Letters to ...

More about a sailor's signals

... a signalman's experiences

from Ed Boyd

This is taken from pre-publication emails from fellow stringer Ed Boyd about "A sailor's best friend"

Your story about being at home as a youngster with his family during WWII is fluent and pleasing. Your sailor must have been a signalman, maybe what we used to call a signalman striker. I was on the USS FDR, CVB 42 from 1949-52. I worked on the signal bridge that had three distinct features: a flag bag for flag hoists so you could signal the fleet, semaphore to communicate with nearby ships and signal lights for talking with ships that would so signal you or you with them. These were the three features that did not include radio communication. The signal lights were the most common, used night and day. With binoculars mounted on the signal light you could see a light from another ship for 10 miles, at least.

Morse code was used in light transmissions. The signal bridge had a starboard and port side with easy access through a short passage. There were 4 or 5 lights on either side. A destroyer nearby would signal -...-.-...-.(NFDR) When we saw that signal we would point our light to the destroyer sending the message and send -.-(k). Then they would send the message and if we understood it we would send a dash, and so on. We usually had a recorder writing down the message as the receiver was getting it. I got so good at this that I was able to hold the light open as I would get the message. I was a "steady dash man." Only a few of us could do that.

In the flag bag was the fox(f) flag. When the aircraft carrier got ready to send off aircraft the signal bridge would be told, "Two block Fox." Immediately the fox flag would be sent to the yardarm which overhung the ship. This was a visual signal to tell all the ships nearby that the aircraft carrier was launching aircraft. Usually, we had a destroyer perched on the starboard quarter to catch those unlucky pilots who found the drink. This is an example of a hoist.

You bring back memories for me, too, sixty years ago.
Thanks for the story.

Dr. Edward Boyd
Melrose, MA

February 5, 2010

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