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Gordon Buck – Radar Tech in Central America WWII

Discussion in 'Ground Commands, Stations, & Bases' started by Gordon Buck, May 22, 2017.

  1. Gordon Buck

    Gordon Buck New Member

    In the old forum, I started a thread about my dad, Gordon Buck Sr., who was a radar tech in Central America during WWII. Some good information was posted there. Unfortunately, I did not have a copy of that thread so most of it was lost. However, I've recently recovered part of the thread by using the "Wayback Machine". I will re-post the recovered posts in a somewhat edited format.

    I am the son of Gordon S. Buck, Sr. My dad died in 2002 but left some interesting notes on his life and times. During WWII, he was a radar technician and was setting up radar stations in and around Central America. I’m attempting to fill in bits and pieces of his story and will appreciate any help that can be given. Since I'm unsure about which section this message should be posted, I'll start here.

    My dad was in the Army Air Corp Signal Air Warning Battalion. Although it seems odd to me (I have no military background), he rarely mentioned any particular unit identification. He did make a note about Company D of the 554th SAW.

    He usually described the radar equipment as SCR-270 and said that the unit on Taboga was serial number 2.

    Here is a timeline of his military duty during WWII. Some of the dates are approximate but most are pretty firm.

    9/16/41 Fort McClelland, GA -- drafted
    9/20/41 Camp Wheeler, Macon, GA -- basic training
    12/14/41 Drew Field, FL -- assigned to the Air Corp
    12/26/41 Fort Monmouth, NJ electronics School

    4/1/42 Drew Field, FL -- radar instructor
    4/20/42 New Orleans, LA -- to be shipped out
    5/1/42 Panama -- arrived
    5/15/42 Taboga Island -- operate and maintain SCR-270 radar
    10/15/42 Coiba Island -- operate radar station

    06/28/43 Fort Gulick, Panama -- advanced Radar School
    08/01/43 Fort Gulick, Panama -- promoted to assistant station chief
    08/15/43 Victoria, Panama -- radar post
    09/20/43 Ray Island, Bay of Panama -- investigate accident
    10/01/43 Quito, Ecuador -- install radar set
    10/22/43 Galapagos -- maintain radar set
    12/25/43 Galapagos -- Christmas dinner Menu

    08/15/44 Old French Canal -- teach radar
    09/15/44 Cape Mala -- radar site Commander
    12/25/44 Cape Mala -- Christmas dinner

    4/15/45 Hunter Field, Panama -- left Panama to return to USA
    4/23/45 San Diego Naval Base
    5/1/45 Fort McPherson, GA
    7/15/45 Key Field, Meridian, MS -- radar technician
    10/16/45 Drew Field, FL -- discharged from Army

    Thanks in advance for any help,

    Gordon Buck Jr.
  2. Lucky Partners

    Lucky Partners Well-Known Member


    Thanks for recovering and re-posting this. I remember the original thread but can't recall where it went from here. Where can we assist?

  3. Gordon Buck

    Gordon Buck New Member

    I've got it, thanks.
  4. Gordon Buck

    Gordon Buck New Member

    Continuing with the recovered thread, another post by me.


    These people were mentioned or listed by name in the military memoirs (WWII, Central America) of Gordon S. Buck Sr:

    Felix Summa, Jules Dereaux, New Orleans prior to shipping out, 1942

    Julian and Doris Harris, civilians working for the CZ Railroad

    Members of the same unit at one time or another

    Capt. Barker
    Captain Rosenberg, doctor on Coiba
    Lt. Wier, CO on Coiba
    Lt. Bison
    Lt. Gibbs
    Lt. Welcker
    Lt. Soloman
    Sgt. Adrian Knight - "Noche", Cape Mala
    Sgt. B.J. Smith
    Buster Read
    John E. Gooch
    Albert Ragust, “The Great Ragusa”, joined platoon in Victoria as radar operator

    Last names only on back of photos

    Walker Vickery
    Bonput Rourke
    Wisegayk Brockman
    Raby Libbert
    Jaffe Bogulaski
    Doswell Gustavson
    Hippelle Herzog
    Krinkey Pugh
    Pearson Stagman
    Vilgilio Jones
    Franklin Di Mascio
    Jenkins Martin
    Verbought Hahn
    Cary Simpson
    Holland Kirkhart
    Last edited: May 24, 2017
  5. Gordon Buck

    Gordon Buck New Member

  6. Gordon Buck

    Gordon Buck New Member

    Continuing to add recovered messages ...


    In 1943, the Galapagos Christmas dinner menu was:

    • Cream of tomato soup (with Cretons)
    • Stuffed olives
    • Ripe olives
    • Sliced pickles
    • Roast turkey with sage dressing
    • Giblet gravy
    • Cranberry sauce
    • Baked Virginia ham
    • Applesauce
    • Buttered asparagus
    • Buttered peas
    • Lemon Jello and carrot salad
    • Hot rolls with butter
    • Apple pie
    • Mince pie
    • Fruit cake
    • Iced cocoa
    • Coffee
    The menu was signed by
    • E. E. Breisch, Captain
    • F. E. Kilday, Sergeant
    • Lucius G. Drafts, Lt. Colonel
  7. Gordon Buck

    Gordon Buck New Member

  8. Gordon Buck

    Gordon Buck New Member

    A recovered post from Bernie Shearon ...


    Although I have very little information on the unit, I can confirm that the 554th Signal Aircraft Warning Battalion was assigned to 6th Air Force with headquarters at Ft Sherman in the Canal Zone, It apparently trained at March Fld, CA under IV Fighter Cd before moving to the Caribbean. Company D would have been one of the component companies of the battalion.
  9. Gordon Buck

    Gordon Buck New Member

    My reply (recovered) to Bernie Shearon ...

    I'm certain that my dad did not go from California to the Caribbean; in fact, he did not have any training in California. His route was from Drew Field, Florida to a troop ship in New Orleans and then to Panama. Perhaps he was reassigned later?
  10. Gordon Buck

    Gordon Buck New Member

    Another recovered post from me ...

    In another section of his notes, my dad said that, on arriving in Panama, he was part of the first platoon formed in the 516th Signal Air Warning Battalion.
  11. Gordon Buck

    Gordon Buck New Member

    An interesting exchange (recovered) with Larry Caldwell, son of Cpl Charles Caldwell, Engineer Crewman, USAAF Crash Boat P-258, Rey Island, Panama (Pacific side) ...


    Gordon, unfortunately I can add nothing to your quest. However, I wanted to comment that your string has been the first time here or anyplace that I've seen that mentioned 'Rey Island, Panama'. My dad was on the USAAF Crash Boat P-258 that operated off Rey Island. Dad did mention there was a Radar Unit on the Island, but other than the Crash Boat Crew and a Medic, that was about it. The Island had an emergency runway which is probably the boat was there. Have you ever found a map on the web that actually identifies Rey Island? I can only find Del Rey Island but no idea if that is the same Island with a new name or a different one. Interesting, when dad first arrived in Panama he was to be sent to Galapagos....but that's another story. Dad was a trained Radio Operator/Radio Mechanic but the boat already had a Radio Operator so they made him the Engineer...go figure!

    I replied to Larry .........

    My dad wrote this about Ray/Rey Island:

    While we were at headquarters there was an accident happened on the radar on Ray Island, about 50 miles in the Bay of Panama. I was assigned to an inspection team to go investigate. We boarded a P.T. boat and took off. That was the roughest ride I have ever had. The water was choppy and we had to stand up all the way. By the time we got there the bottom of my feet were sore. The accident was that while the radar chief was doing some maintenance on the antenna, someone, either purposely or accidentally, turned the antenna drive power on and knocked the chief off the 100-foot tower. He landed headfirst; needless to say, he was dead. I stayed there a couple of days then flew back on a Navy Duck. I turned in my report and that was the last I heard of it.

    Larry replied ...............

    Gordon....do you hold a copy of the investigation that was done on Rey Island? Do you have any particulars regarding the identity of the airman who was killed? Maybe there is a way to track down the report if enough info from your records is available. I'm just curious since it has to do with Rey Island, although my dad was not there at the time of the incident. I did receive some general info a couple years ago from the Skipper of the Crash Boat on Rey that included a Thanksgiving menu and a poem he wrote about Rey Island that he says was published in Stars and Stripes that I can post here if you want.

    I replied to Larry .........

    Sorry, that single paragraph is all the information I have about the accident, the investigation, Ray/Rey Island, etc. I don't recall my dad ever naming names or further elaborating on that incident.
  12. Gordon Buck

    Gordon Buck New Member

    Here's a summary of the various Signal Air Warning units that I'm sure I posted but did not recover. I found the original draft among my old MS Word files and edited it slightly.


    My dad was first assigned to the 501 Signal Air Warning and then to the 516 SAW but I’ve learned that other units were involved.

    The Signal Company Aircraft Warning Panama unit was established in December 1939; it arrived in Panama May 30, 1940 to establish two warning stations. Station 1 was at FortSherman (September), Station 2 was at Taboga (November). In the first six months of 1942, 26 radar stations were added. Company headquarters was at FortClayton.

    The 554thSignal Aircraft Warning was organized 7 March 1942 to furnish aircraft warning service to the 6th Air Force in Panama.

    On March 15, 1942, the Signal Company Aircraft Warning Panama was activated as the 558th Signal Aircraft Warning Battalion. The 558th Signal Aircraft Warning Battalion was disbanded December 1, 1942 and all personnel were transferred in grade to the 516th Signal Aircraft Warning Regiment.

    The 516th Signal Aircraft Warning Regiment was activated by General Order 73 of the 6th Air Force at FortClayton on December 1, 1942 under command of Captain Robert Knapp.

    My dad arrived in Panama during May 1942. In his memoirs, he wrote that he was part of the 516th.

    On January 4, 1943, the three officers and 40 enlisted men of the 516th who were stationed on South Seymour Island (now called Baltra in the Galapagos Islands) were transferred along with Station 201 to the 687th Signal Aircraft Warning Company. The 687th took over all Aircraft Warning operations in the Galapagos Islands.

    On June 10, 1943, my dad received a training certificate from the 516th SAW Regiment advanced radar school.

    In March of 1944, about the time my dad left Galapagos, the SAW platoons of the 516th were being broken up.

    On November 25, 1944, the 516th SAW Regiment was disbanded and re-activated as the 554th SAW Battalion. At that time, the 554th operated twenty-two air warning stations.
  13. Gordon Buck

    Gordon Buck New Member

    Somewhere around this point in the original message thread, a Mr. Charles B. Imperio joined the discussion. His posts were always brief, lots of misspelling, sometimes contradictory, sometimes repetitive. Like my dad, Mr. Imperio was a radar operator/technician in Central America. He often confused me for my dad but they had not met. Intrigued, I found more posts from Mr. Imperio on other forums and I began an email correspondence with him. Mr. Imperio died in 2009. I consolidated his posts into the following message.


    While researching for my dad’s story, I met Mr. Charles B. Imperio via the Internet. Mr. Imperio was a radar operator in WWII. Mr. Imperio joined the army at age 17. His path was much like my dad’s. Our correspondence was through email and various discussion forums from which I’ve summarized his story and taken the liberty to write in his voice.
    -- Gordon S. Buck Jr.

    I joined the Army May 2, 1942 at Cumberland, Maryland when I was seventeen years old. That same day, I was sent to FortMead where I got my supplies and took various tests. I was then sent to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. We were given knives and a field telephone and began our training on what the Signal Corps was all about. We were paid $21 a month. All the men I was with were in their 40’s.

    I served as a radar technician in the jungles of Panama, Ecuador, and the Galapagos Islands as well as FortClayton, Howard Field, Albrook Field and FortGulick in the Canal Zone. We worked about 30 men to a radar station. I worked on SCR-270s and 271s. Most of our radar units were made in Baltimore, Maryland. I was trained by older men, right in combat. The SCR-270 and 271 were big ground units but hidden so they couldn’t be seen. The wires to the antenna were ¾ inch diameter. The antenna was 50 feet high and looked like a set of big bed springs. They had a range of 200 miles. The tubes in the transmitter were so big that they had to be water cooled. We had a lot of trouble until we switched from gas engines to diesel engines in 1943. I was a radar operator, plotter, recorder and radio operator. I could call a target in to our big information center that was 2,000 miles away. Our units picked up ships, subs and airplanes. The greatest thing about our radar was the IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) but we didn’t get IFF until late 1943. With IFF, we could tell our planes from the Japanese planes. When we picked up a target, we intercepted with P-39s and P-40s. We also had B-24s and B-17s and LB-30s.

    I was in the Signal Corp radar, 554th Signal AW of the 6th Air Force until 1945 when I was discharged on points. The 554th Air Warning stations were kept secret. Our sole purpose was to protect the Panama Canal.

    After my training at Fort Monmouth, I went to Drew Field in August 1942. I lived in a big tent with bunk beds; I had an upper bunk. Cars would go by and blow their horns at us. I was still only seventeen so they kept holding me back. I helped put radar units (SCR-270) together for shipping them out. I left Drew Field in October 1942 in Unit 104 and went to FortJackson in New Orleans.

    While in New Orleans, I was driver for our company commander, Lt. Targonski. Years later, I met him again; he was a Major. We had a good long talk. When I was his driver, I was on the go all the time. The men kidded me about being the Captain’s pet. I was still only seventeen and everyone watched out for me and helped me. We shipped out of New Orleans on November 22, 1942. There must have been ten thousand people there to send us off. The ship I was on had been captured from the Germans but none of us spoke German. It took us 21 days to get to Panama because the subs were after us but a convoy protected us. We laid over in Cuba until we got more protection. I ate rutabagas and toast two times a day during those 21 days. When we got to Panama, they put me in FortClayton hospital for six days where they fed me milk and cream. Then they told me I was ready to go. I went to Howard Field.

    At Howard Field, we had a big meeting. The older GI’s had a lot of gripes but we got them settled. The 82nd Airborne was training there. I didn’t have to do anything. I was just trying to find my buddies.

    In early 1943, I went to Quito, Peru through Salinas, Ecuador to install an SCR-271 radar unit. We found a little hut that would cook for us a very good meal for only 25 cents but we had to be very careful because they really didn’t like us. There was a train between Quito and Salinas that was really a ’36 Ford running on tracks. I would watch it to see if any Germans got off; they were easy to spot.

    About April 1943, I went to Station 204, a small island in the Galapagos (Station 204 was CristobalIsland), again with a 271 radar unit. Lt. Nesvig (Elliot W. Nesvig) treated me like I was his son. Our warrant officer was named Hawn (Horn?); he would take an hour every day to teach me things I should know. W/O Hawn took me under his wing and taught me radar. Station 204 was about five miles square. It was a volcano; our shoes only lasted about six weeks. It was like living on the moon except that I think we were about 75 miles below the equator. We had a ship wreck while landing there. There were no living creatures on that little island except for iguanas and there were hundreds of iguanas. We never ate them but I shot many. The iguanas looked like lava and I was always tripping over them. Sometimes our supplies were dropped by B-24 airplanes. One time a drop went into the ocean. The next time, they leaded it down and a man tried to catch it but it broke both his arms. We had to take turns feeding him until he got well. Every two or three months, supplies were delivered by ship but there was no landing beach so we would swim out to get those supplies and mail. The ship would throw them overboard and we would swim to shore with them. We could distill 90 gallons a day of water but it was bad water. On Christmas day I ate rations. We had three men to lose their mind. WWII was hell.

    Lt. Nesvig and I left Station 204 at the same time in June of 1944 and W/O Hawn was placed in charge. Lt. Nesvig loaned me $50 when we left. About six months later I found him at Albrook Field and repaid him. He said he had forgotten all about the money. I went from that barren island right to the Panama jungle. It was hell. I took my pills every day and I didn’t get sick. There were Indians in the jungle who had never seen a white man. They were head hunters and would have liked to got me – I had red hair and freckles.

    In the Pacific we were issued class X clothing, all the clothes had a big black X on them.

    In 1945, I was discharged on points. I flew straight to Panama, then to Miami, Florida and then to FortMead. I was discharged at FortMead in November 1945. I was home for about a year and went back in. I got into the rocket program at White Sands and Alamogordo, New Mexico but that is a whole new story.

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