"Nice talking to you, Bir!"
May 20, 2005
One of the wonderful
things about the hobby of ham radio is the camaraderie among the
participants which transcends social status, religion, language and
country. Radio hams from anywhere are instantly on the same wave length
when they meet in person. I had an experience while serving in the U.
S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division which exemplifies that camaraderie.
was a radio operator attached to the Headquarters of the 82nd Airborne
Division Artillery. Actually, my complete title was
'radio-teletypewriter operator' and I had my own truck with a box-like
radio shack on the back. In the radio shack I had the usual
transmitter/receiver combination as well as teletype machines and a
device which created tapes by punching holes in the tape. My job
specifications required a working knowledge of Morse code which I was
quite good at because I'd been a ham since I was eleven years old.
Because I was a ham and
the equipment in my truck could operate on the amateur frequencies, I
would often attempt contact with places nearby the homes of some of
guys in my unit. Many times I would contact amateur stations near
someone's home and the operator near their home would make a call to
the parents, wife or girlfriend. The guys loved it because they could
talk home for free. I often spent more time using my radios for
contacts on the ham frequencies than on the military networks.
of my favorite forms of communication is using Morse code. In the ham
radio community, Morse code
is referred to as CW--for continuous wave--by everyone in the hobby.
Because I liked CW operation so much I would often go on the ham bands
with a code sending device
known world-wide as 'a bug.' The bug is a mechanical device with a
paddle-like assembly which can produce a
continuous set of dots if pressed one way and a single long dash if
pressed the other way.
Because learning to send
with a bug is very difficult, no one in the military used bugs; they
used a simpler device known as a key. The key allows the sending of
dots and dashes by an up and down tapping motion on the key. Operation
of a key is intuitively simple but sending with a bug takes many hours
One day I was sitting in
my truck trying to look busy, when our radio sergeant stuck his head in
and said, "Sayers, clean up in there and police around the outside of
the truck. A General and some really big wigs are coming by for some
kind of tour. Look busy."
"Sergeant, you know how
good I am at looking busy," I laughed, "you never know if I'm working
"Pick up any butts and
don't get into any trouble," he grinned as he walked away to get the
other guys ready for the upcoming tour.
A half hour or so later
one of the guys yelled, "Oh, man, look at that! What the hell is going
I looked down the line of
trucks in our motor pool to an entourage of two dozen or more people
walking slowly toward us. We all gawked in amazement as none of us had
seen a tour with so many people.
The 82nd Airborne Division
was a showcase operation. We had a reputation from kicking butt during
World War II and the Army loved to show us off. We were always having
tours dignitaries and photographers...but nothing like this tour.
As the group came closer
to my truck I could tell that the person who was the focal point of the
tour was wearing a large, purple turban; he walked carrying a swagger
stick and he had a thick, full beard. He was quite obviously not an
American. The turban caused me to think that he was Indian or
From my vantage point
sitting in my radio van I was about five feet off the ground and could
easily see into the approaching crowd. I noticed what I thought was a
Brigadier General and many other officers of high rank. Clearly, the
tour was for the officer in the purple turban.
As the group approached my
truck, I noticed the turbaned officer look up at the tall antenna I had
erected from my truck so I that could contact people on the amateur
frequencies. He kept looking my truck over and finally said something
to the general and walked directly to my van.
"Oh, shit," I thought.
"What now?" as he came right up to door and gazed into the van.
Military protocol is such that a lowly enlisted man doesn't speak to an
officer unless spoken to first. I did what I thought polite and nodded
to him as he thoroughly investigated the inside of my van. He looked
intently at ever piece of equipment.
Finally, he saw the bug
sitting on the operating console. He took the swagger stick from under
his arm and pointed to the bug while asking, in a thick British accent,
"What do use that for, soldier?", with a very obvious
emphasis on the 'that' in his question.
"Oh, damn," I thought,
"I'm caught." I stammered a bit and said, "Well, sir, I'm a radio
amateur and I use the bug to communicate on the amateur frequencies if
I have the time."
"Oh, really, you like CW?"
he smiled a big, friendly grin. "What's your call?"
"My call is W3ZLU, sir.
And, yes, I love to operate CW."
With that, he reached out
his hand to shake mine and said, "Glad to me you, I'm VU2BP! You can
call me Bir. May I come in to look around?"
"Well, glad to me you,
too, sir. Sure, come on in; I'll give you the full tour." Which was a
total joke because once he was inside and sitting next to me the van
was full and we couldn't move.
By his "VU" call letter
prefix I immediately knew that he was from India.
We sat side by side, so
close in fact that our knees were touching, and I explained the
equipment and my job. We talked about ham radio quite a bit.
He asked if I had talked
to a group of Indian amateurs who were making history in the ham
community by operating from various remote, uninhabited islands in
middle of the Indian Ocean. I told him I had heard them but couldn't
make myself heard with the type of antenna I was using.
He laughed and told me how
glad he was to meet someone with whom he could actually talk. He hated
We made small talk and
gossip about things going on in the amateur world and finally, we heard
from outside, "Ah, pardon me, Sir, but we really should be getting on
with the tour. The heavy drop demonstration out on Sicily DZ can't be
changed and we'll be late if we don't move on."
He smiled at me and said,
"Well, back to work!"
He exited the van with a
jump to ground. He turned around to face me; snapped his heels
together; threw his hand up in a British-style palm outward salute and
said with a grin, "It sure was nice to meet you, Bernie. Hope to work
you on 20 meters some day!"
I returned the salute with
an even bigger grin and said, "It was nice talking to you, Bir. I hope
we can make that QSO."
Our 82nd Airborne officers
and the surrounding entourage were astounded. Their mouths were open in
amazement. They all had a look of disbelief on their face of "...did that
enlisted soldier just call that officer by his first
Bir walked away, took a
few steps, and turned around to say, "Bernie, I'll send you a QSL for
Everyone in the group
looked on trying to figure out what Bir had just said to me. "I would
like that! Thank you, Bir!" I said with a very big grin.
Two or three days later, I
was called to our Headquarters Orderly Room. As usual, I thought, what
When I reported in I the
command sergeant major me handed an envelope on which was written,
"Bernie, W3ZLU, 82nd Airborne Division."
When I opened it I found a
QSL card from VU2BP. A QSL is a post card with the location, equipment
and other information and is used as confirmation of a contact, known
as a QSO, with another station.
Bir didn't know anything
about me except my first name, my call and and the fact that I was with
the 82nd Airborne Division. I was later told by my commanding officer
that Bir had given the QSL card to the General who accompanied him on
the tour and asked the General if he could deliver the QSL to me.
As you can see from the
QSL Bir wrote "Personal QSO" and signed his name "Bir".
I found out later that Bir
was the head of the Indian Army Signal corps, that he was airborne
qualified and that held a rank equal to our Major General. See a link
to VU2BP's QTH.
I have hundreds of cards
from all over the world and at least one card from over 125 foreign
countries but the QSL from Bir, VU2BP, is one of my favorites.