Throughout most of my high school years there was a kid that lived directly across the street I used to run around with on a regular basis until about the 12th grade when his parents decided to sell their house and move. During the years we ran around together we bought what was called a Western Union Standard Radio Telegraph Signal Set which consisted of two identical battery operated devices that allowed the user to send and receive Morse code over a fairly reasonable distance via wire or using a light signal. My buddy and I strung a wire from our bedrooms up into the trees and across the street between our houses and over a period of a couple of years would send code back and forth to each other way into the night. Over time and without any formal training I got fairly good at both sending and receiving Morse code. Then, not long after my idyllic high school years, Uncle Sam came calling, re the following:
"For a vast number of young men growing up around the same time I did, after reaching a certain age, they were uprooted from whatever they were doing by the then in place friendly Selective Service System, otherwise known as the draft, and plunked down into the military. And so it was for me. Following a crowded ruckus-filled overnight 400 mile train ride from the induction center in Los Angeles to Fort Ord I, along with several hundred other potential GIs, at 4:00 AM in the morning, was herded into one of a whole line of cattle trucks and taken to what they called the Reception Company Area. Then, after being issued two pairs of too large boots along with several sets of too large olive drab shirts and pants, and having the good fortune of completing eight weeks of basic without incident I was sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia to attend the U.S. Army Signal Corps School for what they called Advanced Individual Training, or AIT."
The Peace Corps Volunteer and the Asian Warlord
Almost on the first day of Morse code training after arrival at the Army's signal corps school, unlike most of my fellow fledging GI telegraphers floundering around at 10 words a minute even after two weeks, than I was sending and receiving 20 words a minute headed toward 90, and was noticed for doing so by the instructor. The instructor, who was a civilian, had worked for Western Union as a telegraph operator for thirty years or more and could himself easily send and receive upwards of 200 words a minute. When he asked if I was a Ham operator I told him no but had for years sent and received code using a Western Union Standard Radio Telegraph Signal Set. Rubbing his chin a little and looking up toward the ceiling, the civilian instructor, always looking for alternative ways for recruits training under him to learn Morse code, asked if it would be possible for him to see the signal set. Kissing ass as much as wanting to score points and most especially so, make my life easier while at Fort Gordon, I contacted my brother who had all my stuff in storage to locate the set and send it to me. Which he did.
I gave the set to the instructor and told him he was welcome to it, but if he ever tired of it or it didn't work out like he thought, send it back to my brother. The thing is, when my brother finally found the box the signal set was in, packed away in the bottom of the same box when I put it in storage was a Captain Midnight Code-O-Graph, more specifically, a Photo-matic Code-O-Graph. My brother, not sure why the decoder was in the box, after looking it over, just left it there along with the signal set when he mailed it to me.
As mentioned previously, the kid across the street and I used to run around together until my last year of high school when his parents sold their house and moved. It was he and I that used to send code back and forth to each other using the signal set. His moving away during my last year of high school required us to dismantle our rig between our houses, ending any real use of the set. That, coupled with me receiving the Code-O-Graph from my uncle at almost the exact same time, fit perfectly for both the decoder and the signal set to end up somehow stored away together.
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As a young boy, long before I began learning and sending Morse code, the only real possessions I dragged about with me in a continuing fashion throughout my childhood and in good order was a Buck Rogers U-235 Atomic Pistol and my growing collection of very highly code related Captain Midnight decoders. My favorite decoder, the aforementioned Photo-Matic Code-O-Graph, as depicted above, ended up for reasons unknown to me at the time, mysteriously missing from the rest of my collection by the time I reached high school. That mystery was solved when my Uncle went to his mother's, my grandmother on my father's side, and discovered my decoder languishing away in a box along with some other stuff related to me. To wit:
"When my uncle returned to his home in New Mexico after dealing with the concerns of his mother's death in Pennsylvania, being my onetime guardian and knowing full well the importance that decoders held for me generally as a kid while we were together, one of the first things he did was pack it up and send it to me. The decoder was clearly the missing Photo-Matic Code-O-Graph from my collection and obviously so because it had a small photo of me as a young boy inserted in the square, solving the mystery of where or what happened to the decoder and why it had been missing for so many years."
Years later, after receiving the telegraph set along with my Code-O-Graph in the mail from my brother, there I was, a fully ingrained member of the United States Army with newly earned PFC stripes --- after having gone through both basic training and a good part of AIT as a private slick-sleeve --- and with my very first big military assignment looming over my head, but, just like when I was a kid, running around all over the place carrying a Captain Midnight decoder with me everywhere I went.
I had been in the Army about a year when I finagled my first real leave. No sooner had I left than my First Sergeant called telling me it was important for me to get back to base. I returned to Fort Riley where I was basically kept in isolation for four to six weeks doing nothing but sending and receiving Morse code until I was blue in the face. All that code practice was for one thing only --- to hone my "talent." The military discovered --- after I was caught goofing-off by the ASA replicating the "fist" of a staff sergeant that unbeknownst to me at the time was actually gone from the base on leave --- that I, with almost a miniscule amount of practice, had an uncanny ability to accurately duplicate or counterfeit almost any Morse code operator's "fist" to such a point that what I sent, was totally undistinguishable for virtually anyone to differentiate between messages sent by me and that of any person I was imitating.
As you can tell the Code-O-Graphs that played a major role during my childhood, as odd as it may seem, continued to play a major role throughout my life right on into adulthood. It is my belief, and a belief I still hold to this day, that my early childhood interest and use of the Captain Midnight Code-O-Graphs instilled in me an almost innate ability with codes including an early expertise in sending and receiving Morse code, in turn setting the scene for my MOS assignments in the military. Then, even within the military setting, they continued to impact my life --- especially so after my brother inadvertently sent the Photo-Matic Code-O-Graph I owned as a kid to me while I was in the Army. Please see:
THE CODE MAKER, THE ZEN MAKER
SHANGRI-LA, SHAMBHALA, GYANGANJ, BUDDHISM AND ZEN
TIME TRAVEL: MEETING YOURSELF
Several years after being discharged from the Army my Morse code background and my military use thereof came into play again. I was visiting the Castle Air Museum in California's central valley when I came across a story that one of the airplanes on display, a B-29 Superfortress named Raz'n Hell, was said to be haunted --- and not only was it said to be haunted, the ghost was said to send Morse code.
There is a myriad of credible haunting incidents related back to the Raz'n Hell that have been seen, heard, or experienced by any number of regular folk and witnesses, including museum employees, guests and visitors, and even people driving by. Incidents ranging from a worker on the plane being handed a tool he requested only to find he was totally alone on the plane. Others have reported locked or secured hatches opening and closing and from the outside, seeing a ghost-like figure in the cockpit. Also, people in cars have reported the landing lights being on at night when they aren't even hooked up or operable. The following quote, in regards to me, Morse code, any ghost thereof, and the B-29 in question, can be found in full at the source so linked directly below the paragraph:
"It was only when I was told some people have even heard what they thought was Morse code that my ears perked up. I was at one time in the military a notorious code sender of some repute, thought by some of my superiors to have been on par with the infamous Confederate guerilla telegrapherGeorge A. Ellsworth or, just as equally if not more so, thought by the Army Security Agency as ready for the stockade. So said, on par or ready for the stockade, after hearing about the Morse code being heard I wanted to spend a night on the ghost plane, an idea that was easier said than done."
THE GHOST AND THE HAUNTED B-29
Below is the instruction sheet and operators manual for the Western Union Standard Radio Telegraph Signal Set. Note in the General Instructions that when operating the set for distances greater than 100 feet to replace the use of flashlight batteries with dry cells, something both my buddy and I had to do because of the distance between our two houses.
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S. B. MFG. 200 TELEGRAPH SET
ELECTRIC GAME COMPANY S.O.S. TELEGRAPH SET
J-38 HAND KEY
ON THE RAZOR'S
As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.
In the process of learning to send and receive Morse code in my early days, beside the Western Union Standard Radio Telegraph Signal Set, somewhere along the way I came in contact with the Electric Game Company's S.O.S. Telegraph Set, also with a buzzer and light. If it was before or after the Western Union version I don't remember. I do remember it didn't stand up to the rigors of use my buddy and I demanded, so, even if it was before, the S.O.S. version was quickly superseded and discarded. Although a fun little set and really inexpensive, as I think back, it may have been because it wasn't easily adaptable to the use of the dry cell we needed to power the distance between houses.
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Throughout a good portion of my early to mid childhood years I fell under the direct supervision of my Uncle. During that period the two of us had been overseen even higher up by the ever watchful eye of my Stepmother. It was she who picked up the tab on all of our expenses and adventures.
So said, I was always making crystal sets, having started as a little kid building what is called a 'razor blade radio' or 'foxhole radio,' a kind of primitive or rudimentary device like a crystal set that just "runs on air." Never satisfied with the one I just made I was always trying to make bigger and better ones to pull in farther and farther away stations. Because the signals of far away stations were always weak and the sound low I decided I needed the best pair of earphones I could get. So saying, my uncle took me to the giant Palley's Surplus Store off Alameda Street and Vernon in L. A. to pick out a pair of war surplus earphones with a full set of large foam rubber ear pads. Palley's had everything and we used to go there often with me always returning with a bunch of World War II army surplus stuff --- canteens, pistol belts, parkas, infantry backpacks, army M43 folding shovels, and two of my very favorites, an Army Signal Corps J-38 Handkey with a leg-band for sending Morse code and an ESM/1 Emergency Signaling Mirror --- so even then, without any real knowledge of what Morse code was, except for the fact that it was code, I was drawn to the potential of it all.
WORLD WAR II ESM/1 EMERGENCY SIGNALING MIRROR