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Ens. Charles A. Hotchkiss, LT M. A. Medeiros, LT Clyde L. Rule, LTJG Richard J. Ferree, LTJG William J. Mullenmeister, CDR Charles R. Johnson (seated), LTJG Joe M. Landtroop, LCDR George W. Miller, LTJG Donald V. Wanee, LT Edward J. Myers. Absent Ens. W. E. Jarvis.

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A Small Incident at Sea Had a Profound Affect on My Future Civilian Career

One warm day in the South Pacific the four destroyers of our squadron were steaming in formation, and at the time of the incident were steaming four abreast.

Our squadron commander, the Commodore, was giving a series of commands over a voice radio, called the TBS (transmission between ships). When he commanded “right flank” to his squadron, the first three ships smartly executed their right turn but our ship kept going straight ahead. Our Captain just didn’t get the message. After the third event of this kind the Commodore was furious. On the radar scope it looked like terribly sloppy maneuvering on the part of our Captain.

It turned out that one of my several jobs aboard ship was that of electronics officer. I wasn’t expected to know much about electronics and indeed I didn’t. But it was I who was summoned to the bridge double time. Captain Johnson had a hang-dog face, as sad as I had ever seen him. He commanded me, “Ensign Jarvis, you’ve got to fix that radio, and right now!”

I went down and checked in the C.I.C. (Combat Information Center) room and discovered that in particular ship formations the radio never worked well, so the radio antenna must be at fault. In checking the antenna, I discovered it was being shielded by the ship’s smokestack.

At that moment, without hesitation, I made what seemed to me at the time to be the ultimate personal sacrifice. At our last docking in the Navy shipyard I had found a long piece of small-diameter RF cable that I had carefully concealed and run all the way below decks to Forward Officers Quarters so I could get radio broadcasts in my stateroom. Now without hesitation, (but with a lot of remorse) I jerked my precious cable out and with my electronics technician ran it up the mast, made a temporary antenna on the ship’s mast and mounted it one-quarter wavelength in front of the smokestack. This in effect made use of the smokestack to reinforce the signal at all times rather than to block it. I had no idea what I was doing, and was more surprised than anyone else when it actually worked. The captain, who understood even less than I did about electronics, had mixed emotions. He was distraught that I, with my defective ship’s electronics, had made him come so close to getting a reprimand for sloppy ship handling, but he was also grateful that I had solved the problem.

I never heard any more about the incident until years later when, of all things, I was ordered to nuclear bomb duty! I discovered at that time that my old fitness report contained a little note from Captain Johnson saying that “Ensign Jarvis had good technical promise.” The Bureau of Naval Personnel which is really a pretty well-run organization, had matched me up with a technical assignment—my duty was not to design bombs but just to maintain them. Our country had about 20,000 nuclear weapons at the time, to be increased later to about 80,000 before they started dismantling them.

This careful planning on the part of the Bureau of Naval Personnel can be contrasted with the “luck-of-the-draw” syndrome that typifies many military events. Such an event occurred one day at sea, when an All Nav (all Navy) dispatch arrived aboard the flagship. It directed the commodore to appoint some qualified ensign or Lt. j.g. to Electronics Material School on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. What a lush duty! Since all four of the ship captains were completely short-handed, they felt that they couldn’t possibly spare an officer at this time.

So the commodore convened the captains in his wardroom. They drew straws from the commodore’s hand; my captain got the short straw. Being the only officer with the necessary education, I was appointed to a delightful nine months on Treasure Island. Yet, I was a little guilt-ridden and confided to the Captain that I would soon be getting out of the Navy and the education would be wasted on me. He said, “Never mind, Willy; training is what the Navy is all about and, being from Annapolis, you can always be called back for further service.” Prophetic words on his part; I was later called back for the Korean War.

The technical training that I received on Treasure Island specialized me in electronics and led to my having an electronics company and a general career in electronics—my “luck of the draw.”


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