Ah Yes There's  Good News Tonight 

By Al Vinson,  former Merchant Marine and well known radio personality in Texas


Note from Co-webmaster.  Al Vinson was a young radio announcer in Lufkin, Texas when the United States entered the war.  Later he entered the Merchant Marines as a radio operator.  Although he was not a member of the 69th Division, the Merchant Marines were instrumental in getting us deployed.  I think you will find his story interesting.  

(Check out two attachments to this story.  A couple of weeks ago, I came across an old radio message I copied at the end of World War Two.  The top attachment is page two, and the

bottom one is page one.  I received them on board a ship in the Atlantic, while serving as a radio operator in the Merchant Marine.) 

Seems like a hundred, but it was only sixty years ago when WWII ended. From the Port of Houston, I boarded a Liberty Ship, the SS Joseph N. Nicolette as Third Radio Officer.  On a foggy morning, near the end of April, we made our way down the Houston Ship Channel to Galveston.  We spent the first night far out in the Gulf of Mexico.  As radio

operator, I was privileged to have info about ships orders.  We were sailing East, toward Florida, and I learned we were to join a convoy of forty ships near Norfolk, Virginia.
Two weeks later, we joined the convoy, and in my first Atlantic storm.  Even with the pouring rain, and high winds, we had such a foggy atmosphere that we couldn't see the ships next to us.   On the bridge, they had contact by signal lights, but we couldn't see the lights one deck below the bridge.   Faith had a supreme test that long night off Norfolk, as we found our place in the convoy.  We sailed East on the stormy Atlantic before dawn. We were in this storm for two more days.  And then the action really began. I began receiving un-coded radio signals for the first time.  Radio silence was in effect for all vessels during World War II.  Only in extreme emergencies, were we allowed to transmit from our ships radio.   We received coded orders each day, but were not allowed to reply in any manner except by signal lights from ship to ship.  Shore stations sent hourly weather advisories and warnings of hazards to shipping, like mine and submarine sightings.  So I was not only surprised, but excited,to receive an un-coded message in the early days of May, 1945.   Maybe you guessed why.  The message announced the end of hostilities in the European theater .....V-E Day.....hooray!  


      Next came the rules of engagement, or disengagement since the wars end. And that's when the war began for me, my first action since entering the Merchant Marine.   And it was the kind of action I would enjoy.  Nothing dangerous, if you rule out our suspicions and uneasiness with our task.  A small boat came alongside our vessel, and the Convoy Commander came aboard.  He didn't go to the Captains quarters, but directly to the radio cabin.  All three radio operators were present.The Chief Radio Officer advised that our station was now the Convoy Commander's headquarters, and we had been chosen because our Second Radio Officer was from Allentown, Pennsylvania, and spoke fluent German.  He would serve as interpreter for our convoy and for the Navy defensive ships which surrounded the convoy.  I was the Third Radio Officer, and soon would be in contact with German submarines in our vicinity.  I sweated more suspicion....and fear.   During the next three days, we would be in communication with four German U-Boats that had been lying in wait for our convoy.  I could now say I was had earned the title every radio operator wore,  "S P A R K S." 
The emblem of sparks we wore on the sleeves of our dress uniform were gold embossed emblems that identified the wearer as a Radio Officer.
Very weak signals were received from the submarine, and each contact went directly to our Second Radio Officer to be deciphered from our hand copy.   All three operators copied the submarine signals.   Where one of us missed a word or two, odds were that another operator would be able to copy.   My ears ached from the strain to get every character of the message.  None of us ever copied a complete message, but by combining the copies, we had a good message. 
     Our message to all area submarines gave orders for surrender, with instructions to surface, flying a black or blue flag.  The subs were receiving the same instructions by high frequency radio from their commanders.  In the next three days, four U-Boats surfaced, flying their beautiful blue flags, and were at once met by our Navy Destroyer escort ships.  Three of  the subs were escorted to Norfolk, and one to Boston. 
(The  messages below are  copies of the front and back page of the old RCA forms we used at the time.)