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
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 didnt 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 wasnt expected to know much about electronics
and indeed I didnt. 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, youve 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 ships 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 ships 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 ships 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 assignmentmy
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 couldnt possibly spare an
officer at this time.
So the commodore convened the captains in his wardroom. They drew
straws from the commodores 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
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 electronicsmy luck of the draw.