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.
Stringing a wire between houses and sending and receiving Morse code to and from a friend in the middle of the night like I did with my high school buddy didn't just spring into my mind out of whole cloth. Ten years earlier, before I could barely even read, I had done the same thing between my house and the garage-shop of an old man who lived next door. If you take into consideration my age while in high school, ten years before when I was stringing wires between the houses with the old man, you can pretty much figure I was a fairly young boy. Really young, not only with the construction part of it but dealing with letters, numbers and Morse code as well. I don't think it dawned on the old man one way or the other and it sure didn't me. I did have a little assist from the outside however, my mother, as found in the following two quotes below from the sources so cited. The first having to do with Captain Midnight Code-O-Graphs, the second with comic books:
"(My) mother, seeing that using the decoder required dealing with letters and numbers, and me willingly learning them at such an early age, bought a bunch of Ovaltine and sent for another decoder so both my brother and I would have one. The recognition of the importance and the learning aspect of it all is one of the few fond memories I have of my mother prior to her death a couple of years later."(source)
"For some reason reading came easy for me, learning to read at a very early age --- thanks to my older brother. He was three years older than me and when he was learning to read in the 1st grade I was learning to read right along with him. By the time he reached the 3rd grade I was reading 3rd grade books as well as if not better than he was. During that learning period he had assigned school books and while I read some of those books, a good portion of my reading material stemmed from comic books."(source)
The old man was the grandfather of the girl nextdoor who used to babysit my two brothers and myself. He was a sort of Rube Goldberg inventor type guy that seemed like he could fix or build anything. He had a junk filled workshop in the detached dirt floor single-car garage on the back of the babysitter's property. He was always collecting, working on, and making all kinds of stuff he said was to thwart the "impending invasion," meaning by the Japanese.
One day I was snooping around his shop going through his junk, the little guy that I was, when I came across a small rectangular piece of wood that looked all the same as having been a mousetrap at onetime, but instead had coiled wires and other electrical stuff mounted on it with printed words identifying it as a Dot 'N Dash Electric Telegraph Set. The old man told me it was one half of a two part set that when hooked together with wires and a battery could, by using a series of dots and dashes, send messages back and forth between two or more people over long distances --- something he said the two of us could do if I was ever able to locate the other half.
I never did find the missing second half, but while searching around I came across a much better example of basically the same thing in what was called a Tom Mix Straight Shooters Telegraph Set. The Dot 'N Dash set was made four-to-six years before and sold through the Johnson Smith Company. The Tom Mix set was new, being originally a free box top offer promoted by the Ralston Wheat Cereal Company one or possibly two years before the war. One box top and .10 cents in coin or free with two box tops. Ralston had tried the telegraph gig once before but that product-offer was never designed to actually send and receive, being more of a practice set. The old man, a cereal box top sort of guy, had long since sent for two of the kind that worked, but never got around to hooking them up. In that he had a matched set, as soon as I was able to convince him to do so we wired the two of them together between each of our places.
It wasn't long after that we were sending and receiving code, although I have to admit the old man, who was really good with Morse code and me just learning, sort of tired of it quickly. Eventually he just gave me the whole set. After that anytime I was able to catch somebody to participate in Morse code with me I did, although pickings were slim. Most of the kids on the block near or around my same age didn't have the letter and number comprehension I had so most of time it was my mom humoring me. She could read and write classic Greek so picking up dots and dashes was easy for her. The extent of most of my older brother's interaction was cutting the wires and stealing the batteries. The complete Dot 'N Dash mousetrap set was never found, although I did nail the half we had to one of the garage-wall studs so we wouldn't lose it in case we ever found the other one, of which we never did. What happened to the Tom Mix Straight Shooters Telegraph Set is kind of a mystery, melting away into the abyss of a onetime childhood I guess.
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THUS THEN ENTERS THE MILITARY DRAFT:
All those easy going youthful family oriented childhood days ended quickly upon the death of my mother. Time passed and not long after a few 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 within a few days, 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.
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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 during the exact same time period, fit perfectly for both the decoder and the signal set to end up tossed into the same box and stored away together, then only to be forgotten to death until discovered by my brother and sent to me while I was still in the Army.
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As a young boy, other than learning Morse code on my neighbor's Tom Mix Telegraph Set he eventually gave me and that I eventually lost, 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."
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.
"If it wasn't for the increase in my level of interest in learning more about Morse code in my early high school years I would not have been in a position in later years to have the code sending abilities the Army came to value, which in turn put me in a position to be at the monastery. If you take away nothing else from what I have ever written, try to remember the present moment is shaped both by past and present actions; present actions shape not only the future but also the present. With that said, there is an axiom that goes: This being present, that arises; without this, that does not occur. In my case then, no code, no Army, no monastery."
THE CODE MAKER, THE ZEN MAKER
SHANGRI-LA, SHAMBHALA, GYANGANJ, BUDDHISM AND ZEN
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
CONTINUING WITH THE WESTERN UNION STANDARD RADIO TELEGRAPH SIGNAL SET:
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 Tom Mix and 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.
WORLD WAR II ESM/1 EMERGENCY SIGNALING MIRROR
"As a kid it seems like a large portion of almost everything I learned came from reading comic books. Over and over, even today in the stuff I write I often refer back to something I read at one time or the other in a comic book."
Anybody who is familiar with or has read any amount of my online works knows that as a kid I was big on box top and the like offers. As I viewed it, comic book ads were a quick jump from box top offers, falling into a similar or like category. After I answered the comic book ad to become a Junior Air Raid Warden, and at the time I don't think I was even in kindergarten yet, the rest was easy. As mentioned above, after the war my uncle would take me to a giant army surplus store called Palley's. When my uncle returned to Santa Fe and I began living with a foster couple, comic book mail order took up the slack. Notice in the ad below, in those days, a kid could even order knives, machetes, and axes if they were so predisposed. Below is just like all the stuff I used to order. Since I was just a kid with no mother and father and living with a foster couple at that, the question always comes up, "Where did I get the money?" Not being totally truthful about my age I worked at a place called The Normandie Club.
The old man and the babysitter figured prominently in my early life, several times as a matter of fact, some major, some minor. In a way the old man was sort of a progenitor or prototype of things to come, being there teaching and showing me things and laying the groundwork in my young life long before my uncle or mentor came on the scene or I was even old enough to start school. The sun, stars, electricity, pneumatics, the speed of light, time. They were all there in an embryo way.
One of the interactions, and ranked right up there as one of the ones I was most fond of, and of all things, believe it or not, turned out to be nothing less than a radio premium offer, albeit one from an era long before I was ever aware of them.
If by pure happenstance you were an unknowing person who just stumbled into the old man's seemingly ramshackle shop, taking no more than a quick glance around, the junk pile dump of a place it appeared to be, you would think he would never be able to find or keep track of anything. However, he had his own way of doing things and in that own way had some things he considered to be of a high personal value and because of that they were treated and kept in a special way.
One of those valuable things --- at least to him --- was an item I was absolutely fascinated and intrigued by, except he would rarely let me touch it. The item was a 1922 antique called an Ansonia Sunwatch, designed to fit in a pocket with a folding lid that covered a sundial and compass. On a sunny day, following the instructions and placing the Sunwatch in the right direction, a person could discern what time it was.
As an alternative to his prized Ansonia he let me use an item of similar intent anytime I wanted, an item that he didn't hold in nearly as high esteem, but for me I loved it. As I viewed it, it just as good if not better. Actually, it was a radio premium offer from Ovaltine like the later-to-come Captain Midnight Code-O-Graphs, only from the year 1938 called a Little Orphan Annie Miracle Compass Sun-Watch:
Playing around his shop and getting into things and experimenting with all kinds go good and weird stuff all came crashing down one night. Less than three months into World War II a giant airborne object of an unknown nature appearing out of nowhere overflew Los Angeles and surrounding communities in an event that has come down to be known as:
THE BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES: 1942 UFO
The huge object, as big as a Zeppelin, was able to withstand over 1440 direct anti aircraft rounds before it escaped unscathed, disappearing in the night sky out over the open ocean south of Long Beach. Well before reaching Long Beach the object had skirted the north side of the Santa Monica Mountains eastbound before turning south into the L.A. basin. After entering the basin it then turned westward just missing the Baldwin Hills by basically following Ballona Creek towards the ocean, turning south along the coast where the creek flows into the Pacific. Continuing south it reached a spot between the Edison generating plant and the Redondo Beach pier where for reasons unknown it turned diagonally inland. In doing so the object crossed directly over the top of my house. When it did, even though it was two o'clock in the morning or so, almost everybody on the block was outside to looking at it, and they were outdoors thanks to the old man who had a portable hand crank siren that he took out in the street and cranked up. In what I have written about the object I have reported I heard sirens, but others who write about the event don't all agree with my assessment. There may not have been sirens universally all over the whole of the L.A. basin or even Redondo specifically, but our block had a siren, thanks to the old man.
WORLD WAR II HAND CRANK PORTABLE AIR RAID SIREN
The second part of the event circulates around what I remember or don't remember about the events that night. The remembrance part involves the old man's grand daughter, my babysitter. When the object flew south from Santa Monica down the coast it did so just along the surf line. In doing so it went right past the house of C. Scott Littleton who lived on the Strand in Hermosa Beach. Littleton, now deceased, is considered THE foremost authority on the L.A. object. He too, like me, was also a young boy at the time of the overflight, albeit a year or so older. Although he uses a lot of my material to substantiate what he saw Littleton always adds that he felt I was to young to remember all the subtle nuances that I have interjected in what I have written about the object. In other words, he knows everything and I don't know anything.
Well, it just so happens I remember a great deal from those days, which in turn allows me to know a lot. For example, I remember my mother nursing my brother who was three years younger than me. Seeing barrage balloons floating in the sky tethered to the ground over the shipyards in Terminal Island where my father worked. But, most importantly I remember well the life size cardboard toy fighter plane-type cockpit --- colored on one side with dials and printed only in black and white on the backside --- with a movable square cardboard joystick the girl who lived next door and babysat my brothers and me, owned. It was called a Capt. Sparks Airplane Pilot Training Cockpit, and although I didn't have one myself, I played with hers so much it might as well have been mine. The same time I was using the Tom Mix Telegraph Set with her grandfather was the same time I was playing with the Capt. Sparks Airplane Pilot Cockpit AND the same time the fly over occurred.
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If you clicked the above Airplane Pilot Cockpit ad you would have learned that the cardboard cockpit toy wasn't made available to the public until November 6, 1941, roughly four months before the overflight of the giant object. Now I am not sure what the shelf life of a cardboard toy would be with a bunch of kids playing with it, but if was still usable after six months and I remember playing with it, it had to be right around the same time as the February 1942 event
Because I enjoyed the Capt. Sparks Airplane Pilot Cockpit toy so much, and played with it so often Mary Lou decided to downsize it from our or her use to my use exclusively. She did so by upgrading to a different much more sophisticated model. Where the Capt. Sparks Pilot Cockpit was a cereal box top offer, and a good one at that, the new one was a big bucks go to the store and buy it model called an Einson-Freeman Pre-Flight Trainer. She didn't actually give me the old Capt. Sparks one per se' after she got the new one, but for all practical purposes it became mine --- although she never allowed me to take it home. I remember specifically the new one because it didn't have a square joystick like the one I played with, but a circular steering wheel. I also remember she didn't allow me to use it much, leaving me relegated to the use of the old one, which I recall was fine by me.
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To my dad my older brother, the first born, was like a prince. In my young mind as I saw things or how I felt it in my bones, my dad lavished, if not all, an inordinate amount of his affections and care towards him, leaving me feeling shortchanged in the bargain. In order to counteract that lavishness and have my dad aim some of that affection in my direction, I did everything I could to gain or establish an equal level of worthiness. The difference was that my older brother received his worthiness, at least as I saw it, with no effort on his part, but I had to continuously prop up mine diligently, making any outcome dubious or short term without my constant input. Thus entered into my young childhood me being a Junior Air Raid Warden.
During World War II, on our block and for several around, my dad was an air raid warden, a position he not only relished, but a fine one at that. My older brother didn't care about it one way or the other, but I saw it as a window of opportunity to upgrade my status in my father's eyes. If my solution did or didn't work relative to my dad is nothing I have any real recollection of, however I liked it. On my own initiative and a little help from my mother, I became a Junior Air Raid Warden primarily on the basis of responding to an ad similar to the one below and reading comic book stories such as Edison Bell. In the process of doing so, amongst my peers and adults on the block, I raised my importance beyond any recognition simply from just my dad, making me understand for the first time, sadly though, that there was a much wider world of significance out there.
JUNIOR AIR RAID WARDENS
BATTLE OF L. A.: THE RADAR DILEMMA
1942: THE GREAT LOS ANGELES AIR RAID
SAN CLEMENTE ISLAND AND THE 1942 UFO
ALBERT NOZAKI: THE 1942 WAR OF THE WORLDS
OF THE YUKON
HOW HE BECAME A MOUNTIE
DOT 'N DASH ELECTRIC TELEGRAPH SET
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