The Coast Guard CW Operators Association (CGCWOA) is a membership organization comprised primarily of former members of the United States Coast Guard who held the enlisted rating of Radioman (RM) or Telecommunications Specialist (TC), and who employed International Morse Code (CW) in their routine communications duties on Coast Guard cutters and at shore stations. Also, "Associate Membership" is offered to other professional and military CW operators who possess similar qualifications.
The Association was founded by RMCS Ralph H. Davis Jr., (pictured right) who in February of 1996 commenced publication of the Association's newsletter, "Comm-One". Chief Davis crossed the bar in October of 1996, and publication of Comm-One has continued in his memory. So, too, does this web site.
CGCWOA was formed shortly after the Coast Guard discontinued the routine use of CW at its cutters and radio stations. Its formation wasn't meant as a protest of any kind. After all, it was the Coast Guard Radiomen who implemented and perfected the technological advancements in communications that eventually made their art of CW obsolete. (And, as usual, they did their job well.)
Rather, the Association was formed to institutionalize the camaraderie and fellowship that had grown out of being a relatively small group of sailors with a special skill, a skill which in many ways set them apart from everyone else in the Coast Guard. To be sure, radiomen were an integral part of the crew and worked closely with other crew members in delivering Coast Guard services, but somehow they were different. They were a close knit group of people who spoke an unusual language, the language of Morse. To many of their shipmates the Radio Shack was an almost mystical place, a place where they could not only get the best cup of coffee on the mid watch, but also a place providing their only link to the rest of the world —— a link that was essentially uncontrollable by the rest of them, officers and enlisted personnel alike.
And, unlike members of other rates, radiomen throughout the Coast Guard kept in close touch with one another. It was, for example, the Radio Gang that began and maintained a tradition of exchanging Christmas Cards with all other units having radioman billets, thus establishing an informal system of keeping track of where former shipmates were stationed.
The men and women of the Coast Guard who wore the "Sparks" on the left sleeve of their uniforms, either as RMs or early TCs, are bonded together for life. The official end of the line finally came in 2003 when the Coast Guard merged the rates of Telecommunications Specialist (TC) and Radarman (RD) into the new rate of Operations Specialist (OS), and assigned the old RD insignia to the rating badge. The people in the new rate will surely make their own history, but they will never match the degree of fellowship shared by Coast Guard CW operators who earned the "Sparks".
It was this sense of fellowship that Chief Davis sought to perpetuate through the CGCWOA, even as the code was fading from its Coast Guard existence. In the second edition of Comm-One, back in March of 1996, he wrote:
"All of the old timers and those code hounds still in the Guard have tales to tell about the chirps and dits that have passed from our fists. Everyone should take pride in the fact that they served and were part of an Art. Like the pride one felt when he got his first speed key certificate or the first time that he worked a Soviet and could copy maybe a third of what the guy was sending. Even Pride in being called a Radioman."
As stated on the banner of the first edition of Comm-One, the new organization was "ZUT RESURRECTED." ZUT was the forerunner of the CGCWOA, and the organization upon which it was built.
ZUT (formally, "Zeta Upsilon Tau") was subtitled the Fraternal Order of Coast Guard CW Operators
It was founded in 1962 by Radioman Bill Gulledge (ZUT1) and a small group of his fellow radiomen at the long since closed Coast Guard Radio Washington (NMH), geographically located in Alexandria, Virginia. They adopted an unused military Z-signal for its primary name, and in reaction to the increasing use of radio teletype (RATT) over CW, assigned it the meaning of "CW FOREVER."
Over the sines of radiomen George Datz, Bill Gulledge, George Neitz and Ron Harburg, an organizing letter was sent to all Coast Guard ships and stations having RM billets. In under a year the organization grew to over 700 radiomen who requested ZUT membership cards, and were assigned a ZUT number.
ZUT was disestablished in late 1963, but arose again in 1964, continuing to mail out sporadic copies of its official "ZUT-REP" newsletter. But even after the demise of the newsletter in 1967, the tradition of ZUT at least lingered on. Many of the 1100 or so RMs who were issued a numbered "ZUT Card" hung on to them through the years. One member kept his in his wallet (and still does) just so he would have a way to explain to people why he had a ZUT tattoo on his left arm.
BACK TO THE PRESENT
Finally, the organization experienced a second reincarnation as the now flourishing Coast Guard CW Operator Association.
The "code" may be gone —— and now even the Sparks —— but the tradition moves forward.
Scattered throughout this web site, you will find many of the cartoons and poems of CGCWOA's founder, Ralph Davis, as well as the tales and travails of other contributors. We hope you will take the time to explore the information we have accumulated over the years, as well as the history we have made.
One of Ralph's poems seems to best capture the feeling of what it meant to be a Coast Guard CW operator, especially during the days of Ocean Station Vessels back in the 1950s and 60s:
A Radioman's Dream
You awake with a start to the Bosn's shake
Feet hit the deck before you awake
Out of your pit and into your dungs
Then up the berthing ladder, rung by rung
Onto the mess deck with lights too bright
For a horse cock sandwich to last the night
A cup of Joe, a butt or two,
Then off to the shack, your duty to do
You climb to the Oh one deck, through salty spray
Dark clouds above march past in their dress grey
White water amidships, bow goes under green
Water swirls aft, sweeping decks clean
You enter the hatch, fresh coffee you smell
Along with stale smoke and the new man's pail
Transmitters emit a hot bees wax odor
Aging capacitors sound like outboard motors
Two weathers are pending and NMH is not here.
We lost him on twelve, they faded into thin air.
Eight was tried with out success,
Four is no better. Comms are a mess.
Five hundred is still alive and noisy with code.
NRUS tried to relay but lost her M.O.
The Chief will be up at quarter till three.
Copy press and publish the Daily.
With the watch relieved and gone below
I adjust my key, sending real slow
Searching for a station to rid us of traffic
Finding nothing there but that darn static
You have braced yourself, wedged into position
Fired the FRT23 up and started transmission
She suddenly rolls to port, lurches ahead
Bangs into a wave and seems to stop dead
Shuddering up, shaking her prow
Ridding herself of the water somehow
Through all of this with a coffee cup balanced
Not a drop spilled to foul the Chief's palace
On eight a tone, five by the signal comes through
You get rid of weathers, another message or two
The OBS period over, no AMVERS to steal
Quite proud of yourself is the way to feel
Your watch starts drawing to an end
You think of wife and family, start to grin
For it is day twentyone on station for you
No more watches, it's over and through
Underway watches leave little to be done
You are homeward bound from Delta, "Ole Son"
But suddenly you wake up and it is all a dream
Of Ocean Station days, your youth's past seen
No more station in the middle of a grid square
Nor a Radioman to found, not anywhere
A key of brass, an Underwood mill
Are of the past, are over the hill
The mission is still there, waiting to be done.
The challenge laid down, accepted by younger ones.
Radioman are gone, the code also you see.
Tradition carried on by computers, remotes and TCs