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Friday, July 3, 2009

The Surgeon General of Midway - Part 2 - The First Day

Naval Medical Clinic, NAF Midway

Continued from Part 1

My job on Midway was with the US Navy. I was sent there to be the chief medical officer (actually the only medical officer). I quickly renamed myself the "Surgeon General of Midway". Nobody seemed to care. I was greeted when my flight arrived by a lady Lieutenant Commander nurse named Becky, I don't remember her last name, and a couple of corpsmen. They put my stuff in a truck, and ran me first by the clinic to get me "checked in", review my orders, explain my duties, and timetable. I was then taken to the BOQ (bachelors officer quarters) on the north end of the island to unpack. They also gave me a bicycle to use to get about the island. After I got settled in the corpsman told me to ride down to the clinic and they would give me a quick tour of the island.

Midway Bachelor's Officers Quarters, my home.

So after about half an hour, I went back to the clinic. I got the quick tour. All Midway tours are quick as you can walk around the whole island in a couple of hours. I was shown all the important things like the chow hall, the library, the ship's store, the pier, the ham radio station (more on that later), and the airstrip………that was about the size of it. I was told to keep away from any "fenced-in" areas and that some rather large and ugly marines had orders to shoot to kill anyone caught trespassing into the fenced areas.

The "official" ham radio station

The nice thing about marines is that they are easily programmable. If you give one of them an order to shoot someone, rest assured that person would be shot; hence, I went nowhere near the fenced areas. I did ask what was behind the fence that was so important, but nobody seemed to know for sure, at least if they did, they did not let on. A couple of enlisted men told me they thought they kept nuclear weapons in there, but I'm not sure if they knew anything at all.

P3 Orion in flight

The purpose of Midway in the early 1980's was a base to provide surveillance and anti-submarine warfare against the Soviet navy. The normal "crew" on Midway during inactive times was about 600 people. During active times, also known as "Operation Pony Express" there were usually about 3000 people there. These extra people were mostly air wing personnel who flew and maintained Lockheed P3 Orion sub hunter aircraft. I happened to be there during Pony Express and the airfield was constantly active with the droning sound of the P3 turboprops. I never had any contact with the aircrews though. They were pretty much self-contained units and had their own flight surgeons. I always thought the P3 was a beautiful aircraft. I never got an opportunity to fly on one. I hear they have now phased them out.

The P3 could fly a long way, could fly a log time, and carry a heavy load of antisubmarine ordinance. It was a great plane!

Here was the deal. The chow hall was open between 0700 and 0900. Sick call began at 0900 and continued until everyone was seen and treated. After that I was "on call" 24 hours a day. I was required to let the clinic know of my whereabouts if I was not in quarters. Sick call was usually done by 1100 so I was on my own.

I arrived about midday, finished my tour about mid afternoon and decided to head back to the BOQ and see if I could get my ham radio station on the air. I had brought a suitcase full of ham radio gear with me, including a transceiver, a power supply, an antenna tuner, a long roll of wire, a Morse code keyer, and a logbook. There was a ham station on the island, but I found out that it had very little equipment and the existing antennas were questionable. They invited me to try and get it running but I decided to construct my own station. Nurse Becky suggested I check first with the commanding officer to make sure it was ok to do this. He said it was fine and even offered to let me use a 12 volt battery when I began having power supply problems.

If you're not a ham radio operator, you may not realize that a favorite pastime is "chasing DX", the DX station being some station in a rare, isolated, exotic place. Well, I dunno how exotic Midway is but it certainly qualifies as being rare and isolated.

All I had to work with was an antenna tuner and a roll of wire so I would fix myself up with a device known as a long wire antenna which is nothing more than a long more or less random length of wire attached to a tuner which in turn is attached to the radio. The BOQ was a long three-story building. My quarters were a suite of 2 rooms with a bedroom and a living room, kitchen combo. I had a table in the living area on which I set up my radio. Parallel to my building was another similar three-story abandoned and dilapidated barracks through which I decided to run my long wire. The old building was made entirely of wood so there was nothing metal there to disturb my wire. I dropped the wire out of a third floor window and ran one end of it across my "front yard" into my window on the ground floor. I strung the other end of the wire down the third floor hallway of the old barracks, hanging the wire off rafters, beams, door sills, etc. as I wound my way down to the end of the hall. Anyway, I finally passed out about 300 feet of wire total.

The "unofficial" Midway ham radio station

A long wire has the advantage in that it is simple to construct and can be tuned to work most any frequency which eliminates the need for multiple antennas. The downside is that it tends to be directional mostly off the end of the wire and much less effective in other directions. My wire was pointed pretty much south toward the open Pacific Ocean, but I had to just make do. The nice thing about being the rabbit (I was the rabbit) instead of one of the hounds (everyone else) is that you can get away with having a rather puny signal and still contact a lot of people. Since I was the rare, isolated, exotic station, everyone would take the time to listen for me through the static. So my 100 watt radio and long wire worked out just fine.

The chow hall, Midway

I remember that toward dark, I finally got the radio station up and running. I can't remember if I went to the chow hall that night or if I went to the ship's store and got some provisions but I do know that I worked radio that night. Many US and Japanese stations as I was about MIDWAY between the two countries.

Radio station, KA4P/KH4
Left to right, Vista power supply, Kenwood TS-120S transceiver with remote VFO, Heathkit Morse code electronic keyer, MFJ wattmeter, MFJ wire tuner. Pretty simple stuff, but it worked!

Well, that's enough for now. In my next installment I shall wax eloquently about my second day on the island and my attempts to make friends with Gooney Birds.


  1. Musta wore yo seff out hamming at Midway, thas why yo too tarred to ham now, huh?

  2. I dunno lizard, I'm purdy tired.

  3. He sure had lots of contacts, many QSL cards. In fact, he created a special QSL card for MidWay contacts. I'm sure he will tell you all about it and probably even provide an image.

    Debbie Hamilton
    Right Truth