Here’s a method of activating a rare DX entity that I don’t think has ever been utilized before or since…..
In 1973, Gene KH6NR/KH6 (now W5LE) decided that the only way to initiate a long-term DXpedition to Kure was to join the Coast Guard for four years with the proviso that they assign him to Kure for one year!
So that’s exactly what he did.
Thanks to a LORAN station, Kure at that time had a 20-man contingent of Coast Guard personnel. And Gene had prior experience on the island thanks to his previous stint in the Navy when he and Marine buddy Don Chilcote KH6GKV (now VE6NN) staged a very brief 2-man DXpedition to Kure in 1969.
Gene – thanks for your informative emails, photos and the telephone QSO.
From Gene W5LE:
The “population” of Kure Island always ran around 20 people, give or take one or two, and they were all Coast Guard personnel. There were no other inhabitants. Don and I were the only 2 that made up the DXpedition crew. At the time we staged the November 1969 DXpedition to Kure, Don was a U.S. Marines Staff Sergeant and I was an Interior Communications Electrian E3. Don’s permanent duty station was the Navy Reserve Training Center, Honolulu and mine was the Ham/MARS station at the Navy Submarine Base, Pearl Harbor. He and I were both DX’ers and we had discussed that it was a pity that Kure was so close and yet so seemingly difficult for DX’ers to work.
For one thing, one of the requirements, and one of the things that “greased the wheels”, so to speak, to facilitate our going there was, we were both military. I really owe Don all the credit for doing all the legwork as far as making it happen. He’s the one who wrote to the Commanding Officer of Midway Island and got his approval for us to transit Midway and to spend the time there required to catch our flights to and from Kure. He also wrote to the Commanding Officer of Kure Island and got permission for us to spend the required days there and to be able to have sleeping quarters and access to the mess hall.
Don got written permission from U.S. Navy Chief Peters, who was, at that time, the head of the Navy Reserve Training Center, Honlulu to borrow their callsign KH6NR for our DXpedition. Needless to say, the “Coasties” on Kure at the time we came out there to spend a week were more than a little intrigued that a couple of guys would travel to that remote duty station of their own free will just to spend alot of time making ham radio contacts. They however benefitted from our visit because, besides running pileups, we also ran a lot of phone patches for the guys back to their loved ones.
I would also mention that the callsign KH6EDY was already assigned to the Coast Guard LORAN station at the time of our trip but we had been told by reliable sources that there had been a little too much undocumented operation from that callsign, by personnel who didn’t have amateur radio licenses, and that the ARRL was not accepting KH6EDY cards for DXCC. We didn’t want the drama or entanglement of that hanging over our heads and that’s why we opted for KH6NR/KH6.
Also, KH6EDY did have some ham equipment, vintage I might add, but I can’t for the life of me recall what it was. I keep getting this mental picture of an old Heathkit transmitter in my mind, no idea what the receiver was. They also had a 2 element quad and I want to say it was only about 30 feet in the air. We didn’t use any of their equipment, choosing rather to take Don’s Swan transceiver to use. I can’t recall if it was the 350C or 500C. We used the existing quad as our only antenna.
Incidentally, I still have the old KH6NR/KH6 logbook in a file cabinet just a few feet from where I’m writing this.
My time in the Navy was July of ’67 to July of ’71, by the way. And, on a side note, KH6SP “Sugar Papa” was both an amateur station and a MARS station. We ran tens of thousands of phone patches out of Southeast Asia during the Viet Nam “conflict”.
Now on the 2nd trip (1973):
I too, when I returned to Kure as my assignment, used the tri-bander quad but I did not use any of the old equipment there. As I recall, I went to Honolulu Electronics and picked up a Drake line to take with me to Kure.
As you already know, I actually joined the Coast Guard with the proviso that I be cut orders to Kure Island and that I be enlisted as an Electronics Technician. What this boils down to is, I got out of the Navy in July of ’71 and had returned to Texas where I grew up. I went through some civilian electronics schools in Dallas and eventually ended up in Amarillo, Texas at a television station (KVII, channel 7). It was around that time that I started reminiscing about that place called Kure Island, and how awesome it would be to spend an entire tour of duty there, instead of a brief DXpedition. It would be like a year long DXpedition.
That’s when I called up the Coast Guard recruiter and told him that if they’d enlist me as an Electronics Technician and would cut me orders for Kure Island, I’d enlist. He thought I was crazy for requesting such a remote duty station but I, of course, explained my ulterior motive of putting it on the air for ham radio purposes. The recruiter called the Commandant in Washington, D.C. and told him what I was hoping to do. He related to me that the Commandant, like he, thought I was crazy for requesting such a remote place but the Commandant told him, “Give him the written tests and a physical, if he passes all that, we’ll cut his orders to Kure”.
I took the written battery of tests and the physical and, the day I went to the recruiter’s office in Lubbock, I saw my orders laying on his desk to go to LORAN school and then to proceed to USCG LORSTA Kure. I went off to Governor’s Island, New York for LORAN Apprentice training and then headed off to Kure for a one year tour of duty. Of course, during my schooling, I had ample time to get a change of address of my KH6HDB Hawaiian callsign from Hawaii to Kure. It was in place and ready for immediate use upon my arrival.
As far as modes, I never used anything but CW and SSB. I did run a lot of pileups but I also did quite a few phone patches for the guys on the island back to the mainland as well. At that time, before the advent of cell phones and internet, the ham rig was their lifeline to the outside world. You can imagine their joy at being able to talk to “mom and dad back in St. Louis”, etc. I had set a personal goal of wanting to make 20000 QSO’s while on the island. I didn’t reach that goal. As I recall, it was something more on the order of 12000 Q’s.
There were several reasons for this. For one thing of course, I had my actual work duties, but, too, we had a lot of very nice recreational facilities at our disposal and, living on an awesome island in the middle of the pacific, there always seemed like the lure to go down and walk the beach, looking for the glass balls that washed up on the shore that had broken loose from Japanese fishing nets. And we had a beach bungalow where we hung out and did things like have “pig roasts”. We had a wonderful boat and spent time out in the lagoon snorkeling and swimming and skiiing.
We had a tennis court, basketball goals, baseball equipment, etc. We had a pool table, and ping pong table. We had a movie every night. You can see how easy it would have been to get pulled away from keeping my nose to the grindstone in the ham shack.
Now, concerning a “memorable” QSO - that actually takes me off on a tangent so I must digress a bit…
Once I knew I was Kure-bound, I contacted my on-air friend Mary Ann Crider, WA3HUP, and told her what I was going to be doing. Mary Ann volunteered to be my QSL Manager. She was already handling a number of other DX stations, including King Hussein of Jordan JY1.
While at LORAN school in Governor’s Island, I hopped a bus a couple of times and went to see Mary in Pennsylvania. On a Sunday morning, the phone rings at Mary Ann’s house. I could tell she was excited about whomever was on the line because she was very animated.
When I walked into the kitchen, she said, on the telephone, “Do you remember when you used to talk to Les, K5LTH, at the Navy Submarine Base station KH6SP?” Well hang on, he’s standing right here. She held the phone out to me and said, “This is King Hussein, JY1 – say hello to him”!
Needless to say, this young Coastie very nearly crapped his pants. I thought, now what the HECK is the proper thing to say to a King on the telephone?! I exchanged pleasantries with him briefly and then I told him that I was attending some schooling in New York and then I’d be heading off to Kure Island to put it on the air on the ham bands. He replied, “Wonderful! I need that one!” Sadly, even though when I was on Kure Island I tried very hard to copy him on a day and time when I was on frequency with him and Mary Ann, I could not, in good conscience, say that we had had a QSO. I wanted nothing more than to say it was a done deal but I just couldn’t copy him well enough and honesty wouldn’t permit me to log him. So that, undoubtedly, was my most-memorable “nearly” QSO.
We got a “log” (logistics) flight twice a week from Midway. It was a chopper, bringing us whatever goodies had arrived on Midway for us. There was a Coast Guard Liasion on Midway responsible for stockpiling our goods and seeing that they all got on the flights over to us. This was our food, our movies, our supplies for our tiny little base exchange, etc. We could also, if we chose, take a day of leave and fly back to Midway on one of the flights and spend a couple of days there. I did this once but, honestly, it didn’t seem like very long before I was longing for the familiar surroundings of Kure. Sidebar story, I did have the chance to operate a bit as K5LTH/KM6 and I also used the Club Station callsign KM6BI during my brief times on Midway.
As far as isolation, we had plenty of that, living with the same 20 people every day. Although, the log flights broke up the monotony twice a week. I also recall a crew showed up on Kure while I was there, tasked with painting and re-guying the 625 foot LORAN tower. They were with us for, I want to say, 3 weeks or so.
Also, during my stint on Kure, a large supply ship showed up. They can’t get inside the reef, of course. The ship anchored outside the reef and I was told that divers went down and attached a large hose to an outlet below the surface that was the feedpoint for replenishing our diesel tanks. And, while this was going on, they were heaving barrels of gasoline over the side. Our boat crew would hook on to them and drag them up close enough to shore where swimmers could grab them and guide them up toward shore. As I recall, this event took a couple of days to complete.
As far as generators, we had 2 huge generators. One was always “on line” powering the station with its 325KW LORAN transmitters (which we also had 2 of, everything had redundancy on the island) plus all the LORAN timing equipment and the general use electricity in the timer room and barracks and mess hall, etc. As far as when the generators were available, 24/7/365 was an absolute must, because it was crucial for us to be generating that extremely accurately timed LORAN signal for ships and aircraft to navigate by.
In many respects, the non-ham population felt “cut off” from the world to a large degree and many couldn’t wait to get their tour over and get the heck out of there. Funny thing is, though, many who were anxious to leave, based on what I’ve read in some the “reminisciences” from some of them on military websites look back and admit that it wasn’t a bad tour of duty and that, in retrospect, they enjoyed their time there and miss the place.