Monday, February 27, 2012

NXO, Bora Bora (Part 1)

My grandfather served in WWII on Bora Bora, at the radio navigation transmitter NXO among other places. I found a radio navigation map with a little engineering information but little else. (I posted that here.) I had thought for some time that I should interview him about that, then I come to find out that he is writing an autobiography and he had  already done all the heavy lifting. So instead of repeating that effort, with his permission I am now excerpting his unfinished autobiography, and printing it below. It's long but  very detailed, and worth quoting without interruption, so I'm posting it in two parts.  All the text and images are his, all the names and places all very very real.

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We gathered our belongings, the regular stuff plus all the gear we were assigned in New Orleans and left the ship. We were loaded in several 6-by’s and driven to the main Navy camp area. Here were assigned bunks for the night. At this point, all the gear that we issued in New Orleans was taken from us and stored in a warehouse, never to be seen again – at least by us.

We found out that this island was code named U.S.S. Bobcat, but was really Bora Bora, an island in the Society Group, a French Protectorate. It is an extinct volcano and is being used as a refueling base for small ships headed from the Canal Zone to the combat areas farther west. The island is surrounded by a coral reef, except at the entrance to the harbor. To gain entrance to the harbor, for deep draft ships, you have to navigate a zigzag route to avoid submerged reefs.

Upon arrival we discover that there were 100,000 military; Regular Navy, Seabee’s, Navy Airmen, Marines, and Army. This is the last land mass between Australia and the Canal Zone that can be used to stop the eastward movement of the Japanese. Even some of the large reefs were being used to accommodate some of the troops and an airfield.

The first morning after we disembark from the S.S. Manhattan, we muster in and a request goes out for volunteers. Among these are two needed for the transmitter shack three miles from the main Navy camp, on the north side of the island. To my surprise me and another guy, named Jarbeau, volunteer - something we usually don’t do. Anyway, this is a work assignment as a Radioman Striker and we will be among the crew of guys manning the transmitter facility.

Jarbeau and I are driven to the Transmitter facility and introduced to the 1st Class Radioman in charge. Here we are to help maintain the base radio transmitting equipment. The Transmitter facility is located on the north side of the island and connected to the Navy Camp by landline.

Across the street is the lagoon and looking across the lagoon, is the airstrip on a coral reef. The airfield is about a ½ mile away. The facility was a modified Quonset hut where we ate, worked and slept. Another Quonset hut housed two 100KW diesel generators used to provide power for the transmitters and domestics needs. A weekly trip was made to main Navy camp to stock up on provisions.

When we first arrived on the island, I thought it was paradise – white sand beaches, balmy breezes, plenty of fresh pineapple, bananas, coconut and other tropical fruit and the natives were pleasant.

I started out as a seaman 2nd class, and I am encouraged to study and take a series of test. After a time, I progress to seaman 1st and eventually I received my chevrons as Radio Technician 3rd Class - now I’m a Petty Officer.

The Radio Operators were located at the main Navy camp and they accessed the transmitters through the landline. Periodically we had to visit main Navy camp to repair equipment including antennas. The antennas were strung between two coconut trees. Since I was not afraid of heights and was adept at using climbing spurs, I was nominated to do most of the antenna repair.

An amusing antidote, though not funny at the time, was when one of my co-workers was adjusting a power contact on a transmitter. He apparently shorted the 12 inch screwdriver across the contacts and drew an arc. He backed off until the arc broke. His screwdriver was now a stubby – only 4 inched long.