July 1944 QST
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
QST, published December 1915 - present (visit ARRL
for info). All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
QST did a regular series of articles
titled "Hams in Combat" during World War II. This story is unique in nature in that
it tells of a newspaperman-turned-soldier who, in the story writer's mind, would
have been the most suited for the job of author. It tells a far different story
of the South Pacific than we were treated to in weekly episodes of
"Had this story been written by the man who should have written it - Capt. William
H. Graham, W9BNC - it would have been one of the greatest "Hams in Combat" yarns
ever told in these pages. But Bill Graham never got around to writing his story.
He was too intensely occupied with the living of it - too keenly aware of the new
paragraph that was the moment, too eager to learn what was on the next page. And
then, on March 20th, in the dark jungles of New Guinea, he came to a page that bore
the words: 'The End.'"
Hams in Combat
One Life to Give ...
Update (12/27/2012) - This letter was received today that helps
me justify going to the trouble of posting these old articles:
"I just wanted to send my immense gratitude towards an article published on 4/5/2011
by a "C.B.D." titled "Hams in Combat" about First Lt. William H. Graham
has given me an incredible amount of information. I am the great grandson of
Mr. Graham and my grandfather, Bill Graham's son, Roger Graham just passed away
a few days ago. As such, I have been trying to find out as much information as possible
given what I have from my family. Your article has single handily given
us more information than I have heard all of my life and believe me, I've been prodding
for military history for years from my family. With that being said, can I inquire
as to where many of these quotes were sourced from? I've been given a handful
of photos of my great grandfather but and constantly looking for more. I really
appreciate the fantastic article and I hope you have the time to reply."
My response in part was, "When QST does not print an author's name with the article,
it usually means it was written by a staff editor. In this case, my guess would
be QST editor Clinton B. DeSoto (call sign W1CBD) is 'C.B.D.' You can see Mr. DeSoto's
name on the Table of Contents.
For twenty-five years Bill Graham was an ace newspaperman - one of the best in
the game. He was a reporter. He wasn't a news analyst or a commentator or a columnist.
He was the kind of newspaperman who digs out the facts - the exact facts, all the
facts and nothing but the facts - and writes them up in straightforward, understandable
That kind of talent - the ability to collect, analyze and interpret information
accurately and cogently - is precisely the kind required in military intelligence
work. By training and experience, therefore, Capt. Graham was exceptionally qualified
for his Army duty: he was a combat intelligence officer. It was in the performance
of that duty that he met his death.
Bill Graham was also a ham - a devoted and proficient ham. That, of course, is
why his story belongs in QST. As told here, it is based in part on bits of the letters
he sent back home and on fragments from the pieces he wrote for his paper. The rest
of the story comes from the record.
In Bill Graham's case that record is both a full and distinguished one.
Bill was born a Kentuckian, with all the fire and chivalry indigenous to his
breed. Beattyville, Ky., was his birthplace, but he was still in his teens when
he left there, drawn by the lure of a roving newspaperman's life.
He started his journalistic career as a sports reporter on a Nashville, Tenn.,
paper. He was a bright-eyed cub, hardworking and friendly. His versatility and zeal
attracted the attention of the local Nashville AP bureau. Soon he was offered a
better job with the Associated Press.
The AP packed Bill off to South Dakota to serve his novitiate as correspondent
at Sioux Falls. It wasn't long before he proved himself capable of a bigger assignment.
In 1921 he was sent to Omaha, Neb., as a vacation relief man in the AP office there.
Omaha seemed to Bill a pretty good place in which to forsake the roving life
and settle down. In the fall, when his summer relief job was ended, he left the
AP to join the Omaha World-Herald as an assignment reporter.
Omaha and the World-Herald became home to Bill Graham. He liked them and they
liked him -liked his refreshing personality, his energy and drive, his uncompromising
fearlessness and his equally relentless tenacity in digging out the truth. Above
all, they liked him because he was a conscientious and competent reporter.
"We strafed hell out of the place ...slugging it out at tree-top
level with the Nips."
Bill occupied just about every desk on the paper at one time or another. He was
state editor for several years. As an assignment reporter he covered many of the
biggest news stories in Omaha and in the state at large. His reporting of the Nebraska
state legislature won him laurels among newsmen.
It was in covering the Douglas County court-house beat that he did his most notable
work, however. A journalistic Jeremiah, he was the bane of chiseling politicians.
Single-handed he wrecked a powerful but corrupt machine. In his obituary write-up
the World-Herald said: "He was the journalistic broom which swept out a number of
commissioners, .and brought about numerous reforms. It was there that his courage
and tenacity were best exemplified...."
Bill Graham's introduction to radio came as an offshoot of his journalistic enterprise.
In 1923. at Omaha's WOW, then just beginning to build its subsequent nationwide
reputation as a pioneer broadcaster, the revolutionary idea was conceived of broadcasting
news summaries as interludes between the recordings and home-talent artists. Bill
did the broadcasting, and thus became one of the country's pioneer newscasters.
Bill's insatiable curiosity about everything under the sun soon led him to explore
the technical aspects of broadcasting. That, inevitably, brought him into contact
with the hams who were running WOW's transmitter.
Five years passed before that first tentative contact culminated in the issuance
of the license for W9BNC. Actually, they were years of preparation. When Bill Graham
went into anything he first equipped himself painstakingly, and that was true of
W9BNC soon became well known on all bands, 'phone and c.w. Bill participated
actively in every phase of the game. He worked DX, handled traffic, and was always
willing to chew the rag. Working WAC and WAS was a common-place achievement to him.
Unlike many another competent and active operator, however, his vision extended
beyond the knobs on the panel. He had a thorough technical grounding and the restless,
questing spirit of the true experimenter. He was not a . "tinkerer" - he was an
inveterate experimenter and a competent researcher.
On the organizational side of amateur radio, as might be expected, Bill was equally
active. He took an active interest in both local and divisional affairs and served
as a valued advisor to each successive Midwest Division director.
In 1938, under the traditional system of rotating divisional conventions, it
was Omaha's turn to sponsor the Midwest Division ARRL Convention. At the time, however,
there was no active amateur club in Omaha to run the affair. To Bill Graham that
was a challenge. He got together the leading hams in Omaha and Council Bluffs and
organized them into a convention committee. They retaliated by electing him general
chairman. He threw himself into the job with all his abundant energy and turned
out one of the most successful ham conventions ever held in the Midwest.
For several years he served as assistant division director for Nebraska, and
in 1941 he was elected alternate director for the Midwest Division. When his first
two-year term ended he was far off in the wilds of New Guinea.
The fact that Bill hadn't been in touch with his constituents for over a year
didn't affect their support. He was reelected without opposition.
In New Guinea, some three months after the event, he received official word from
ARRL Hq. of his reelection. In reply he wrote: "Thanks for your notification upon
my 're-election' as alternate director, which came via Omaha and Mrs. Graham. I
must confess I feel pretty helpless to serve from this vast jungle-land!" And he
went on: "Some of my constituents write me that they hope the ARRL will keep on
its toes and see that we don't lose any frequencies when peace comes and the airways
are opened again. I pass this word along, knowing that the Headquarters gang is
doing and will do all possible to guard our interests in all directions.'
That letter was dated March 19th. On March 20th Bill Graham was killed in an
airplane crash while on a reconnaissance mission.
He need not have been concerned about his ability to be of service. He and the
scores of other hams in this war who have given their lives for their country -
and for amateur radio - are its surest guarantee for the future.
Bill hadn't been in uniform in World War 1. For that reason he felt that he had
to get into this one. And so, immediately after Pearl Harbor, he volunteered in
the Air Corps. In May. 1942, he was commissioned a first lieutenant.
He was given training at the Harrisburg (Pa.) AAF school, majoring in combat
intelligence. In July, 1942, he was sent to the South Pacific to join MacArthur's
command. When he arrived down under he was assigned to the 43rd Bombardment Group
(Heavy). He was stationed at Fifth Air Force headquarters in Australia, a member
of the headquarters squadron. For nearly a year he served on detached duty with
the Aussies and later the Dutch.
Capt. William H. Graham, W9BNC.
In March, 1943, he was transferred to New Guinea. In his own words: "I came back
with our forces - Yanks, as they call us, much to the consternation of the boys
below the Mason-Dixon line. We are pretty deep in the New Guinea wilds. Near enough
that the Japs pester us nearly every night with nuisance raids. They only make us
climb out of bed at all hours and lose some sleep, though. Actually, their bombing
About his new assignment he wrote: "For security reasons I cannot tell you exactly
the kind of work I am engaged in, except to say that. it has its exciting moments.
I've had nearly 100 hours of combat flying in heavy bombers and have been lucky
enough to get in on three of our major landings on Jap strongholds." The three major
actions to which he referred included the Allied landings at Lae and Cape Gloucester.
When Los Negros Island in the Admiralty group was seized he was official observer
for the AAF and witnessed the entire action from a bleacher seat in a combat plane.
Preceding the Los Negros invasion Bill played an impromptu supporting role in
the softening-up bombing operations. As he described it:
"Over Momote, the Japs' fine airport on Los Negros Island, I had a hell of a
lot of fun. The heavy bombers were scheduled to go in first and bomb the harbor
shore where our land forces were to go in. Then we were to be followed by the mediums,
and finally the strafers. But the weather was foul and few of the lighter boys got
through that morning. So we took this big, lumbering bomber down to strafing level
and decided to do the job ourselves. Inasmuch as I had replaced a gunner, it was
up to me to man a couple of machine guns. So we strafed hell out of the place and
I shot away nearly one thousand rounds of ammunition. I don't know how much damage,
if any, my lead caused. It must have looked funny to the amphibious forces to see
that bomber slugging it out at tree-top level with the Nips."
It was in New Guinea that Bill Graham saw most of his active combat experience.
About his ham encounters down under he wrote:
"Most of my foreign service (nearly two years now!) has been in the New Guinea
wilds and as you know there aren't many Fuzzy Wuzzy hams here. I did meet some of
the lads down in Australia, chiefly Wal Ryan, VK2TI, of Sydney .... When he heard
I was in town for a day he used up his entire month's gas ration - taking me to
his home for the day, showing me some sights, then to the airport in the evening,
etc. He wouldn't have it any other way. He had quite a bunch of the Sydney amateurs
in for the evening, too, and honestly, Ken, I never saw such hospitality. They made
me feel like the great white warrior come from America to save their country single-handed!
I was prouder, I believe, than at any time in my life that I was an amateur."
Underlying the tales he sent back from that theater, even when describing hardships,
always was a characteristic lightness of touch:
"Here where I am located, deep in the New Guinea wilds, we don't even try to
cope with the abundance of bug and insect life. The 'krud' is the name we have given
to some three thousand jungle itches that bother us here.
"A tentmate of mine got up the other morning to get his mess kit, hanging on
a tent pole. It was covered with big yellowish green ants. As fast as he'd flick
off one ant two others would crawl back on, rearing on their hind legs and, literally
leering at him. Finally, in a pathetic tone, he addressed the ants: 'Please, boys,
let me have my mess kit!' That tickled my funny bone all day."
This account of a native celebration is excerpted from a World-Herald Sunday
feature - the last piece he wrote for his paper:
"For many days we had noticed great numbers of Fuzzy Wuzzies trooping in from
miles around . . . . We learned they were trekking here for some kind of ceremonial.
. . . The ceremonial turned out to be a photographer's paradise. . . .
"We could hear the drums pounding away long before we reached the ceremonial
ground in our jeep. . . . There were big Fuzzies, fat ones, slim ones, dwarfish
ones, albinos and the usual droves of native youngsters, stark naked. . . . They
were beating their drums, howling and stamping their feet up and down Indian fashion,
only not so fast. . . . I snapped pictures, fully expecting my head to be chopped
off or a spear impale me. But nothing happened. They went right on dancing, not
noticing me at all. . . . A lass of perhaps 17 . . . even flashed me a smile as
she pranced past. She wasn't half as embarrassed in her semi-nude state as I snapping
"An Aussie captain, noting my American technique, approached and offered to wager
I couldn't get a photo of a particularly attractive (to another Fuzzy) girl of 18
who was standing near by watching the dancers. He'd been trying to photograph her
for half an hour. And in that time three or four others had failed, he said. Remembering
some tricks of the World-Herald photogs, I said: 'Look, buddy!'
"I focused my 35-mm. camera on a blade of kuai grass at right angles and about
the same distance as the girl from me. The girl eyed me over her shoulder, her back
to me - a pose, incidentally in which no self-respecting Yank photographer would
ever take a native girl. Finally she turned away from me, satisfied I wasn't interested
in her .... I pointed the camera at the girl. . . .
" 'Now yell at the top of your voice,' I told the Aussie. He was embarrassed
and wouldn't. Then I asked him to whistle as loudly as he could and he let loose
a blast that could be heard at Blup Blup. The girl, of course, turned to see what
the commotion was and I snapped. She may have a surprised look when the negatives
" 'Uncanny blokes, you Yanks,' the Aussie commented as I wound the film for the
next shot ...."
At the last Bill was getting homesick. For two years he had seen only one member
of his family - who was, singularly enough, a stranger! His daughter Marilyn had
married an Army lieutenant after Bill left the U. S. The new son-in-law himself
subsequently was shipped to Australia, and the two met there. Bill had a son, too
- Roger. On the very day - March 29th - that the Graham family was notified of Bill's
death, Roger was to have left for duty in the Navy.
In January Bill wrote to a fellow World-Herald staff member: "This leaves me
disgustingly healthy, and as happy as a fellow could be who has been away from his
family for darn near two years. Good gosh, I just happened to think. I'm now eligible
to wear four service chevrons. . . . It doesn't seem two years since I last visited
the old gang. I wonder what changes there will be when I return? I'd give four front
teeth to be able to sit in on a party with you all tonight - even if you only served
ice-water! ... I'm expecting to get home later this year. Feel as though .... "
And then, just before his death, he wrote: "I hope that before the end
of the year I will get leave back to the States. Unfortunately, in my line of work,
the longer I am here the more valuable I can be. They never figure we, too, can
It was the next day he set out on the mission from which he did not return.
How he met his death we do not know. The official report states only that "Capt.
Graham was killed in an airplane crash in New Guinea on 20 March 1944." That's all
the War Department will say about it. The Public Relations Branch, the Press Branch,
the War Branch, the Casualty Branch - each is silent about the details.
There is a reason for their silence, of course. We have learned, informally,
that the mishap was not classified as a "combat" crash. That in-dicates that it
occurred on a reconnaissance mission. And reconnaissance was Bill Graham's job -
or a part of it, at least. It wasn't coincidence that, in the past, he happened
to be around a number of Jap bases not long before things sud-denly started to get
hot for the Sons of Heaven.
If the Army doesn't want to say how or where Bill came to his last landing, therefore,
we don't propose to speculate about it in print. We know only that, however or wherever
it happened, he was doing his duty per orders - doing it with un-flinching courage
and unswerving determination.
Before he made his final unanticipated rendezvous with the Master Pilot, Bill
Graham left a prophetic legacy to the game he loved. In the final paragraph of that
letter dated March 19th - the day before his death - he wrote:
"In nearly everyone of my missions there has been a ham at the bomber's radio
- a mighty important fellow on the crew of a bomber. No, after this is over, the
amateur will have no excuses to offer for his part in this three-dimensional war.
He has functioned to the everlasting glory of us all."
- C. B. D.
Posted February 21, 2020
(updated from original post on 4/5/2011)