Radioman "A" and "C" Schools—

The new barrack I moved into was just a few blocks from the old, and it was one of three new structures designated for Radioman School students. The well built, triple-deck structures were of red brick and looked like formal hotels. Each compartment accommodated four swabbies in semi-luxury, with ceiling-high windows extending the width of the outer bulkhead (wall) fitted with vertically closing blinds. Below the windows was a long desk with four chairs and two sets of drawers. Unlike our "BEEP" School lockers, which were three-foot cubes, the new lockers each stood close to seven feet tall and were more than three feet wide.

Each barrack had its own compartment housing a variety of gedunk (food vending) machines. All three buildings shared a common, sunny lounge complete with color TV, couches, tables and chairs, artwork on the bulkheads, high ceiling, and windows everywhere. Of course there were no maids, so we still had to carry out field days to keep our compartments shipshape. Yes, there were compartmental inspections. Still, inspections and daily room maintenance were small prices to pay for such living conditions. I also had some good roommates, Roark (from Choir), Nass, and Pennock.

There was a time of suspense after "BEEP" School graduation caused by an overabundance of sailors slated to attend Radioman "A" School. Some men would have to wait two weeks before starting, while the others would start the following Monday. I wouldn't have minded waiting the extra two weeks, since it would have meant squeezing another fourteen days with great liberty into the school adventure. As luck would have it, my name was on the list of those starting Monday. Meanwhile, we received a tour of the school, where I found the teachers to be tough, strict and thorough. Those of us to begin school Monday were told to learn one-half of the Morse code (for telegraphy) over the weekend and the other half by Tuesday.

The following is from a letter to Mom dated April 7:


"I have a leave coming up after graduation from "A" School on May 30. I've accrued fifteen days and will receive travel time allotted according to the location of my next duty station. I'm fine and couldn't be better. San Diego is doing wonders for me. I'm working on economizing, shooting many pictures and seeing the sights.


"I just love it here! There is such an overabundance of beauty and lush foliage. Every tangling, green and flowering vine wants to be just a little more beautiful and creative than the next. The orange flowers run a close second in brilliance only to the sun. The blue ones make the sky want to pull the ocean over its ionosphere. The lavenders are the envy and prey of many artists, who would give their inheritance on earth to capture the exact hue on canvas.


"The ocean breezes are fresh and continuous, filled with the haunting chant of sea gulls. The palm trees bend to listen to the ants talk and then straighten again when discovered. If you listen closely on a quiet beach on Sundays at 5:00 PM, you can hear clams stretching their muscles in preparation to be carried away by the violent tide. Little children fly kites so high in the ocean breezes that they become entangled in the stars. Gliders flying by must cautiously make their ways through the spider web of sun glistening string.


"The hills have clustered up near the beaches to see all that goes on. Selfishly they deflect the breezes and keep the setting sun from being visible to the valley behind. Only here can a man stand in the tall grass and suddenly become the sky, the earth, and the ocean. Only here can you be a god, without body or mind, a mere existence observing all that goes on in your realm. While you're observing, your senses allow you to realize that there is more warmth than just that given by the sun. A swirling, all-encompassing warmth flows from the glowing, active lives of the many people who become animated by the environment. People do not fear to know each other, closer to nature as it were by being stripped of the haughty, stifling barriers of more cumbersome clothes necessary in less friendly climates. Bikinis, swim trunks and sun suits help make any social gathering really a social gathering.


"Well, just thought I'd relate to you the feelings I have about life in Southern California."

Radioman "A" School gave us the basic knowledge and practical skill required to operate effectively as Radiomen. Among the many subjects taught were:



Morse code and "CW" (carrier wave) telegraphy, which we had to send and receive at increasing speeds until we reached at least 12 words per minute. For many, learning telegraphy techniques and Morse code were the most difficult subjects, since "CW" was completely foreign to our life experiences. It was a combination of learning a new language plus then having to translate the sound impulses from ear to brain to hand to typewriter in micro seconds.



How to set up fleet telegraphy, Teletype and voice communication networks and how to function within their frameworks. This included learning a lexicon of brief three-letter symbols sent to represent many frequently used sentences, phrases, instructions and commands. (These symbols were only used in setting up and maintaining networks and were never included as part of formal message texts.)



Versions and usage of message formats for all types of communications, including principles of internal message routing.



How to maintain required "listening" logs detailing everything sent and received over the various networks.



Manual encrypting techniques, equipment and codes-of-the-day used to ensure that an encrypted text wouldn't be understood by an unfriendly intelligence even if received by it.



Fleet Teletype, including how to operate Teletype machines and their attached TDs (tape distributors, used to cut messages onto tapes for future transmission). For some men, just learning how to type was a new and painfully slow ordeal. I knew how to type from a high school course, but those typewriters worked almost nothing like these machines!



Operation of electronic, Teletype-text encrypting/decrypting equipment (which became my forte).



Fleet communications equipment, including how to operate and troubleshoot an assortment of transmitters, receivers and transceivers; using frequency bands from VLF (very low frequency)—used primarily by submarines), LF (low frequency) and MF (middle frequency), HF (high frequency), VHF (very high frequency), UHF (ultra high frequency—that proved to be used heavily for aircraft carrier ship-to-plane communications during takeoffs and landings because of its short distance, line-of-sight aspect), to SHF (super high frequency). This range of topics included the respective types of antennas and how to set up antenna systems.



We learned how to set up and operate the conversion equipment that changed the electrical, DC (direct current) impulses coming from the Teletype machines into AF (audio frequency) impulses that transmitters could then send over the airwaves as RF (radio frequency). Other equipment performed the reverse process for converting RF from receivers all the way down into DC impulses for converting to words/numbers by Teletype printers.



Everything above tied together as we learned about the various communications systems and how to connect each component piece together by using several types of switchboards and electronic patch cords and patch panels. Patch cords, or black wires about a foot long, were used to connect the power source to a piece of equipment. The wires had the same type of connector at each end as used for plugs on civilian earphones (the older type, not the new, tiny jacks). A series of holes in a patch panel represented the pieces of equipment hardwired to them, and the remainder of the holes provided the DC power. A voltage meter on the panel needed to be checked frequently, with occasional adjustment made to ensure proper voltage. Adding or removing patch cords (in other words, adding or disconnecting equipment) would require readjusting voltage settings. Otherwise, signal distortion would result.

Some of my friends during "A" School were Nass, Roark, Mortimer, Westfield, Spilman and Crowder, though my closest friend at this time was Pennock. Crowder and I would hang out at the Sea Lanes, an on-base recreational center near Preble Field, which had bowling lanes, billiards, shuffleboard, TV, a restaurant, and a hobby-crafts facility. It was here that I dabbled in leather craft (making a leather carrying holster for my English recorder) and black and white film developing. Mortimer was my workout buddy when I would exercise, take saunas or swim at the on-base gymnasium (where we had taken our swimming test during boot camp). Yet, it was Pennock who usually accompanied me during my walking tours of the area surrounding the Naval Training Center.

Pennock and I logged many hours and miles trekking in all directions from base. We occasionally went on bus excursions outside San Diego, especially to communities along the coast, where our usual points of focus would be university campuses. They could be counted on to be aesthetically constructed, beautifully landscaped, and peopled with folks near our own age. Yet locally, too, there was a banquet of things to see. I especially enjoyed the visual interplay between the exceptionally bright Southern California sun and the variety of flowers and foliage. Another attraction we frequently passed by was an eye catcher that sat in front of, and advertised, a place called the Catalina Lounge. The immaculate reddish-orange vehicle(s), which I called the "Push-Me-Pull-You" (from the animal by that name in the 1967 movie release Doctor Dolittle), was created by welding the front half of two 1930s vintage Dodge cars back-to-back, so that one car had two fronts pointing in opposite directions, joined just behind the front door(s). The welding was seamless, making it look as though the creation had been built so at the factory.

One day Pennock and I happened onto a fellow who talked us into following him to a shrine dedicated to the Nichiren "Shoshu" subsect of Buddhism. Nichiren was the only Buddhist sect originating in Japan. After a friendly yet persistent barrage of rhetoric we began to be trained as initiates. The religion promised financial benefits and emotional contentment/happiness. I noticed there was an assortment of male and female civilians present besides sailors and marines.

Pennock and I learned our first chant. It went "Nam Yoho Renge Kyo" (pro. Nam Yo'ho Ren'gay Kee'o—with the "R" trilled). We were to chant this phrase repeatedly in a low, monotone voice, so that our spirits would become tuned into the benevolent forces of the universe. After making the proper connection we would become the conduits through which these universal forces would flow, bringing harmony and many good things into our lives and our environment.

We gradually would have been initiated into other levels of chants prescribed for attaining more specific results had we stayed with the program. We quit attending shortly after Pennock and I purchased small, sacred scrolls containing several Japanese writing characters purported to have magical properties. Both of us had become dissatisfied with our spiritual states (encouraging us to try something different). Yet neither of us was ready for such radical variation to our Fundamentalist upbringings. The dissimilarity of the two beliefs was just too great.


Pennock and I went in different directions after "A" School. He and Roark were assigned as Flag's radio staff aboard the COMSEVENTHFLT (Commander Seventh Fleet) Flagship moored at Japan, while I went to a carrier. It was in 1971 that I met up with them again. They were still in Japan. Soon after, Roark was assigned to my ship when COMSEVENTHFLT underwent a change of command.

"U.S. Naval Training Center Gate Three" was our usual launching point for walking excursion or sojourns into San Diego proper, though there was a bus stop at each gate. Gate One, the formal gate through which important visitors entered and left, was distant from the Navy's Service School Command area and primarily was the Marine Corps' gate, since it was in their training area and manned by them. Walking across base to that exit was a healthy jaunt by itself. Apparently Gate Two was a distance, also, as I do not recall ever using it.

Downtown San Diego offered a wide selection of things to see and do besides the goings-on at the Servicemen's YMCA. There was, of course, an endless array of hustlers up and down Broadway Street offering a wide range of services and experiences to the serviceman. Also, there was an upper room that advertised free sandwiches and coffee to servicemen, where a fellow could go when his money ran out and yet he was hungry. Since man does not live by bread alone, anyone walking into this establishment would be obliged to listen to a Christian sermon and do some praying first. Then it was a showing of hands by everyone who was "Saved." Those saved would be taken into a back room to fill out an "I was Saved" card used by whomever ran the place, as it was explained to me, in justifying the expense. One worked pretty hard to get a free sandwich.

There was the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad station, where you could watch the trains coming and going, or take a ride. Once I even fancied the notion of taking a train across country to Michigan during one of my leaves. Upon investigating the cost and time involved, I would have spent about the same for train tickets as I would have for taking an airplane to the same destination. The train odyssey would have taken a minimum of two days if there were no derailments, accidents, etc. This was in contrast with the six hour duration of a plane flight. Also, I would have had to pay for food during the trip, and train food tended to be expensive. In other words, the excursion never occurred.

The pawn shops were many and fun to browse through. It was in one such shop that I traded in my first 8mm movie camera and, with a few extra dollars, bought a Yashika movie camera with three lenses to be used for different telephoto settings. On it I spent my last twenty dollars. Then I was heckled by a prostitute, sitting at a bus stop just outside the shop, who wanted me to get the money back so I could buy her services. My response was to turn the camera on her and begin it rolling. She immediately looked the other way, stood up and departed.

I enjoyed walking around the many marinas located near the city. Countless hours were spent watching marina life and the comings and goings of seagoing vessels. The continuous display included an infinite number of sizes and models, everything from tiny manual skiffs to huge and expensive oceangoing yachts, propelled by muscle, sail, and motor. Also there was Sea World, where one could watch porpoises and killer whales perform tricks to an appreciative audience that would frequently get sprayed and splashed in the bargain.

I could not get enough of Coronado Island just off the coast of San Diego. Just walking around the island was thrilling enough to keep me happy, especially since I enjoyed tropical vegetation so much. There was the sprawling, wooden Hotel Del Coronado. As an additional bonus, on Sundays all the ancient automobiles from miles around seemed to converge on the island. It truly became a vintage car lover's paradise.

I soon discovered a favorite restaurant (ristorante in Italian) called "Joe's," where over the years I ate many meals of spaghetti-with-chicken-liver sauce. I also visited the Plumb family, who had a home on the island. The Plumbs owned another estate on Lake Huron near Port Austin, Michigan, where they were close friends of my sister, Charlene, and brother-in-law, Bob (the area's United Methodist minister). The entire Plumb family did their best to make me feel right at home. Dr. Plumb was a leading heart specialist.

I spent a large portion of my liberty time at the huge San Diego Zoo, though an even higher percentage was used to haunt the many acres of Balboa Park. The park contained permanent exhibits plus temporary exhibitions of one thing and another, especially artwork of all types, international festivals, and so on. I often listened to the five-thousand-pipe Spreckel's Organ, the largest outdoor organ in the world (at least it was in the late 1960s). It was kept in a classic Greek style building that had Doric colonnades extending out from either side forming a crescent. There was seating for two thousand spectators/auditors. Just before commencement of a concert, the weatherproof door extending the width of the stage would lift out of the way to expose the organ and its player center stage. Balboa Park was ever changing and always entertaining. (Later I would frequent its San Francisco counterpart, the Golden Gate Park.)

I volunteered for Radioman "C" School (also called "2304" School) in early April and figured I had a 99% chance of getting it. The school would begin after completion of "A" School and would be a maximum of seven weeks in duration. Graduation would come only after a sailor reached the Morse code intermediate speeds of sending 18 and receiving 24 words per minute, which could happen (I hoped) anytime during the seven weeks. Radioman "A" School would result in graduates receiving a "2300" rating as determined by the Navy's specialized training numbering code. Graduates from Radioman "C" School upgraded to a rating of "2304" denoting the additional specialized training in Morse code.

Following is an excerpt from a letter to Mom dated April 28:


"We had a little excitement today. After school I went up to my room and lay down for a catnap. (It's now my 10th week of school, and I'm learning about the communications equipment we'll be using in the fleet, or wherever.) I wasn't having any trouble falling asleep and suddenly realized why. My bed was being gently rocked back and forth with the barrack, NTC and all San Diego. It wasn't the loud, roaring earthquake I had heard about but a gentle rolling such as one might feel on a boat. I later heard that fog was seen boiling in off the Pacific. The fog indicated possible volcanic action under the sea such as a fault opening to expose hot lava to cold water. The quake caused a rip tide off the coast of Japan in which a girl was caught and swept out to sea. Luckily she survived. The night before I had felt something I thought was a tremor but put it off as imagination.


"Starting Monday I'll be working eight hours a day on 'Prac Deck.' (Prac Deck, or Practical Deck, simulates conditions, equipment configurations, and situations that might occur in the fleet.) Prac Deck will last one month, then (I am sure) I'll be going on to 2304 School. For the first two weeks Prac Deck hours will be from 11:00 PM until six in the morning. There are several advantages to Prac Deck. The main one is there will be no more weekend duty, since I won't be in a duty section."


[I began spending a considerable amount of time in the genealogical reference section of a San Diego library researching into the Bliss branch of my ancestry. Although I collected some information during my navy years, the brunt of the research and compilation wouldn't occur until after I left the military. Starting soon after discharge, various genealogical projects on a wide assortment of family lines kept me researching and organizing data for more than a decade.]

I received "dummy" orders on May 16 stating I was to report to "2304" School on completion of RM "A" School. From "2304" I would have fifteen days leave before reporting to Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard, San Francisco, aboard the Midway. The Midway was a CVA (attack carrier) that was undergoing an extensive modernization. (In later years, after I had left the service, the "A" would be dropped, and the ship would be simply designated a "CV.") I learned that the ship's recommissioning day would be sometime in January of 1970, and that our home port would be Alameda, California, not far from San Francisco. All right!

I nearly bought a used 10-speed bike from a fellow on base figuring I could use it around NTC and then send it up to San Francisco to be picked up later when arriving at my next duty station. Then I decided not to buy after getting wind of inaccurate scuttlebutt claiming that the Midway would be going out on trial runs in September of that year and would be leaving for Vietnam in January of the next.

Graduation from "A" School occurred on May 30, after which I moved to a different compartment in the same barrack designated for use by men attending "C" School. Again it was a time of saying good-bye to friends, while anticipation of coming adventures (and more San Diego liberty) acted as a carrot to draw me ever forward. Besides, Westfield, Spilman, Roark and other friends would be attending "C" School with me.

I was now "rated" as a Radioman seaman apprentice and could sew, on my jerseys above the two stripes designating rank, the lightening bolts announcing I was a Radioman, or "Sparks" as we would be called informally. "Sparks" was a rating nickname which I suspect originated from the sparks created by an operating telegraphic key. No doubt the same phenomenon inspired the lightning bolt insignia design, itself. "C" School proved to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated. The interminable sending and receiving of the intermediate speeds of Morse code began to frazzle my mind near the end, and it was only through sheer will and the force of necessity that I graduated, the happy event occurring in the second week of July, or sixth week of school. Many others did not make it. As punishment for their failure to graduate they went directly to their next duty station without leave and, no doubt, with great embarrassment.

Copyright 1992, 1998 Charles W. Paige

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