THE GREAT TURKEY CAPER
The Great 1961 Bremerhaven Thanksgiving Turkey Caper, or, How the Midwatch had Turkey Sandwiches.
On Thanksgiving Day 1961, Sailors and Marines alike were awed by the wonderful presentation that had been created by the mostly German cooking staff. Located just inside the entrance of the mess hall, one was greeted by a beautiful roasted turkey surrounded by various squashes, gourds, etc, and amazingly enough, unguarded. Enticed by this exquisitely succulent vision, an impromptu conspiracy developed during the meal which culminated in a turkey-snatching that was deft beyond description. Mission Impossible couldn't have pulled it off any better.
Having snatched said prize, the conspirators (so it is said) hid their booty in the trunk of a car which served nicely as a refrigerator, and scurried to their respective rooms to await the storm.
And storm it did. The whole base was turned upside down after the cooking staff discovered the turkeynapping, Ach Du Liebers flying fast and furious, as it had been promised to them. Dire things were promised for whomever lifted the bird, but no one was talking. As the on-going Midwatch held its breath, every place was searched - except cars.
Rumor has it that the Turkey sandwiches that night (and beyond) surpassed everyone's memories of Turkeys Past, and all agreed that it was unlikely that the opportunity would present itself again anytime soon. It was widely believed that the Sailors and Marines were the culprits, and the cooking staff didn't wam up to them for quite some time after. Sic Semper Meleagris Gallopavo!
KING OF THE CODE COPIERS
I arrived in B'haven out of A-School at Corry Field in February 1967. Flew into Frankfurt and took the train north, a young CTSN fresh out of WV via Pensacola and Great Lakes. The German bier kicked my rear on the ride up. More powerful than the 3.2 stuff in WV. Switched to rum and coke mostly after that, less potent. Did the usual Sleazy's initiation, Ratzenpus and all. Hamburg visits, Amsterdam, etc. etc.
When I got to B'haven, I was placed straight on the R-branch line, no painting, cleanup, or other such. At Corry, when the Marine code instructor asked, how many of you boys can copy code, a few of us held up our hands. Some were ex-Boy Scouts, and some were hams. I could copy 30 WPM with a stick on arrival at Corry. I had been a ham, using CW a lot, since age 14 as WA8FCM. Had a year of typing in high school, but never copied CW on a mill before. At Corry, I spent 8 hours a day for the entire course, in front of a tape recorder and a mill, running the tapes on double speed, learning to copy code groups at high speed. Spent all my Corry duty watches at WA4ECY club station.
On leaving Corry, I could copy letter groups at 50 wpm and numbers faster. But this is about B'haven. Once put behind a receiver, that is where I stayed. I was in the Section with mostly Marines, I believe it was Delta, it has been a long time, . Sometimes one of my compatriots would jump up and cuss, throwing down the cans. That was the cue it had gotten too fast, and I had to relieve him.
[L-R: Unknown · Charlie Young · Marine Dave O'Brien (WA2YFL) · CTR3 Jeff Fitzsimmons (WA4EVO)]. This picture was taken in Northern Ireland. We are at the train station in either Londonderry or Belfast enroute to Londonderry, where we were on our way to compete in the 1968 US Navy Europe communications competition. We had won a competition at Bremerhaven (O'Brien and me for Morse reception, Fitzsimmons for Morse transmission with a hand key - he was also quite proficient at receiving). I ended up winning for Morse reception and going on to Rota for the next round of US Navy competition, then on to Bergen, Norway for the NATO competition, which I won. O'Brien was very good. I coached him and he won the NATO contest for Morse reception in 1969. O'Brien and Fitzsimmons were very good friends, especially Fitz. We used to run around all over EU in our off time, doing the usual wild and crazy stuff. As you know, Morse had a way of doing that to people, especially drinking to excess.In March or April 1968, B'Haven decided to compete in the US Navy competition to determine a rep to send to the annual NATO Naval Communication Competition. I won the CW-receiving competition at B'haven, beating my good friend Jeff, WA4EVO, who, later decided to compete in CW-sending with a hand key. Given that there was not much code sending experience at B'haven, other than ham operators, he did not have much competition. Spent a week competing in Londonderry, then another week for the Navy EU finals in Rota. Jeff and I ended up going to Bergen, Norway in May 1968 to compete at the Norwegian Navy Base, KNM Tordenskjold, in the NATO contest for the US Navy. I crated up my own Royal mill and took it with me. There were 20 minute receiving tests given on 5 consecutive days. The test was 5-figure coded groups of mixed letters, numbers, and punctuation sent at 36 groups per minute. The test was for accuracy, not speed. The punctuation was a bear for me, as it included open and closed paren, colon, semi-colon plus the question mark, backslash etc. In all my copying, ham or military, never had I learned the parens, colon, semi-colon, until 30 days before the contest.
The Italian teams always won first in CW-receiving. Their team did nothing all year but practice for this contest, whereas the rest of us had real jobs. On arrival in Norway, the Italian team leader kept them cloistered by themselves; they were not allowed to associate with anyone else. The night before the test began, I went drinking with the guys who accompanied me, and got a bit drunk. The next day, they had a practice session. Although the contest would be at 36 groups per minute, you could practice at whatever speed you wanted. Everyone else chose 36, but I had the Norwegians set the tape at 50 groups per minute. Not that I could get 100% copy at that speed with the punctuation/mixed letters and numbers, but when they slowed it down to 36 for the real test, it sounded slow to me. I think the 50 WPM practice speed psyched out the Italian. My best day was the first, with 3 missed characters in 20 minutes, on the second day I had 4, and on the third day 5. Beat the Italian 3 days in a row. On day 4 and 5 I let down and he beat me. They took your best 3 runs out of 5 and averaged them for the score, so I ended up winning.
Today, that and a dime won't buy a cup of coffee, but it was a lot of satisfaction at the time. I often wondered if there was an official record of any kind for copying code groups. There was a plain language record. With groups, you had to copy one letter at a time, whereas the fast plain language guys copied entire words as a sound. A clue as to where the best CW operators in the world were likely to be found, could be had by listening to the Soviet Union's Central Radio Club station UA3KAA in Moscow, transmitting 5 figure letter and number coded groups for code practice. On certain days, I think the speed started at 50 WPM, and went higher. In my spare time, on watches, I would frequently avail myself of this code practice. In my off time, when I wasn't carousing around drinking with everyone else, I used to go to the club station, DL4UU and later from my off site pad at 17/4 Eckleinjarten as DL4CM, and work hundreds of Russians using high speed CW. The faster you sent, the more of them called. It was nothing to work 100 in a sitting, all very high speed. Super ops. I had a blast. I have a bottomless pit of stories about B'haven, but will save those for another day. 73 and SK, Charlie N8RR (Otherwise known as DX professionally, LOL)
MEMORIES OF SLEAZY'S - 1967
[ Photo: Bo Kelly Legend - Bo Kelly · Gordon Lickfold · Kenny Williams · Rod Ward - Courtesy Steve Heath ]
"My name is Rod Ward and I played guitar and sang in the resident band at Sleazy's. We started in October 1966 at the Famina bar, then February and March at the Roxy bar, moving to Sleazy's round about April 1967.
Our drummer was Kenny Williams who stayed in Germany and married a local girl named Helen. Unfortunatly, Ken was killed in Bremerhaven. He was electocuted working for the local Electric Co.
I had not spoken to Gordon for the last 3 years or so when Lynda, my wife, and I went to a new Pub in Failsworth to check out a jazz duo. It was Gordon and a guy called Harry Ingle who I also knew. The music they played was fantastic. Then Harry, only 3 weeks ago, told me that Gordon had collapsed with a ruptured aorta and had died instantly." - Rod Ward, 11 Nov. 2003
HOW I BROKE MY ARM - I remember one particular day the band had the night off so I was sitting at the bar talking to Marrianne the barmaid and slurping my Dortmunder Action Bier. It was pretty quiet, I guess most of you guys were on your various watches. Anyway, this guy comes in I recognized from Charlie section. I think he may have been called Chuck, big fellah, drove a very expensive car. We got talking and I realised he had never drank the dreaded gut rot Ratzyputz.
We had the barmaid set us up four shots each - BIG MISTAKE!
We both managed to drink and then light the eight glasses. I managed to get off my stool to go take a leak. I remember staggering down the steps to the Bog, but not coming up from the cesspit. What happened (I found out later) was as I was clawing my way up the stairs my drinking buddy was falling down them. Me, being a massive 112 pounds, did not come close to stopping the guy who was built like a brick ....
And that folks, is how I broke my arm. Still got a couple of weeks off from work.
Regards to anyone who remembers me, Rod [ Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ]
A STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE
I arrived in Bremerhaven in August of 1963, assigned to the Naval Security Group Activity. I think there were only about 15 of us. When not in the radio shack on the base, I was assigned to a listening post in the middle of a cow pasture somewhere in Bremerhaven. The latrine was the great outdoors. The heat was a pot belly stove in the small building. We played chess and cribbage. Great memories, but I can't for the life of me think of the other sailors except for Nick Furlong, also a Boston area native. He and I served in boot camp at Great Lakes, A School in Pensacola, Bremerhaven, and Naples. I have not heard from Nick since 1966. Would love to know where he is today. I do know he shipped over and served some time in Vietnam. There was a CT2 in Bremerhaven who was a tremendous guitar player. I believe his last name was Spinney. Local downtown clubs would loved to have him sit in. No language barrier with music.
When President Kennedy was assassinated, I was one of the sailors recruited to sing at the memorial service, which I believe was held in Bremen. The church was beautiful.
On my first day in Bremerhaven, I noticed an ad at Radio City for roles in a play called Roman Candle, which would be performed at the Green Room Theatre upstairs at Radio City. The civilian director was Doyle Green. I tried out for one of the leads and got it. The cast included members of the Navy, Air Force, Army, and teachers from the dependents high school. These folks were great.
Through an Air Force friend, I was introduced to Gunter Tag and his wife. They were the owners of a small, intimate bar called Die Ensel. Great mock turtle soup. Gunter was a great fan of pianist Peter Nero. When Kennedy died, Gunter opened his doors to me and my air force friend. We mourned together. As a thank you, weeks later, we gave Gunter two Nero albums. He was thrilled.
I remember joining USO tours that originated at Radio City. One was to Cuxhaven, north of Bremerhaven; one was to Oldenberg where we saw an ice show comparable to Ice Capades, and another was to Hamburg for a port tour and a trip down embassy row. The Germans we met were very gracious.
I remember renting bicycles on base and riding along the dike. The winds were brisk, the air cold, but the people warm. We stopped in two small villages and enjoyed the local brew and some great sausage and potato salad.
As a young man of 19, the length of 10 years seemed forever. Today, of course, 10 years is a mere blip. At the time, 1963, World War II in Europe was only 19 years in the past. For the Germans, memories of the devastation in Bremerhaven were like yesterday. To hear them tell the stories was a revelation not found in history books.
I was only in Bremerhaven for 4 months. The Navy decided to transfer Nick and I to Naples in December of 1963. I had plans to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with German friends and experience their holiday. Never happened. I left from the train station early Christmas morning, but several of my new friends came to bid me farewell. I have never seen or heard from them since, but the memories are vivid.
In 1971 I was a CTTC stationed at the European Electronic Intelligence Center (EEIC) in Wiesbaden, Germany. During this period the personnel managers for the Naval Security Group decided that they were over-manned in the CTM rating. At the same time, the Navy was establishing a new rating - Electronic Warfare Technician (EW). As the screw turned, a number of CTM's at NSGA Bremerhaven were selected to be converted to EW's. At the time, the admin officer at NSGA Bremerhaven was an old mustang named Guy Keenum with whom I had previously served at NSGA Charleston. When the word came down that the CTMs were being converted, they obviously had hundreds of questions about their new rating and what their jobs would be. Lieutenant Keenum knew I was stationed in Wiesbaden and that I had experience training shipboard personnel in EW related matters. After a few phone calls to my boss, I found myself on the duty train from Frankfurt to Bremerhaven with the enviable task of tell this group of CTM's what a good deal was in store for them by being force converted to EW, having to leaving shore duty in Bremerhaven, and being assigned to sea duty on a ship somewhere. Fortunately, I was not tarred and feathered by the CTMs and escaped Bremerhaven in one piece. I came closer to meeting my demise at the Odion and Blue Angel than from the poor CTMs that were being shanghaied. Some years later while conducting training at the Naval Station in Long Beach, California aboard a cruiser, I had the good fortune to run into one of the Bremerhaven force converted CTMs (a former CTM3). He was an EW1 and told me that he loved his job and was thoroughly pleased with what had happened.