I Remember Darnell

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Ramey AFB

I met Darnell in June 1963 when I arrived at Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico to start a three-year tour. I might not have known him at all had he not worked for me on the night shift (we worked 12-hour shifts) as a navigation equipment maintainer on B-52 and KC-135 aircraft.

He had an amateur call sign, but I don’t remember what it was. His quarters were in the barracks. If he had a station I never saw it. Perhaps he was like me, tired of chasing electrons. When his off duty time came around he didn’t need more of the same.

Darnell kept radio schedules using the Ramey MARS station – a phone patch to chat with his parents in Kentucky and direct contact with old friends at the radio site in Japan.

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MARS From A Distance

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During a hurricane the aircraft were evacuated

to Maine. This photo is of two flight crew members

calling their wives back in Puerto Rico using a

MARS phone patch

I still laugh when I recall a story he told on himself. His first duty station was a high-power radio site located somewhere in Japan. He was fresh from tech school and a newbie at the site when his first Friday rolled around. His superiors wanted to go to town.

He was electronic savvy and capable of repairing anything short of a total meltdown.

Nothing is going to happen. Rules state that we need a warm body to answer the phone,” the shop chief told him.

Minutes after they’d departed the phone rang. It was a radioman aboard a Navy ship somewhere off the coast.

Send us some “music”,” the radioman said.

Darnell wasn’t familiar with the jargon. He didn’t know that music meant he was supposed to transmit a special signal so the electronic countermeasure officer could log some signal jamming time. He told them to standby while he patched in Armed Forces Radio and sent them Earnest Tubb.

The telephone rang again. This time it was the ship’s captain demanding answers that Darnell couldn’t provide. Within minutes the Officer of the Day had a runner on his way to town, double time, to fetch the shop chief.

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Ramey AFB Hospital

Sooner or later, things change. Ramey was no exception. It was built in 1939 to protect the Panama Canal. It was decommissioned in 1973. The hangars went to the Coast Guard. Base Operations, the tower, and the 12,000 foot runway became an International Airport. FedEx uses a portion of the hospital as its Caribbean Headquarters. The MARS station and the folks who used it have gone to play elsewhere.

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