Hams in Combat -One Life to Give
July 1944 QST Article
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
July 1944 QST
of Contents]These articles are scanned and OCRed from old editions of the
ARRL's QST magazine. Here is a list of the
QST articles I have already posted. All copyrights (if any) are hereby acknowledged.
"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.'"
See all available
vintage QST articles.
- This letter was received today
that helps me justify going to the trouble of posting these old
"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
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.
Hams in Combat
One Life to Give ...
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,
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.
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
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
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.
"We strafed hell out of the place ...slugging it out at tree-top
level with the Nips."
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
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 courthouse 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 ham radio.
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 commonplace
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 'reelection' 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.
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 is impotent."
Capt. William H. Graham, W9BNC.
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
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 singlehanded! I was prouder, I believe,
than at any time in my life that I was an amateur."
the tales he sent back from that theater, even when describing hardships,
always was a characteristic lightness of touch:
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."
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 her picture.
"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 come out.
'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.
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 get war-weary."
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 indicates 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 suddenly 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 unflinching courage and unswerving
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.