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Once upon a time...long ago, a young boy wanted to be a soldier. 

He didn't know exactly what a soldier was, really, because he was just a young boy, but his mom had told him that soldiers fight for freedom and truth and for what is right and fair.  His mom had told him that soldiers fight to keep the United States of America free. 

The young boy was exactly nine months old on December 7th when Pearl Harbor was attacked.  One of his earliest--and fondest--memories of his father was the night his dad came home on leave from U. S. Army Air Corps pilot training and brought his parachute along with his duffle bag. The parachute was required for all flights and pilots kept them most of the time. Parachutes were to play a very large part in the boy's life.

As the boy grew older he often played mock war games and built tunnels and underground forts with his friends.  He often designed and built tall towers of trees and ropes. The idea of shooting at people with mock guns wasn't really fun for him. That was fake. What was most enjoyable to him was the engineering and logistical aspects of warfare. The engineering, building and logistics were real...the fighting was fake.

The boy had four uncles who served in combat during World War II and one uncle who served during the Korean Conflict as a submariner. He often remembered his mother pointing out the four stars in the window of the row home in West Philadelphia where his mother's family lived. Each star represented a family member who was away at war. He never saw another house with a banner displaying four stars and he never heard of any other house that had as many stars hanging proudly in the window.

Three of his uncles were Army men. One served in Italy; one served in the infantry as a radio operator during the Battle of the Bulge; and one was in the Army Air Corps. The fourth star in the family window was for the uncle who served as a second mate on merchant marine tankers which carried high octane aviation fuel to Europe while dodging German U-boats in the North Atlantic.

For his tenth birthday, the boy's father gave him a short wave radio. The radio was a multi-band Hallicrafters S-38B. The boy set up an old table next to his bed and put the shortwave radio nearby so he could listen. He climbed a tree in the pasture behind his house and strung a long wire from tree to the house for an antenna. His dad gave him an old pair of radio headphones which he plugged into the radio. With the radio next to his bed and wearing the headphones could tune around and listen to the world without his folks knowing he was listening.

When the boy wasn't listening to shortwave stations from around the world he was reading.  His favorite books were science fiction, military escape and evasion and parachuting behind enemy lines spy novels which he read beneath the bedcovers with a flashlight.

As the boy spent more time listening to the shortwave radio he began to listen to stations from all over the world. He listened to the BBC mostly to hear Big Ben. He listened to Radio Moscow, Voice of America and various missionary station. A missionary station, with the call HCJB, from Quito, Ecuador, was the first one from which he got confirmation of his reception. The card read: "HCJB: Sending the good news abroad."

He began to log all the stations he heard so he could report the reception to the radio station. After a year of listening and sending reports to stations he received dozens of QSL cards from shortwave stations around the world. QSL cards, which are confirmation of a contact or reception, began to cover the wall near his radio table. Listening was fun but having a license and being able to transmit was what he really wanted to do.

His uncle who was the radio operator showed him that it was possible to turn the squealing dots and dashes of Morse code into letters and words. The boy was fascinated as he watched letters appear beneath his uncle's fast-moving pencil point. It seemed like magic to see the dots and dashes of  the code signal turned into readable intelligence.

When he was eleven he started taking Morse code lessons at a radio club in the town where he lived. He bought a book called "The Fundamentals of Radio and How They are Applied" and taught himself radio theory. He spent many hours listening to Morse code and many, many more studying radio theory from "The Radio Amateur's Handbook."

After quite a bit of study and practice copying code he got a Novice Class amateur radio license. After increasing his Morse code copying skill to 23 words per minute and learning advanced radio theory, he passed the General Class amateur radio exam. Shortly after getting he General license he also received an Federal Communications Commission commercial operator's license.

All through junior and senior high school he continued building equipment and erecting antennas for his radio hobby. Building antennas was one of his favorite parts of the hobby. In addition, he quickly became well-known in local radio circles for his operating ability. Copying Morse code was a particular thrill for him.

He spent many hours every night listening for code signals from amateur radio stations in Antarctica, Greenland, Nepal, Pitcairn Island and other places not quite so exotic...like Chicago and Denver.

One of the most thrilling times on the radio was the night he copied the Morse signals from the Russian space satellite known as Sputnik.  Another high-point of his radio operating was the night Soviet Tanks rolled into Budapest, Hungary. During the invasion  by the Soviets, the boy copied a message from an operator in Budapest who tapped out in Morse the words "...God bless you and your freedom..."

Copying those words tapped out in Morse code and reaching him through the night static had a much more dramatic effect on the boy than any radio or TV coverage could have. He knew the moment he copied those words that he wanted to be a radio operator and to be trained to parachute jump behind enemy lines.

One warm summer night, during his eighteenth year, the boy was walking arm in arm with his girlfriend through a display area at a local county fair. They stopped at an Army recruiting table. On the table lay a stack of recruiting pamphlets. One pamphlet displayed a picture of a huge, green parachute with a  paratrooper hanging beneath.  Across the top of the pamphlet in glaring color were the words "Special Forces".

He picked up one of the pamphlets. The parachute jumper was dressed in camouflage. Equipment and ammunition hung around the jumpers body. The boy stared at picture. He was there. He was hanging under that parachute and he was dressed in camo and hand grenades and ammunition. He stared at the pamphlet for a very long time.

His girlfriend jabbed him in the ribs with her elbow and said, "Hey, parachute dreamer, don't you thinks it's time we headed back home?"

The boy laughed as he came back to the reality with the realization that he was experiencing one of the defining moments of his life.

His mom had told him that he would have those kinds of days.

Continued...

 

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