First-Hand:Wartime Meteorology, Radar, and Encryption


Submitted by Philip Morris

When I was around six, I lived in Jackson Heights, New York, a few blocks away from Holmes Airport. (Holmes Airport was closed when Laguardia Field was opened.) Also, it was a pleasant walk to the North Shore where the North Beach Seaplane Base was located. North Beach was the base that was rebuilt into Laguardia Field. I visited both of these places quite frequently. Not too surprisingly, I wanted to become an airplane pilot.

Unfortunately, it was about this time that it was discovered that I needed to wear glasses. The eye doctor said that there was a possibility that I might outgrow the need to wear glasses. For many years I lived with the hope that this would happen so I could become a pilot. Gradually, I realized that this was not going to happen. Going for what I considered the next best thing, I decided that I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer. If I couldn't fly planes, at least, I could design and build them. Then the war came and I started looking for a spot in the military where my talents could be best utilized. I found an Air Force meteorology training program that was ideal. Normally the Air Force accepted men with two years of college and then sent them to meteorology cadet school.

Upon completion of the cadet training, the student was a meteorologist with the rank of second lieutenant.

With the war, the Air Force figured that they would need a much larger number of weathermen than could be turned out with the existing arrangement. The Air Force set up a premeteorology training program for men with a high school education and another program for men with one year of college. These premeteorology students would be sent to colleges for intensive studies to bring them up to the two years of college level. Then they would go to the cadet school. I signed up with alacrity.

After I had a short stay at Bowdin College and a longer stay at the University of Michigan, the Air Force discovered that the casualty rate for meteorologists was practically zero. All these premeteorology students were not needed.

We were offered a number of options one of which was the Army Specialized Training Program in engineering, medicine and dentistry. Aeronautical engineering was not offered so I signed up for mechanical engineering which was close to my interests. I was sent to the University of Nebraska where I was informed that I was going to take electrical engineering. Protesting that I did not want to be an electrical engineer, I was offered the option of returning to basic training. I became an EE student.

After nine months at the University of Nebraska as an electrical engineering student, the army decided that the ASTP was to be scrapped and I was sent off to Fort Monmouth. There I went through radio repair school, a basic radar course and then to the AAN/TRC-6. This was a six channel line of sight radio-telephone set using pulse time modulation (it was called pulse position modulation then) and operating around 5GHz. We were formed into a signal service company and half of the company got to Europe as the war ended there.

After a lot of training exercises in the woods of northern New Jersey, we were ready to go to the Pacific; however, the war had just ended there. We didn't have enough points to be discharged so the Signal Corps had us take various telephone courses.

Next they sent us to the Pentagon where we were to be trained on that super secret encoding equipment used for communications among the various army headquarters. (It used recordings of tube noise for the encoding.) After training we were to be sent overseas to replace technicians there who had enough points to be discharged. Before this could happen, the military declared that we had too many points to be sent overseas. So we were put to work pushing tape in the Pentagon Signal Center until it was time to be discharged.