On July 4, hours before fireworks filled the night sky over the USS Kidd, there were calmer sounds that would have been familiar to those who served aboard the former destroyer. of the Navy.
In contact with people in 20 states, as well as Canada and Mexico, members of the Baton Rouge Amateur Radio Club used the Kidd as a platform to keep alive a vital form of communication for the ship during WWII. World and the Korean War. The club did this on a number of occasions aboard the ship, but this was the first time club members could use the Kidd in over a year due to the COVID pandemic.
“This is to recognize and celebrate the contributions of the Kidd and the crew in preserving our freedom,” said club member John Krupsky, who had radio duties on July 4 with Russ London and Lee and Dayna Bowman.
Using their own equipment – the Kidd’s radio equipment no longer works, although the club does connect to the ship’s antenna – members sent and received voice and coded messages in a small room behind one of the cannons front 5 inches from the ship. Such opportunities connect Lee Bowman to his father’s work during WWII. Robert Bowman was a Second Class Radioman in the Pacific, where the Kidd also served.
During this war, the Navy sent a continuous stream of messages encrypted in Morse code. Most of the messages were irrelevant to a particular vessel, but when radio operators heard their vessel’s code, the message that followed applied to them. If the message was missed, the ships were not allowed to request a retransmission.
“You maintained radio silence until the transmission so that you couldn’t be detected,” said Lee Bowman. “But you copied news bulletins and messages for the captain, decoded them and passed them on to him. You haven’t done a lot of transmission; you did a lot of reception.
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The radioclub holds a good chunk of days like July 4th and other events aboard the Kidd, such as the Museum Ship Weekend June 5-6. Amateur radio amateurs around the world are trying to make contact with others in the hope of reaching as many countries or ships at sea as possible.
“It allows us to maintain our skills,” said club member Thornton Cofield. “We have people who like to be on the Kidd because they like to make those contacts. How far can we establish contacts? South America? Portugal? Spain? Japan? … We get a lot of activity in the states and parts of South America.
For a very long time, amateur radio was almost exclusively Morse code. The Federal Communications Commission regulates amateur radio in the United States, and passing a Morse code proficiency test was required to obtain a license. Voice radio has become so widespread that Morse code testing is no longer required.
But if Morse code goes in the direction of cursive writing, its aficionados still appreciate it.
Bowman, 66, learned it from his father when he was around 10 years old. Bowman was finally able to decode at 30 to 35 wpm. He thinks he’s now in the 18-25 wpm range.
The club also holds field days at the Highland Road Observatory, bringing equipment and installing antennas for practicing emergency communications. When natural disasters erase other lines of communication, amateur radio operators can operate using battery power and antennas.
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“When they open these shelters during hurricanes, we have volunteers coming in,” Cofield said. “One or two hurricanes passed, we were the contact person when the shelter started to flood. We had an amateur radio operator there, and he communicated and informed people that this is where we will have to go before the situation gets worse.
But events like July 4 make the club more visible to audiences who otherwise might never encounter amateur radio. It’s also good for the Kidd Museum, said Rosehn Gipe, executive director of Kidd. She said most ship museums partner with amateur radio operators.
“It’s just another market, I guess you would call it, that we can tap into,” Gipe said. “Because of the radio operators, they are making it known that the USS Kidd is here, just spreading the word.
“It’s a really interesting world, a world in itself, if you haven’t been involved in it. Just like other hobbyists, you might not realize the number of people involved and people from all walks of life. This is another group that we can turn to because of the type of on-board equipment and the attractiveness of the technology.