February 2020 sees History related special events honoring two leaders of nations, one memorializing those lost in a space program tragedy, and three commemorating events in military history. The first national leader, George Washington, is a figure I don’t think I need to write about. Americans should know the significance of his service as the commander of the Continental Army during the American Revolution and as our first President. The second national leader, King Hussein, long-time King of Jordan through a turbulent part of its history and an amateur radio operator. As I was writing this post, current events made me stop and ponder the story of Jordan during the Arab Israeli wars and think that it could be compared to current events in Iraq and Afghanistan, wondering if the way King Hussein navigated that period could hold lessons for today. Another special event station remembers the Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003 and memorializes those lost when the Columbia exploded over Texas. The raising of the US flag over Mount Suribachi during the World War II battle of Iwo Jima, the sinking of the USS Housatonic by the Confederate submarine Hunley during the Civil War, and Operation Veritable, part of the Western European Theater of World War II are commemorated by special event stations in Texas and Holland.
Before we look at what the month’s special event stations are about, here are some important events in Radio History that occurred during January:
This Month in Amateur Radio History
- 6-16 February 1928 – The 1928 International Relay Party is the first organized Amateur Radio contest.
- 10 February 1898 – Bertold Brecht’s Birthday. Author, Playwright, and Poet – he proposed that radio could be an interactive communications tool, not just a means of distribution.
- 18 February 1916 – Amateur Radio operators relay Washington’s Birthday message over Amateur Radio. Sent from Rock Island, IL, the message reached both coasts within an hour.
- 22 February 1857 – Heinrich Rudolf Hertz’s Birthday. He was the first to demonstrate the existence of electromagnetic waves and built a device t produce and detect radio waves, triggering the invention of radio.
- 23 February 1927 – The Radio Act of 1927 is signed into law by President Coolidge, further regulating Amateur Radio and creating the Federal Radio Commission to oversee radio.
George Washington – First President of the United States
At least two special event stations, one in Virginia and one in Washington, will be remembering the Revolutionary War general and first President of the United States this month.
On 15/16 February 2020, the Mt. Vernon Amateur Radio Club will be honoring George Washington with special event station K4US in Alexandria, VA. They’ll be operating on or near 14.260, 14.074, and 7.040. QSL for certificate via MVARC, P.O. Box 7234, Alexandria, VA 22308. More information at www.mvarc.org
From 21 February to 23 February 2020, the Columbia Basin DX Club in Moses Lake, WA will be honoring George Washington with special event station WS7G. They’ll be operating on or near 14.255, 7.222, and 3.855. QSL via Brian Nielson, 11650 Road 1 SE, Moses Lake, WA 98837. More information at cbn.homestead.com/WS7G.html
King Hussein of Jordan, JY1
A variety of stations will be operating as special event stations during the month of February in memory of King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan. For more information on participating stations, see the JY1 Special Event Memorial Station website.
King Hussein bin Talal ruled Jordan through a tumultuous portion of that nation’s history from 1952 to 1999. Throughout his reign, King Hussein found himself in an unenviable position, both geographically and policy-wise; he was between Israel and the west on one side and the Palestinians, other Islamic and Arab nations, and the Soviet Bloc on the other. He consistently found himself and his country caught up in conflicts between Israel and the Arab Nations and Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as well as being caught up in Cold War alliances. Jordan fought, along with other Arab nations such as Egypt and Syria, with Israel in several wars, including the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War. During the Six Day War, Jordan lost control of the West Bank and Jerusalem to Israel. King Hussein and Jordan also fought against the PLO, which was based in Jordan, forcing them from the country. After Iraq invaded Kuwait, King Hussein counseled Saddam Hussein against remaining in Kuwait and ultimately told Iraq that Jordan would resist any moves through Jordanian territory should Iraq make war against Israel. After the Gulf War and the end of the Cold War, Jordan would become close with the United States and make peace with Israel, with King Hussein playing a key role in negotiations while also fighting cancer. Regardless of the conflict and continuous difficulty including economic problems caused by the Arab Israeli wars and Jordan’s political positions, his reign was a positive one. He ascended to the throne as a 17-year-old; it’s hard to believe that one could have done a better job in such an impossibly difficult position that Hussein found himself in. From a Western perspective, Hussein wasn’t always on “our side” and his rule certainly wasn’t one representative of democracy, as he at times limited freedom of speech and parliament, but Jordan was better off when he passed than when he ascended to the throne. Quality of life and literacy in Jordan, its economy, and its infrastructure all improved throughout his reign. King Hussein was an enthusiastic amateur radio operator, active under the callsign JY1, so an amateur radio special event station in his honor is a fitting way to remember such a historic leader.
In light of the US drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and the subsequent Iranian missile attacks on al-Asad Air Base and Erbil in Iraq, I don’t think it would be unfair to make a comparison between the situation Jordan found itself in for part of King Hussein’s reign – caught between Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and the PLO on one side and Israel and the United States on the other to Iraq’s current situation – caught between the United States on one side and Iran on the other. In both situations, the governments find themselves in unenviable, practically no-win situations. Indeed, I wonder if there is anything we could learn in studying King Hussein’s position and actions in Jordan to apply to our current situation with Iraq and Iran?
On February 1/2, the Nacogdoches Amateur Radio Club will be remembering the crash of the space shuttle Columbia and the seven astronauts killed with special event station K5C in Nacogdoches, TX. They’ll be operating on or near 14.260, 14.174, 7.220, and 7.174. QSL with SASE via Nacogdoches Amateur Radio Club, 167 County Rd. 2093, Nacogdoches, TX 75965 (all contacts will be confirmed via LoTW). More information at w5nac.com
On 16 January 2003, the space shuttle Columbia launched from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on mission STS-107 with a crew of seven:
- Commander: USAF Col. Rick D. Husband,
- Pilot: USN Commander William C. McCool,
- Payload Commander: USAF Lt. Col. Michael P. Anderson,
- Payload Specialist: IAF Col Ilan Ramon,
- Mission Specialist: Kalpana Chawla,
- Mission Specialist: USN Capt. David M. Brown
- Mission Specialist: USN Capt. Laurel Blair Salton Clark
During the launch, a chunk of the thermal insulation foam on the Columbia’s external fuel tank broke loose and struck the bottom of the Columbia’s left wing. Although some engineers believed that the damage caused by the foam to the heat resistant tiles on the bottom of the wing was very serious, NASA administrators limited the investigation in the belief that there would have been nothing the astronauts on board could have done to repair the damage. The STS-107 mission continued as planned and Columbia left orbit to return to earth on 1 February 2003. The damage to the wing caused by the chunk of insulation proved catastrophic. At 0859 EST, just seventeen minutes before it was scheduled to land at Kennedy Space Center, Columbia disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana killing all aboard. It was determined that the cause of the crash was hot atmospheric gases penetrating Columbia’s heat shield through the damage caused by the foam insulation that came from the external fuel tank during launch and damaging its structural integrity. After the crash, a multitude of volunteers responded to the area to help search for debris, which was spread across a massive area – from Nacogdoches, TX in the west to western Louisiana and Southwestern Arkansas in the east. Among those volunteers were amateur radio operators who provided key communications support for the search.
The crash of the shuttle Columbia would lead to a 29-month suspension of space shuttle missions during which the crash was studied and both technical and organizational changes made to make the remaining shuttles safer. Although the shuttle Challenger was lost during a launch incident in 1986, there were no other shuttle disasters following that of the Columbia through the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.
Mount Suribachi Flag Raising
From 1700 UTC to 2359 UTC on 8 February 2020, the USS Midway (CV-41) Museum Ship in San Diego, CA will be operating special event station NI6IW to commemorate the raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima. They’ll be operating on or near 14.320 and 7.250, on PSK31 on 14.070, and on DSTAR REF001C. QSL via USS Midway Museum Ship COMEDTRA, 910 N Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101.
The raising of the American flag on Mount Suribachi occurred on the fifth day of the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. A photo taken during the flag-raising became a symbol not only of the Battle of Iwo Jima but the Pacific Theater of World War II as a whole. The invasion of Iwo Jima began on 19 February 1945 with the goal of depriving the Japanese of the use of its airfields and utilizing them as emergency landing fields for B-29s that were attacking Japan from the Marianas. Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest and terrible battles in the Pacific Theater. Although the US had superior forces on the ground, in the air, and at sea, the Japanese had the advantage in that they were dug into the island in caves and tunnels, taking a heavy toll on the Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors fighting them. The battle saw 26,040 US casualties including 6,821 killed and the Japanese lost somewhere around 17,845 – 18,375 dead and missing with only 216 captured; this made Iwo Jima a unique battle in that although the number of Japanese deaths was higher, the US had a higher total number of casualties. After World War II, the Battle of Iwo Jima would become controversial, the controversy centering around whether the massive number of casualties was worth what was gained.
Mt. Suribachi was the island’s high ground and the Japanese were tunneled into it with firepower that could range the island, so it was an important early target. It was taken on 23 February 1945 and on that day, Joe Rosenthal’s iconic photo of the flag being raised was taken. Rosenthal’s photo, however, was of the second raising; a small flag had been raised first and Rosenthal captured the image of the second group of Marines replacing it with a larger flag. The first flag on Mount Suribachi was raised by Third Platoon of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division after they had been ordered to take the mountain’s crest. They tied a flag from the transport USS Missoula to a pipe found on the crest and raised it up, a terrific morale booster for the American Marines, Soldiers, and Sailors below.
Later in the day, other Marines from Easy Company were directed to raise a larger flag from an LST on the beach on the summit of Mount Suribachi. Cpl. Ira Hayes, Cpl. Harold Schultz, Sgt. Michael Strank, PFC Franklin Sousley, Cpl. Howard Keller, and Cpl. Harlon Block were the six Marines that photographer Joe Rosenthal photographed raising the second flag. The flag raisings were far from the end of the Battle of Iwo Jima, which wouldn’t end until 26 March 1945; three of the Marines from Rosenthal’s photo, Strank, Block, and Sousley would be killed later during the Battle. Rosenthal’s photo won the Pulitzer Prize in 1945 and was reprinted in thousands of newspapers and magazines. It became an iconic image of not just the Battle of Iwo Jima, but of the Pacific War in general. In 1951, the Marine Corps War Memorial was commissioned; its sculptor, Felix de Weldon, used Rosenthal’s photo as inspiration for the memorial which was dedicated at Arlington National Cemetery in 1954.
Unfortunately, the story of the Iwo Jima flag-raising has a sad chapter. Cpl. Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian who volunteered for the Marine Corps, was never comfortable with how famous he became after the photo. Feeling guilty about surviving when so many of his buddies didn’t, he became an alcoholic after returning home from World War II. Although he was sober when attended the dedication of the Marine Corps War Memorial based on the photo on 10 November 1954, he would die months later on 24 January 1955. While his family believed the cause of death was a fight, but the official cause of death was alcohol poisoning and exposure. Peter La Farge wrote a song about Hayes – “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” – that was recorded by Johnny Cash in 1964, calling attention to Hayes’ story and the plight of those like him as well as his tribe. I can’t help but wonder if Hayes’ story is a cautionary tale that went unheeded until more recently.
The H.L. Hunley
From 1400 UTC to 2100 UTC on 17 February 2020, the Trident Amateur Radio Club will be remembering the Confederate submarine and the crew members who died in it with special event station N4HLH in Charleston, SC. They’ll be operating on or near 14.262, 7.262, and 7.117 QSL via Larry Gatton, PO Box 60732, Charleston, SC 29416. More information at tridenthams.org/hunley.htm
On the night of 17 February 1864, a 40-foot-long cylindrical vessel slipped from its moorings in Charleston and made way into Charleston harbor. She made her way toward the USS Housatonic, a US navy vessel participating in the Union blockade of Charleston harbor. Approaching mostly submerged, she approached unseen until the last moments and rammed her spar torpedo, an explosive device protruding from her hull on a 22-foot-long pole, into the hull of the Housatonic. The spar torpedo exploded, and the Housatonic sank within five minutes with the loss of 5 crew members. It was the first successful sinking of a ship by a combat submarine, but unfortunately, she nor her crew survived the attack. This vessel was the H.L. Hunley, a seemingly unlucky ship that made history during the Civil War. The German U-Boats of World War I and World War II, the US submarines that played such a vital role in the Pacific Theater of World War II, the submarines of the Cold War, and the submarines of today can all trace their roots back to what the Hunley accomplished in 1864.
The Hunley was built in Mobile, AL and transported to Charleston, where she sank twice during testing, killing 13 crew members, including her inventor, Horace L Hunley. The first time she sank was on 29 August 1863 during a test run; killing all eight of her crew. She was raised from the bottom and once again went out for testing. On 15 October 1863, she sank again, killing five of her crew, this time including Horace Hunley. She was raised again and put in service, but this time Confederate General Pierre G.T. Beauregard, who commanded Charleston, ordered that she no longer be used completely submerged. After numerous attempts in the Winter of 1863/1864, the Hunley’s crew was finally given the chance described above to make a successful attack. As described, the attack was successful but fatal to both ships. While the Housatonic went to the bottom, all but five her crew survived. The Hunley went down with all eight of her crew:
Lieutenant George E. Dixon
Corporal J.F. Carlsen
James A. Wicks
The Hunley wasn’t located until 1995 and was raised in 2000. In April 2004, the remains of the crew, which were still inside the Hunley when she was raised, were interred at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston. The Hunley is now on display at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston, SC, where on weekends, visitors can view the Hunley’s hull preserved in a water tank, as well as artifacts recovered from the hull and go inside of a replica of the hull.
Throughout 2020, but particularly during February around the anniversary of Operation Veritable, special event station PA75OV in Gennep, Netherlands will be commemorating Operation Veritable from World War II’s Western European Theater. For more information, see their website.
Operation Veritable was a month-long Western European Theater battle late in World War II. It occurred in and around the Reichswald Forest with the objective of pushing German forces from the area west of the Rhine River before the Allies crossed the Rhine itself. Veritable was the northern part of what was supposed to be a pincer movement; Field Marsha Bernard Montgomery’s 21st Army Group consisting of the First Canadian Army and the British XXX Army Corps were to be the northern pincer of the movement, moving from areas captured during Operation Market Garden, in conjunction with the southern pincer, Operation Grenade, which was to be conducted by the US 9th Army under Lt. General William Simpson. Veritable began on 8 February 1945 with XXX Corps advancing through the Reichswald Forest and the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division conducting amphibious operations in the Rhine Plain. The area around the Rhine muddy due to wet winter and melting snow and the Germans flooded the Rhine Plain (flooding the plain provided mixed results, while no doubt making movement of vehicles and troops more difficult, it also reduced the effectiveness of German minefields) The muddy conditions, flooded areas, and the dense forest of the Reichswald helped negate some of the Allies’ advantages in numbers and armor and caused delays in Operation Grenade. The delay in Operation Grenade allowed the German forces to concentrate on Operation Veritable rather than having to split forces against two pincers, making things even more difficult for the Canadians and British. The German Army, as always, fought fiercely and it all made for an extremely tough fight. Once through the Reichswald, the battle became Operation Blockbuster as the 21st Army Group and 9th Army met up and continued moving. Veritable/Blockbuster would eventually end on 11 March 1945. During the over just one-month-long battle, the Canadian and British forces suffered 15,634 casualties while the Germans suffered over 44,000. Although this part of the Western European front of World War II is often forgotten, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander Allied Forces in Europe, called it “a bitter slugging match” and “some of the fiercest fighting of the whole war.” As a result of Operation Veritable and other Allied moves toward the Rhine, the Germans were pushed back behind the Rhine and over 200,000 German soldiers were captured.