NNN0CRU, the callsign of the MARS shack on the USS Essex, had a PK-232 packet modem for sending MARS Grams.  I had a couple of boxes located around the ship – on the mess decks, in the gym, etc – where crew members could fill out a blank MARS Gram form and send a quick message back home.  This was in the days before email where hand-written letters took weeks to reach their destination.  I was processing dozens of MARS Grams a day which were getting deliverd in arund 24 hours.  At one point we were even getting messages delivered quicker than Red Cross.

When I received a message of a sensitive nature, birth of a child, death in the family, etc, I would take them to the Command Master Chief or the Chaplain for delivery.  But most were pretty benign.


My first Navy Achievement Medal awarded for operating the MARS station as the ship’s only HF radio during an outage.

One day, while sitting in the helo direction center (HDC) – which is synonymous with the  Amphibious Air Traffic Control Center (AATCC) – our ship lost all HF communications.  It seems a technician was working on a radio and somehow shorted out the power supplies to all the ship’s HF radios.  A few minutes later the MWR officer came knocking. 

“You’ve got an HF radio in the MARS shack, right?” he asked. 

“Yes, sir.”

“You need to come with me to comm…you’re the ship’s only HF station!”

Because I had a TNC, I was able to send all our  routine, unclassified messages to a station in Whidbey Island for further routing.  Some poor RMSN had to run up and down six flights of stairs between the comm office (on the second deck) and the MARS shack (on the O-5 level)  with a floppy disk full of messages.  We did this for about 15 hours.

The RM and I were both awarded for our efforts during a ceremony in the hangar bay.  When I returned to HDC afterwards my LCPO told me that was the Third Fleet Commander who presented the award.  When I scratched my head he explained during WWII that would have been Admiral Nimitz!