inside the beltway (Washington, DC) 1,388 Mensans suggested that our “leaders” be tested to see how many of them, if any, are in the top 2 percent (requirements for Mensans). There were no takers.


Alaska has the highest number (4 per cent) in the armed services. Massachusetts, where it all began, has the fewest (.02 percent).





An anagram is a word or phrase made by rearranging the letters into another word or phrase.  The following examples are quite astounding!


Dormitory                            dirty room

Evangelist                           evil’s agent

Desperation                        a rope ends It

The Morse Code                 here come dots

Slot Machines                     cash lost in ‘em

Animosity                            is no amity

Mother-in-law                      woman Hitler

Snooze alarms                   alas, no more z’s

Alec Guinness                    genuine class

Semolina                            is no meal

A decimal point                   I’m a dot in place

The earthquakes                that queer shake

Eleven plus two                  twelve plus one

Contradiction                      accord not in it


And the grand finale:


“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.


A man left the planet, pins flag on moon, takes raid on Mars.



Gregorian Calendar Adapted

The Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1582—people went to bed Oct 4 and awoke Oct 15. When England and Colonies accepted it in 1752, it was 13 days off. People demanded the lost 13 days back. Pope Gregory XIII used the year as 365.25 days, but it’s actually 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds or 365.24218 instead of 365.25.   Russia didn’t come aboard until 1918. China after World War Two.



It’s not too late to register for Branson.  Call

Branson Music Tours at (417) 335-6007 or

(417) 336-5350.  Ask for Buddy.




























Mel Tillis



















Will Rogers















Glen Campbell



















































Box Car

































































Ray Clarke















it or not







76 Music Hall
































Andy Williams








































































Not to scale



This is a stylized map drawn by an individual who has never been to Branson, and should in no way be taken to be accurate.  It was derived from other maps of the local area and is meant only to provide a rough idea of the lay of the land.


The Radisson Hotel is located on Wildwood Drive, which is just south of the “strip”.  It is one of the tallest buildings in the area, so should be easy to spot.  The Radisson’s phone number is (417)335-5767.


GIRA has arranged for trips to the Shoji Tabuchi show, the Mel Tillis show, and  the Jennifer Americana Theatre, all of which are shown (remember—not to scale) on the map.


Lake Taneycomo wraps around Branson, and it is assumed that the showboat cruises are on this lake.


If you haven’t already registered for this fun event, and you want to go, please call Branson Music Tours for the GIRA Reunion at (417) 335-6007 or (417) 336-5350


































Post Office Box 42036-357

Phoenix, Arizona 85080-2036


John (JJ) Ward, Editor

49220 North 26 Avenue

New River, AZ 85087-8080

(623) 465-9256



Urban A. Guntner, President

(410) 377-5316


Raymond E. King, Vice-President

(617) 331-6154


Homer  N. Gibson, Sec-Treasurer

(412) 962-4213







The Spark Gap is published periodically by The Gallups Island Radio Association.

Basic circulation is confined to Association members and Gallups Island Radio School

graduates, instructors, and administrative personnel during World War II.

This alumni newsletter is dedicated to the men who went to sea as Merchant Marine

Radio Officers, school instructors and support people assigned to Gallups Island.

Opinions expressed herein are those of contributors or the editor, and do not necessarily

reflect the position of the Organization, Officers, Directors, or Association members.



I wanted the gold, and I sought it;

I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.

Was it famine or scurvy—I fought it;

I hurled my youth into a grave.

I wanted the gold, and I got it—

Came out with a fortune last fall,

Yet  somehow life’s not what I thought it,

And somehow the gold isn’t all.


                   Robert W. Service