Back on December 29th of 2013 I opened up this message from the contact form on the web site:
“I was an eighteen year old Radioman in a tunnel on Guadalcanal when your ship was sunk. I was sending a message to Halsey’s headquarters when I was interrupted by another station sending in the blind (call?)….the message was encrypted so I don't know if there would have been enough time to (de)encrypt or perhaps another ship sent the message. That was so long ago but that message still haunts me. The message was perfectly sent. It sure would be great if I could speak to that operator. I hope this doesn't sound nuts.
Bill Brown RMC USN Ret.”
Needless to say, I jumped right on that! We have emailed and shared information over the months. Mr. Brown is now 89 years old, but he was the 18 year old radio operator on duty the night the distress call came in after STRONG was torpedoed. Of all the folks I thought might contact me with information, I never expected this. Bill has written an account of his time on Guadalcanal and sent me a copy of the manuscript. He writes about taking this message in the wee minutes of July 5th, 1943:
“On July 5, 1943 I was busily engaged in sending an urgent message to Admiral Halsey’s headquarters in Noumea, New Caledonia. Somewhere in the middle of the message, I was interrupted by a series of dashes (Morse code). That operator started sending a message. He didn’t ask permission he just started sending. There was an operating signal in the heading which meant I am sending this message in blind. I recall vividly that operator sending the message, his technique was superb, he sent the whole encrypted message without error. …….. Anyway when the operator finished sending his message he was gone!
The message was from the USS STRONG. I ripped the message out of the typewriter and gave it to the supervisor of the watch. There was a flurry of activity around my operating position as several officers wanted to know more about the message. It seems I had the wrong time of receipt. My Chief reprimanded me and jerked me off the circuit and I was given a week of extra duty.”
Bill writes more about the events of the night and of his time in the South Pacific, and if you would like to read his rememberings (there is nothing more valuable than first hand perspective), contact me and if Bill has no objections (let me know, will you Bill?) then I can share the rest of his manuscript. He arrived on Guadalcanal shortly after the invasion of the Japanese on August 7th and gives his perspective of the daily life of a Navy man in the middle of the action. Thrown into battle situations pretty much from the get-go, he dealt with the tropical conditions, frequent bombings near the tunnels, a surly Chief and malaria all while hunkering down in dark tunnels underground receiving and relaying messages back and forth to support the efforts in the Solomons. I can't thank him enough for sharing his story with me!
Opening a message such as this is such a gift, and it happens frequently these days. I’ll go weeks without any contacts coming through, and when they finally do it’s always amazing. I treasure every one.