Radio Communications Division, as discussed earlier, was made up of Message Processing Center "MPC," Facilities Control "Faccon," and Teletype Repair "TTY," arranged here in descending order of number of included personnel and size of physical space used. MPC was the most dependent of the three, reliant on TTY for properly working Teletype equipment and Faccon for reliable message traffic circuits. TTY was the least dependent, it simply being a repair service. Faccon was mostly independent except occasionally needing repairs/preventive maintenance on its two Teletypes by TTY or on its receivers, transmitters and encrypting equipment by ET's (Electronics Technicians).


A utility room behind TTY housed the sonic cleaners and a deep sink, but most important it was the home of the departmental coffee urn, making it a place of reverence and constant pilgrimage. Just as it was true that Navy ships were buoyant in water, it was equally true that Navy men were buoyed by coffee. The coffee mug was a natural extension of the sailor's arm when he was on watch. Only certain old salts were allowed the honor of creating the brew, using recipes where taste was far less important than high density and light-impenetrable blackness. These were the fellows who would consider sissy any man who kept his cup clean and didn't allow it to build up a "cake" in the bottom. The ship's galley also had coffee urns but was unable to keep them filled sufficiently to satisfy the perpetual drain.

Faccon maintained nearly every radio communication circuit on the ship. Consequently, we were beleaguered by an assortment of other departments’ needs as well as our own. To help us in keeping circuits and radio equipment straight we had a four-foot-square, glass utility board centrally located in Faccon. The board was set in a steel frame hinged to the bulkhead not far from the 1PA intercom bank. Light bulbs affixed around the back of the frame illuminated any grease pencil writing on the glass. Annotated on this utility board was a list of all radio receivers, transmitters and antennas. Also shown was whether they were "up" (in working order, including radio frequencies set, their current use and subscriber), "down" (in need of repair), or on standby (not used but in working order). Also listed were projected frequencies and circuit needs to be set up for subscribers by specified times.

Faccon, MPC and TTY watches lasted eight hours each. Faccon fluctuated between three watch sections and four depending on whether we were in port or at sea. Four watch sections was the usual for in port, three at sea. The oncoming watch arrived at least fifteen minutes early. They received verbal updates and those from the written watch log telling what, if anything, was currently happening, what was coming up to be done, and what problems/situations had been encountered during the previous watches. The early arrival also allowed for a smooth transition, in which the new watch could begin taking over functions being handled by the off-going section. There was small disruption in Faccon's performance.

All radio listening logs would be signed off, then on, by respective watches during watch transitions. Although changing of watch sections was usually routine and speedy, there were times when an off going section felt duty bound to stay and assist with an especially difficult or imminent situation. Also, some fellows enjoyed the challenges presented by Faccon so much that they helped other watches besides their own. It was a form of personal entertainment, continuous training and additional experience. There was always opportunity to receive the exhilaration of accomplishment. Some men tried to hog it all, so the rest had to be on their toes to get a fair share. I tended to travel the middle ground.

Mentioned earlier was the fact that MPC was totally dependent on Faccon for its message receiving and sending capabilities. If a termination or broadcast frequency were beginning to fade out or be hit by some atmospheric, static or jamming condition, MPC would notify us so we could begin investigating. Meantime, MPC would ask our termination station to resend messages that arrived in garbled condition. A faulty radio path was not the only reason broadcast or traffic channel messages might come in garbled. Malfunctioning or miss-calibrated equipment anywhere in the sending or receiving system setups could cause similar traffic distortions. It was Faccon's job to troubleshoot, locate and rectify causation as close to lightning fast as possible. Here is a collection of pictures taken of Faccon in March of 2009.

One of many benefits from the ship putting into port was that usually we could arrange to terminate via land line (telephone line). Land line eliminated the constant stepping up and down of radio frequencies. We were never able to use a land line in Hong Kong, however. Local authorities required the ship be tied to a mooring barge far from land.

I composed the following in keeping with my tendency towards expressing personal thoughts and experiences through writing:

(See Recipe endnotes.)


Recipe for a Facconer


A twinge of fear

A pound of gaff1

A barrel of common sense

An amount of tact (optional/variable)

Six ounces leadership

Six ounces followship2

Twelve ounces cooperation

The memory of a digital computer

An eight track mind capable of functioning on all tracks simultaneously

Four arms or equivalent in dexterity

A simple vocabulary of "Wait one," "Say again," "Rephase all traffic channels3," "Faccon aye4," and "What's for chow?"

An archive of know-how

A cat's curiosity and a sponge's absorption5

A lion's nerve and an Arab's thirst6

$.20 and membership in the CokeR mess7

A never-say-die willingness to help

An inexhaustible resource of energy

The good will of the Freq. god8

The ability to pull broadcast freqs. out of a hat9

An inherent cringe toward term. outage10

A knack for soothing fiery dragons11

A deep feel for competition12

A mountain of tolerance

A wary respect for comsec13

A smart bundle of loyalty14 tempered with the ability to realize it when he's wrong

Lastly—ownership of a ladder with which to climb down off the bulkhead when relieved15.



C.W. Paige
U.S.S. Midway CVA-41, somewhere in the west Pacific, 1971

It was important that every electrical device on board should be well grounded to the hull. Otherwise, malfunction or electrocution could result. Green, marbled linoleum tiles normally covered decks in passageways and compartments. This was to protect the steel from being worn thin by years of constant foot traffic and to give some electrocution protection to personnel. All radio rooms, including Faccon and MPC, had additional protection in the form of gray, skid-resistant, rubber floor mats. In port the ship would often be connected to shore power lines, whereas at sea the ship could produce enough electrical power to supply a population of one million people.

Although the ship was well grounded throughout, this fact did not eliminate the creation of electrostatic and electromagnetic fields. The ship actually could be identified by the unique set of "fingerprints" made by these fields. I was not aware of how living inside the fields could affect me until during the second Westpac cruise.

Nervous tension or energy could be a positive attribute in helping sailors to do all that required doing on ship. I noticed this nervous energy in myself, and at first it did not seem anything unusual. I just took it for granted as a mere part of the shipboard experience. However, every part of my personality, including purposes, interests, etc., seemed intensified, as if I were receiving extra energy from an outside source. Even my spiritual and metaphysical perceptions sharpened, and I frequently received flashes of insight into existence as if the Midway were a gigantic cosmic receiving antenna amplifying celestial Thought.

One particularly intense insight (or delusion?) came just before our first overseas cruise. I had been feeling mentally depressed for a few weeks, when suddenly I knew it was time to begin writing. I wrote every chance that presented itself for nearly a week, until the strong compulsion finally ceased. Today, I look at what I wrote during that spell and it does not seem cogent. Yet at the time, what I wrote seemed the essence of existence including creation and origin of thought, badly restrained by a lacking vocabulary.

It was during the second cruise, when my nervous energy was increasing to an almost-neurotic volume, that I realized I could temporarily eliminate the extra energy by grounding myself. I would grab hold of an antenna coupler in Faccon and instantly feel the "hyper-energy" begin draining first out of the body and then out of the brain. The last area to release was a previously obscured, dull ache in the back of my brain that seemed the focus of nervous irritation. Then this last would be gone, too, and the relief was exhilarating. I tried telling others of this "grounding therapy," but only one other person attempted doing it, and then with no results of which he was aware. There may have been an awareness or other factor involved. It surely helped me, though, and occasional groundings kept my head clear through the remaining shipboard stay.


Recipe Endnotes




"Gaff" was our truncation of the slang phrase "to stand the gaff," which means to "weather hardship or strain; endure patiently" from the Random House College Dictionary. Return




"Followship" was a word I coined. Return




"Rephasing" was a step necessary to resynchronize cryptographic equipment at both ends of Teletype termination traffic channels when they dropped out of "sync." Return




"Faccon aye" was the phrase used when initially answering a 1PA intercom call. It was also the phrase used to acknowledge that a request over the 1PA had been heard, was understood and would be carried out. Return




"Absorption" here means the retaining of all that one has experienced and learned. Return




"Arab's thirst" tells of the almost unanimous need to shuck the pressures of day-to-day activities by getting stupid drunk when on liberty. (Respectfully to Arabs, since Arabs are predominantly Muslim, and as Islam frowns on drinking alcoholic beverages, only the thirst is attributed to them, not the getting drunk.) Return




Facilities Control had a small, under-bar-type refrigerator located next to the Teletype machine used to print received UPI news. A fellow Facconer could purchase a membership in the mess, allowing him to buy cans of seldom-cold sodas at $.20 each. The only responsibilities were that each member occasionally collected funds to stock up on sodas when in port. We also took turns supplying the refrigerator with sodas when at sea. Return




Inter-station communications between the ship and our terminating station depended almost entirely on atmospheric conditions. In response to this dependency we invented a representational deity called the "Freq. god." (Freq. as in radio frequency) It was upon his benevolence or malevolence that our fate hinged. Sometimes the Freq. god’s job was made extra difficult by human contrivances.


Haiphong Rose

Besides maintaining bi-directional, multi-channel, teletype-message radio signals, the ship also monitored a constant teletype-message broadcast being sent to the entire Western Pacific fleet.  This broadcast was simultaneously transmitted on several established frequencies that one could alternately switch to as atmospheric conditions changed due to movement of the sun or effects of weather.  On one occasion we had to request that the broadcast also be sent on a non-regulation frequency due to jamming—presumably by North Vietnam.  The powerful jamming transmission contained a woman’s voice singing a high-pitched Chinese-style aria, effectively slicing through the whole spectrum of normal broadcast frequencies. The new, temporary broadcast path avoided the jamming and we were once again in business.





It was important that the ship should always be in radio communications with the outside world—not only to send and receive normal message traffic but especially to have instant availability to send or receive urgent messages or alerts requiring immediate response. Being out of communication at the wrong time could have had potentially catastrophic results during those heated days of the Cold War. Consequently, sometimes we had to stretch logic or sidestep regulations to fit the moment's crisis and maintain contact. The following is an example of such maneuvering that took place on Yankee Station in 1971.


Sun Spot

My section was on watch in the summer of 1971 when a sunspot completely suppressed our use of all normal radio paths, including that of the satellite transceiver we were experimenting with.  When the solar proton event hit, all radio energy was obliterated by the tremendous infusion of proton particles—a condition that lasted several hours.  All communications stopped; even the high command voice radio network was silenced.  When the condition finally weakened slightly we were able to establish voice communications, via relays through nearby stations, with the distant Naval Communication Center through which we had been sending and receiving the ship’s message load.  With encrypted voice instructions we had the Communication Center send our message traffic using an abnormally high frequency that had become unusually stable.  They had us do likewise with our transmission to them.  Finally we were back in business. When the condition slowly subsided in late afternoon and the higher frequencies destabilized, each side stepped down their radio path until finally reaching the normal range.  The upshot of these actions was the Midway logged less communication outage during this incident than did other ships in our area. Return




It was Faccon and MPC's job to maintain communications no matter what, and we were working hard to have the coveted "Green 'C'" awarded to the Midway. The "Green 'C,'" when bestowed, would be attached to the ship's superstructure announcing to the world "this ship has consistently displayed superlative communications efficiency." You could not earn one if you did not have a high percentage of solid, low distortion termination paths. Any outage, no matter what the reason, reflected on us, meaning Faccon, Radio, the entire Communications Division, and ultimately the ship, and worked against our winning the special honor. (See also #12 below.) Return




There were so many essential ship communications requirements that questions often arose as to subscriber priorities. Even after priorities would be worked out, the whole list could be changed again during special situations even to the extent of modifying hourly. Included in the list of considerations were needs concerning mission instructions and fleet advisories from CINCPACFLT (Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet). There were reports and queries for tactical feedback and decision-making. The ship required reliable communication with our task force and with pilots during flight ops. There also were supply and shipment reports and requests. The chaplain and ship's newspaper required UPI news copy.



"Fiery dragons" were an assortment of sometimes snarling, always important sounding brass. Each insisted that all of Faccon's attention be placed on his particular communications requirements, sometimes even to the exclusion of all others. A situation quickly reduced to pandemonium when two or more "dragons" needed something done simultaneously. During flight ops this type of situation was more the rule than the exception. Occasionally one of them would see the need to make his physical presence known in Faccon. However, due to our cramped work area and the flurry of activity, it wasn't unknown for a lowly petty officer to ask such an intruder to get back out of the way. With few exceptions the "dragons" withdrew. Normally, the closest they came to us was by voice over the 1PA intercom. After I wrote Recipe, Chief Johnson sent copies to all the departments we dealt with. At least one officer accurately admitted recognizing the "fiery dragon" implication regarding himself. Chief Johnson also sent around copies of the following, which I wrote about the same time as Recipe. ["Bitch box," like "Squawk box," was one of our names for the 1PA.]


Bitch Box Syndrome


The bitch box is an inanimate object. Although it is an intricate machine, it is also very stupid. You might say it's degrading to talk to it. There it sits — dumb and gray, ugly and blaring. Suddenly it blurts something at you and demands immediate attention. If you find that you are irritated by this "bitch box syndrome," there is a medicine. Simply visualize a person talking to you. In actuality a person is talking to you. To respond any differently than you would if you were talking to him personally can cause upsets. The person on the other end is neither stupid nor inanimate and deserves considerate communication. Return




We were in competition for the "Green `C'" with many other ships of the fleet. Despite our intense efforts the Midway never won it while I was aboard, though one was proudly sported on her island at the time of her decommissioning in 1992. [See also #10 above.] Return




"Comsec" stood for communications security. CT's (Communications Technicians), otherwise known as gumshoes, constantly monitored the air waves. Their job was two-fold. First, they were to spy on transmissions from unfriendly forces. Next, they ensured that our own ships, planes and ground forces/stations emitted no unnecessary, especially non-coded or non-scrambled transmissions that could be of use to the enemy. Return




"Loyalty" mainly defined the very strong support Facconers extended to one another and pull-together in upholding the hard-won integrity and proven proficiency of our area. Sometimes we, and even our departmental officers, had to invoke this loyalty so as to get us out from under some particularly fiery dragon. Fortunately, we did not make many mistakes, so our total record gave us some breathing space and leverage in a close disagreement. Return




"Down off the bulkhead" was required after being driven up (the wall) by a normally busy watch. Return

Copyright 1992, 1998 Charles W. Paige

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