This is a story of
the Army radioman. It is actually a form of recruitment pitch looking to
lure experienced radio operators and technicians into the military. At a time
when America was finally beginning to pull itself out of the worst of
The Great Depression,
the promises of steady work, worldwide travel, training, a chance to work with
modern equipment, three meals a day, a place to sleep and clothes on your back -
and a paycheck to boot - was very appealing. The Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor which finally drew us formally into World War II was still nearly a year
away. War efforts would ultimately provide hundreds of thousands of jobs for
both military and civilian workers. Author 1st Lt. Charles Chapel does a pretty
good job of laying out the skills requirements and tasks that go along with the
position of an U.S. Signal Corps Radioman, including both wired and wireless systems.
The clincher, though, is a promise of a tidy retirement check from Uncle Sam
after 30 years of service - more than $100 per month for life!
A Radioman of the U.S.A.
An Army radioman is also taught everything about field telephones.
Here we see the Signal Corps company of the 26th Div. in peace-time maneuvers during
the fall of '35.
By Chas. E. Chapel, 1st Lt.; U.S.M.C. Ret.
San Leandro, California
Our Army offers every young man who can make the grade an education, a chance
to see the world, a nice living, and above all, a career in any part of the radio
The Signal Corps of the United States Army offers qualified young men an opportunity
to learn radio by practical, modern methods, and at the same time receive pay, clothing,
living quarters, medical attention, and retirement privileges. Let us follow Joe
Jones, a typical young American, from the time he enlists until he completes his
first three years, and judge for ourselves whether or not our Army presents the
most attractive radio proposition for those who are ambitious to advance.
Our typical "Joe" is a farm lad and does not know where to apply for enlistment,
but he writes "Army Recruiting Officer" on the face of a penny postal-card, with
the name of the nearest big town, and on the other side of the card simply states
that he wants to find out more about his chances for radio training in the Army.
Back comes the answer, in less than three days time, with illustrated literature
and an invitation for Joe to call in person.
Joe is only eighteen, so he takes with him the written consent of his parents,
and letters from leading citizens in his community which certify that Joe's moral
character and habits are good, and that his reputation in the community is an excellent
one. These papers are important, for no one under the age of 21 can enlist without
the consent of his parents, and only the highest type of young Americans are desired
in the Army.
Just to be sure about it, Joe takes along his birth certificate, and a statement
of his school record, because he has read in the recruiting literature that American
citizenship is essential, and the extent of his education is important in determining
his qualifications for enlistment, especially in a technical branch like the Signal
Corps, which is his goal.
A horse's saddle for an operating desk, and a man to turn the
generator; these are some of the appurtenances of Army radio work. The set has a
power of 15 watts.
One of the tanks used by the mechanized First Cavalry, which
gets all of its orders while under way by means of uhf radio.
At the recruiting office, Joe's papers are all in good order and the recruiting
officer greets him with enthusiasm when he finds that Joe is a High School graduate,
and that he passes the Army doctor's physical examination with flying colors. Joe
is enlisted as a private, takes the oath of allegiance,· and is given transportation
to the nearest Army post with a Signal Corps complement.
From the time he takes the oath, Joe is entitled to his clothing, living quarters,
medical attention, technical training, and his pay of $21 per month. At first thought
this might seem small, but out of that $21 Joe's only legitimate expenses are $1
a month for laundry, 50c a month to cover a haircut every two weeks, and a few cents
for toilet articles. Everything else is furnished by the government, so he can easily
save ten or fifteen dollars per month, and if he deposits his savings with the Finance
Officer, it draws interest at 4%. By qualifying as a marksman on the rifle range,
Joe can look forward to several dollars extra each month.
For the first few weeks, Joe is busy learning the rudiments of soldiering. He
is up with the bugle at 6 o'clock in the morning, dresses and accompanies his new
comrades in 15 minutes of calisthenics. This gives him a big appetite for breakfast,
which comes at 6:30. He is through eating by 7 o'clock, returns to his quarters
and cleans up his room for inspection which comes at 8 o'clock.
Inspection is completed by 8:30, giving Joe half an hour in which to get ready
for his training classes which begin at 9 o'clock. When he has mastered the elementary
routine of military life, this will be a course in his chosen subject of radio,
but for the present Joe is busy learning close-order drill, tent pitching, horse-back
riding, visual signaling, first aid, marksmanship, and a dozen other subjects which
are so varied in scope that none become monotonous.
The discipline of the Army is the big surprise to Joe. The stories of old war
veterans had given him the false idea that all sergeants were "hard-boiled," but
instead he finds that as long as he obeys the few simple rules necessary when any
large number of people are living together, the sergeants are like big brothers,
with the officers exercising the firm but kind supervision that he had received
at home from his own father.
With the first few weeks of military training behind him, Joe finds that the
Army has kept faith with him, that the promise of a free education in radio made
at the recruiting station is being carried out to the letter. As an enlisted man
of the Signal Corp's, he finds that he can specialize in radio, telephony, telegraphy,
submarine cables, meteorology, photography, and the care of messenger pigeons.
Joe has no trouble in making his choice. Radio communication is his whole life,
and that is exactly what he gets. Each Army post has its own schools and although
Joe looks forward to eventually going to the famous Army Signal School, at Ft. Monmouth,
New Jersey, no time is lost in day-dreaming. Less than two months from the day of
his enlistment, Joe begins to receive practical training with modern equipment under
To Joe, radio was radio, and that's all there was to it. He had a typical "ham"
station back in his farm home, and it had never entered his head that radio is today
highly specialized, but in the Signal Corps Joe finds that radio communication training
splits up into five specialized courses. These are: Field radio operator, Field
radio repairman, Radio Operator, Radio Repairman, and Intercept radio operator.
"Field" operators and repairmen specialize in the operation and repair of "field"
or "portable" equipment, while the radio operators and repairmen who are not "Field"
men, concentrate on the operation and repair of permanent and semi-permanent installations.
The "Intercept radio operator," on the other hand, learns to transmit with hand
key and automatic key, using the "Universal code," with tone and sounder for receiving
messages which he takes down on the special-keyboard telegraph typewriter, and this
intercept operator also learns to take care of his own special equipment as well
as operating it.
Some of Joe's "buddies" prefer wire communication to radio, and even these men
find that specialization is the order of the day, with duties divided among the
Field Telephone Electrician, Outside Plant Telephone Map, Inside Plant Telephone
Man, and the Teletype Maintenance Man. These "wire" courses do not appeal to Joe,
but at least he is glad to know that the choice was there if a man wanted to take
advantage of it.
Joe wants the "Radio Operator" experience, since that will give him the training
necessary for securing a position in a commercial, civilian station if he decides
not to re-enlist at the end of his three years, but there is a present vacancy among
the Field Radio Operators, so he volunteers for that duty.
As a Field Radio Operator, Joe must learn to transmit and receive signals correctly
in the Continental Morse Code. He knows the code already, having learned it to get
his Amateur License, but under the modern teaching methods of the Army his speed
increases rapidly, and he begins to feel like a veteran operator.
Field radio stations are set up in cars and manned by trained
specialists. Sets used, are the latest in the art.
Along with his code practice, Joe is given practical experience installing and
adjusting portable or "field" sets, the proper procedure for handling actual messages,
and the disposition of "traffic," which includes among other things the routing
of messages where several stations are involved.
Six busy, happy months have passed. Joe is sitting at a folding table in a tent
beside a lake, "pounding brass," when the tent fly is thrown back, and Sergeant
Sullivan enters. Sullivan waits for Joe to finish transmitting, and then announces
"Report over to the Repair Shop tomorrow, Jones; you're doing OK here, but we're
going to make a repairman out of you!"
Joe takes the phones off and looks up anxiously.
"Anything gone wrong ?", he asks. Sullivan chuckles, and turns to leave, but
as he walks off he says: "It takes all kinds of experience to make a real radio
man. You're on the way up!"
Joe expects to lose some of his code speed on the repair job, but even with the
repair group there is daily practice, under the supervision of expert operators,
the main difference being that he now studies the basic principles of radio. He
gets enough instruction in electricity and magnetism to lay a foundation for an
intelligent understanding of radio circuits and associated electrical equipment,
- not theoretical teaching, but practical laboratory work involving standard equipment.
From this he advances to the elementary principles of radio theory, taught by constructing
different types of basic circuit sets, and then he proceeds to learn how to build
advanced equipment and how to repair it with a few tools. Drawing and reading diagrams;
inspecting, dismantling, wiring, assembly, cleaning, painting and adjusting equipment
is taught. He spends hours in the machine shop, and even masters the servicing of
motor and generator units.
When Joe finishes his training as a Field Radio Repairman, he is sent back to
duty with troops on maneuvers. Here his balanced experience in both operation and
repair of portable sets comes in handy and he attracts the attention of his non-coms
and officers. Soon we hear that Joseph Jones, Signal Corps, United States Army,
is no longer a private, but a Private First Class, with an advance in pay and responsibilities.
A year has passed swiftly. Joe is entitled to one month's furlough. He gets it,
and goes back to see the old folks on the farm. His old "ham" set needs a little
adjusting, but soon his call goes out over the airwaves and his school-day friends
flock in to admire his uniform and hear of Joe's experiences as an Army "brass-pounder."
There is even a strong wave of interest on the part of the young women in the neighboring
village, but Joe has put his radio career first, so he returns to the Army, leaving
behind a trail of broken hearts.
[The author does not guarantee the "broken hearts." - Ed.]
The stringing of field telephones is one of the most important
duties of the Signal Corps company.
The cavalry is now motorized with armored trucks and cars. These
are equipped with shortwave radio transmitters and receivers as shown here.
Back at the Post, there's a call for volunteers for duty with the Signal Detachment
of the Fifteenth Infantry in Tientsin, China. Joe's record is as clean as the bore
of his pistol; his request is granted, and since his is an East Coast Army Post,
he travels by an Army Transport sailing from New York harbor.
The Transport transits the Panama Canal, stops long enough for Joe to see the
sights of old Panama City, and then steams on to San Francisco, where he spends
five glorious days and nights visiting Chinatown, the Mission district, and the
new Bay Bridge.
From San Francisco the Transport sails westward, with stops at Honolulu; Guam;
Manila; Nagasaki, Japan; and finally reaches Chinwangtao, China, where Joe and his
buddies take a train for Tientsin.
In China, Joe finds himself in a strange new world of adventure, romance, and
radio experience. A vacancy in the staff of operators for the semi-permanent radio
installation in the barracks at Tientsin gives Joe his long desired opportunity
to master the intricacies of radio equipment closely similar to that used by the
big commercial stations in the United States. He had been somewhat impatient during
his training with the field sets, but now he finds that he has built solidly, that
all of his past practice in operating and repairing the portable sets has laid a
sure foundation for his present work with advanced equipment.
A year and a half pass quickly. Joe is sent back to the United States to receive
his Honorable Discharge, and again he has the opportunity to visit strange ports
beyond the fondest dreams of his old companions back in the farm country.
Back in America, Joe finds that he can take his Honorable Discharge and seek
civilian employment, or re-enlist and receive a number of professional and financial
advantages. A number of representatives from commercial radio stations are at the
Post, and they offer him attractive jobs, but with them go no clothing allowance,
no food, medical attention, or retirement privileges, and he must pay for his own
lodging out of his salary.
By re-enlisting, Joe receives a bonus of $75. He has not been quite as thrifty
as he had hoped to be; instead of saving the fifteen dollars each month, he only
saved $10, but even at that he has accumulated $360, not counting the interest at
4%. He has two months furlough coming to him, so he re-enlists and goes home for
The first visit home had been a lot of fun, and Joe had felt at ease with his
school-day friends, but this time there is a strange gulf between them. At first
he cannot account for it, but gradually it dawns on him that he has been acquiring
a technical education, he has traveled over much of the world; he has boxed, wrestled,
ridden horseback, swam in the beach at Waikaki, and done a hundred other things
that are beyond the imagination of even the most successful of his pals.
In town, the difference is even more marked, for Joe walks erect, with military
bearing. There is a gulf between him and his former friends. By the time the two
months are up, Joe is glad to get back to the Army.
During his second enlistment, Joe is promoted to the rank of Corporal, and receives
$42 a month, all clear, the first year; the following two years he gets $2.10 more
each month as an extended service "fogey" or bonus. His extra pay for marksmanship
continues, and on passing an examination he is sent to the Anny Signal School at
Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey. Here he is taught all of the subjects he received at his
first Post schools, but in addition to these subjects he is trained in advanced
methods for operating and repairing the latest and finest of radio equipment, both
civilian and military.
Joe is by no means "tied down" in the Army. Every three years his contract of
enlistment expires, and in the mean time he can always request a "discharge by purchase."
The amount he must pay to receive this "purchase discharge" depends on whether he
is on duty in the United States or in a foreign country, and on the length of his
service, but in any case the amount is not great, the maximum being $120 for soldiers
who are in America, and have served only one year."
If Joe stays with the colors for 30 years, he can retire at the age of 48 at
a rate of pay based on three-fourths of his active duty pay, plus $15.75 per month
added for quarters allowance.
The smallest retired pay he could receive, even if he were only a private, is
$35.43 per month; the largest is $133.87, in the case of a Master Sergeant. If Joe
continues to advance at his present rate he is certain to reach the grade of Technical
Sergeant before he retires, and this will pay him nearly $100 per month for the
rest of his life. If we figure interest at 3%, this means the same thing as having
$40,000 in the bank. What civilian radio jobs can guarantee that a man can retire
at the age of 48 with that income?
Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn't it? That isn't all, either. Joe, or
any other soldier who has had more than 20 years of good conduct service, can live,
free of cost, at the United States Soldiers' Home, in Washington, D. C., where the
veterans have all the recreational and entertainment features of a rich man's club,
and in addition have their own Soldiers' Home Band to play stirring marches reminiscent
of their active service days under the flag.
Joe is only 48 years old when he retires - much younger for his years because
of his active, outdoor life and exercise than most men who spend their lives in
the drudgery of inside work. He has his $100 a month, and with that as a back-log,
he can start a new career in civilian life in any number of radio specialties that
he learned while he earned - following the flag in the Signal Corps of the United
Posted April 5, 2021