Homer Willess


Vaofefe Willess

by Homer L. Willess

You might be interested to know I am the one who built the first WVUV in 1942. I found 1050 to be “clear”, so I put WVUV on that frequency.

I went to Samoa from Commander Battleship Division 3, arriving January 5, 1941 as RM2C. I was on Ta’u Island generating power, operating and maintaining the radio station and weather observation and doing general maintenance at the dispensary, where two pharmacist mates and five Samoan nurses provided medical services and public health inspectors (mosquito control) for Ta’u Island. We were the Navy on Ta’u.

The transmitter I used was built in 1911 by Dr. Lee DeForrest, under Navy contract #1. My receiver was a TRF (Tuned Radio Frequency) built in 1923, and had been modified three times. Neither transmitter nor receiver had any operation or maintenance manuals, as we had no test equipment.

I went to Swain’s Island in 1943 while the Navy and Marines were bombing the Japanse on Tarawa. 126 natives lives on Swain’s while I was there.

I returned to Samoa after World War II and was the first Civilian Personnel Officer at the Naval Station, and helped Samoans petition President Truman for a civil government.

I left Samoa when the natives warned me the Navy was trying to “run me out.” Five days after arriving in Hawaii, I found a job with the CAA (now FAA). After 6 weeks “indoctrination”, I went to Midway, where we opened a “CW” radio station to provide civilian aircraft with in-flight services. After one month on MIdway, I was ordered to Wake Island, where I remained for 10-1/2 years. Then to Guam as chief for almost 11 years, then to Trust Territory headquarters in Saipan. I resigned and left Saipan in 1976 to return to the mainland after more than 38 years at sea and overseas.

(Above was from a letter written by Homer Willis on June 26, 2003).

Additional information regarding the history of the original WVUV appeared on the Radio Heritage Foundation website – www.radioheritage.net.

I am honored by your request about how and when I built and operated WVUV before it had a “call sign”.

During early 1942, the Navy sent a sono buoy system to Samoa to guard the entrance to Pago Pago Harbor with instructions that only I, a Navy technician, could read the “top secret” technical manual and see the transmitter, power, and internal working parts. I was selected Navy style!

I had no place to work where others could not see during the day, so I had to assemble the system and perform maintenance and adjustments during evening/night hours in a blacked-out area so no one could see what I was doing.

VERY lonely, I got my hands on a Packard Bell record player capable of playing a stack of five 78-rpm records at a time, and a little ¾ watt transmitter designed to “cover” a few houses nearby. I played music for my own amusement. Then a Lt. Commander Navy reserve officer who had worked for the U.S. FCC ordered me to “Get that thing off the air” because I had no call sign or license to operate.

I complied, but a Marine Corp Lt. General’s orderly came looking for the reason I went off the air and asked what I needed to get back on. When I told him what had happened, he left, but returned within an hour with a framed order signed by Lt. General Henry L. Larsen ordering me to “Get that radio back on the air, and don’t let anyone under the rank of Major General cause me to shut down again.”

That was the first time I knew anybody further away than 100 feet could hear it. So, as soon as I could get time, I devised an antenna and loading coil to increase “coverage”. When I hung the 200 foot antenna on the 465 foot tower near my workshop, I got reports that the signal was heard on Apia, Western Samoa, some 60 + miles away.

I set WVUV on 1050 kc because it was a “clear channel” at the time.

When I was relieved from the sono buoy assignment, we built a satellite station in Utulei Village near a Marine railway that went to the top of a hill where Marines had a gun emplacement. I was assigned to spend the nights at the satellite station, so I moved WVUV (still no call sign, or license) and played music into the night. That’s where I met my wife whom I still have 63 years later!

In late 1943, I was sent to Swain’s Island (Tokelau Group) about 210 miles north of Samoa where I generated power, operated a radio station, weather station, and a medical dispensary for the 126 natives living there. I lost track of WVUV, but later heard that the Marines got it affiliated with the AFRS. Perhaps that’s when it got a call sign and license to operate.

Thank you for letting me share my story with you. Wish we could talk more about my years as a communicator in the Pacific.

Homer L. Willess served in the US Navy from July 10 1937 to September 26 1945. He then spent many years working in communications in the Pacific until retirement in 1976. He currently lives in Yukon, OK together with his wife. We’re grateful to his daughter, Dinah Sanchez, for arranging this story for us.

Courtesy of Radio Heritage Foundation – www.radioheritage.net.