Robert W. Morris, Lt. (jg)
Aug. 23, 1916-Oct. 24, 1943
John P. King
This is the story of W2GSA, Bob Morris, the ham who gave his call sign to Garden State Amateur Radio Association, W2GSA. It tells of his life and how it came about that his call sign became to be used by our radio club.
Robert W. Morris (Bob W2GSA) was born August 23, 1916 in the family home at 907 Davis Avenue, Pt. Pleasant, N.J. to Jessie and Robert W. Morris, Sr. He had an older sister, Martha and a younger sister and brother, Grace and Elbert.
The Morris family home at 907 Davis Avenue, Pt. Pleasant, is where Bob and his sisters and brother were born. Here he lived and operated his amateur radio station W2GSA in his bedroom using wire antennas strung in the back and side yards. Morris family members still reside here.
The Morris name has had a presence in Pt. Pleasant and the area since at least the time of the American Revolution, and is reflected in part on the grave stones in the family cemetery, White Lawn Cemetery, so named after a family connection: the middle initial W. standing for White.
His father and grandfather had been Pt. Pleasant surveyors and civil engineers and Bob prepared himself to follow in this line of work through studies in Pt. Pleasant High School, Monmouth Junior College in West Long Branch, and the International Correspondence School. Photographs show Bob as a toddler at a surveying site with his father and his transit on the beach at the future Pt. Pleasant Canal. Just as Bob’s father, Robert W. Morris, Sr., followed his own father, it was assumed that Robert W. Morris, Jr. would do the same in the surveying and civil engineering field.
Helping his father about 1920 to survey for the new Manasquan Inlet at the Pt. Pleasant Canal completed in 1926.
However, personal interests and world events led Bob into a different work. While still in High School his interest in amateur radio and electronic technology was peaked perhaps by a local ham (George Fable, call sign unknown) as early as 1933. Besides this, it was a time when interest in broadcast radio was peaking throughout the United States. The local and city newspapers were running articles about amateur radio and ham radio clubs starting up at Ft. Monmouth and Red Bank’s YMCA. The Jersey Shore Amateur Radio Association, originated in 1932, was increasing its membership with hams from Freehold, to Pt. Pleasant, and Red Bank to Toms River, some of whom worked at Ft. Monmouth. The date of Bob’s initial licensing, while yet unknown, without doubt was in 1933 since his call sign W2GSA was issued not long after W2GUM of his friend Tony Colaguori, since calls letters were being issued in a consecutive alphabetical order at this time and we know the year of Tony’s licensing. Further evidence come from W2GSA log books, namely the fact that Log Book Number 2 covered operations from January 1, 1935 through December 31, 1936; Log Book number 1 should have covered a similar period of time: Two years from his first licensed QSO through December 31, 1933 and January 1, 1934 through December 31, 1934. His Log Book number 5, by the way, covered October 15, 1935 to June 26, 1941, the date of Bob’s final amateur radio QSO. Fortunately, two of his five log books have survived and reveal pleasing details about his radio activity and his personality and social interests
Through the Jersey Shore ARA, Bob Morris came into contact with many very friendly and outgoing hams about his same age and several who were truly expert amateur operators, men like Tony and Vic Colaguori and Ed Chinnock. His log reveals his first QSO with W2GUM, Tony Colaguori, took place January 11, 1935 on the 80 meter band and lasted some 30 minutes. A number of these men were simultaneously receiving radio communication training at this time through the Naval Communications Reserve. A December 12, 1935 Red Bank Register article featured this radio organization, with a large photo showing a dozen or so reservists and their officers and trainers in really sharp looking Navy uniforms. The news article must have circulated amongst Jersey Shore members and in-person and on-the-air QSOs would have influenced Bob Morris to consider joining the reservist group.
Once Bob had graduated from Pt. Pleasant High School in June, 1935, he lost little time before getting into Navy blue himself. He enlisted in the Naval Communications Reserves, July 27, 1935, which met weekly at the Takanassee Coast Guard Station since 1932. He was 19 years old then. Unit 4, Section 5 of the Naval Communications Reserves changed its headquarters and meeting location late 1935 and set up its training at Red Bank Airport. The officer in charge was Lt. Richard T. Smith who oversaw the men improving their radio skills and mastering Navy communications techniques and operations. Chief Radiomen William Sine and Anthony Mazza (of Long Branch) worked with the men in their training and drills, which took place both at the Airport site and on the air, according to Bob’s W2GSA logs. The evening Navy radio drills ran more than 75 minutes each time. The newspaper article tells that the reserve unit was unpaid and pretty much voluntary, although two week training sessions away from Red Bank were occasionally paid at the discretion of the Navy.
Bob’s Log entry for February 19, 1936 states: “Took a cruise with the Navy without pay on board the USS Allegheny (from Philadelphia) to St. Thomas, Virgin Islands and to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Also stopped at Miami and Southport. Returned March 20, 1936.” The official designation for the Allegheny was USS Allegheny AT-19, which indicated that it was a fleet tug. It was an old craft going back to 1922. It was stationed in Philadelphia, formerly in Pensacola, Florida
USS Allegheny AT-19 was 156’ long with a beam of 36’6” and a draft of 15’ and a top speedof 15 knots. It carried a crew of 5 officers and 56 crewmen. She was in Navy service from 1922 to 1946.
While it is certain that Bob Morris attended and graduated from Monmouth Junior College, the dates are a bit unclear, except for the date of graduation which was in June, 1937. Since it was a two year college, he must have enrolled in September of 1935. There he studied civil engineering and aviation: the civil engineering for his father’s business, the aviation to suit his own interests.
Morris was a very busy young man at this time. He worked for his father’s surveying and civil engineering company of Pt. Pleasant; he took classes at college; he attended weekly meetings of the Navy Communication Reserves; he attended meetings and participated in radio events with Jersey Shore A.R.A.; he worked his ham radio station daily. He also found time for social life with friends and family. Later in late 1939 and 1940 he also had studied mapping and surveying with the International Correspondence School of Scranton, Pa. and received a diploma May 24, 1940, showing an impressive list of courses taken
Since the Navy Communication Reserves met at Red Bank Airport, it must have been here that Bob Morris became interested in aviation, and most likely Navy aviation, as we shall see. Here he took his civilian flight training which likely continued until August of 1941, when he enlisted in the Navy as an aviation cadet. He actually mustered into the Navy October 31, 1941 as Seaman 2nd Class, his Naval Reserve rank. His Navy Service number was 404-84-56.
Bob Morris was well prepared for his Navy flight training: He had Navy Reserve experience in general and specifically in radio communications; he had the requisite two years of college (and was especially qualified since he had studied aviation and engineering at Monmouth Junior College); his surveying and civil engineering study in college and with the International Correspondence School and his work with his father, all resulted in his expertise at aircraft navigation. It was said by his brother, Elbert Morris, that frequently he applied himself to navigating his PBY-5 Catalina and left the piloting itself to his second in command, especially on the long flights around Alameda, Pearl Harbor and Fiji and other locations in the vast south-west Pacific ocean theatre of war.
Bob Morris was excited and confident and neither he nor his parents were concerned about his safety in this new career; they were proud of his achievement as he studied to become a Navy aviator–still months before the fateful day of December 7, 1941. He went to Jacksonville, Fla. for his flight and officer training. At Naval Air Station Pensacola he received his flight wings and a commission as Ensign, the exact dates being unknown at this time. After having returned home to visit family and friends, in early 1942, Morris was stationed at Naval Air Station, Alameda, California. In Pensacola Bob had already found the plane he would fly, the PBY-5 Catalina, a ”flying boat,” officially called by the Navy PBYfor Patrol Bomber with the Y being the Navy designation for the plane’s manufacturer, the Consolidated Aircraft Co. Based in Alameda the PBY-5 was to be used for patrol, reconnaissance, enemy submarine patrol and attack, and rescue at sea. He and his crew were part of patrol squadron VP-44. Each plane had a crew of ensign pilot, ensign co-pilot, ensign navigator, radioman, and four aviation machinists of varying ratings (one for each waist gun, one for the nose gun). Some crews during the war were slightly larger.
From the Blue Catalinas of World War II we learn the names of the men on his plane in October, 1942 at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay on Oahu, Hawaii. VP-44 “C” section crew 11 was made up of Lt. (jg) Hanthorn, Patrol Plane Commander (1st pilot); Ensign Robert Morris (2nd pilot); AP1c Michalek, (3rd pilot or navigator); Plane captain Meagher; 2nd mechanic Siesser; 3rd mechanic Anderson; 1st radioman Brock; 2nd radioman Allgood; air bomber Hitchcock.
An artist’s rendering of a PBY-5a Catalina taking off at sea. The 5a designated the plane was amphibian and had retractable wheels for airfield landing. Bob Morris’s plane could only land on water.
Morris was certified as both a pilot and navigator. His navigational expertise was gained from Navy training at which Morris excelled due to his mechanical, mathematical, drafting and civil engineering skill. He worked for his father, Robert W. Morris, who served as a state, county, and Pt. Pleasant borough engineer. He graduated with honors from the International Correspondence Schools, Scranton, Penna., with a diploma in Surveying and Mapping.
While this is not a photo of Bob Morris’s PBY Catalina crew, it is one typical of most craft. The men in khaki uniforms and wearing visor caps were ensigns: pilot, co-pilot, and navigator. The man in khaki and wearing the garrison cap was the radioman. The sailors in white caps were gunners for the nose and waist machine guns. This crew pictured here became famous after their PBY Catalina first spotted the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway, June 4-7, 1942. In late 1942 Bob Morris saw extensive action against the Japanese ships and aircraft while stationed at NAS Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Hawaii. In early 1943 Squadrons VP-44 and VP-24 in which he served were relocated to the south-west part of the Pacific in the Solomon Islands. He flew missions out of the newly formed Halavo Bay station. This was situated on the southern part of Florida Island. An eye-witness account recalls: “All the American patrol plane activity and recent base development centred at Halavo Beach had not gone unnoticed and on February 22, three Japanese planes swooped on the concentrated shore facilities at 1.30am, dropping four bombs which killed 5 and wounding 23. An ammunition stockpile at Halavo detonated. Of the casualties, four were from Patrol Squadron 44. Clifford Alton Olin AOM1c from Seattle was killed and Lt. (jg). Trejo and Ensigns Morris and Hutchinson were wounded. For wounded ensign R.W. Morris, there was no respite (and little sleep) after the devastating bombing, as before dawn he took off with Lt. Hanthorn in plane 44-P-5 to search for a pilot and raft sighted the day before off Simbo Island by a Hudson from No. 3 Squadron, Royal New Zealand Air Force. Unfortunately the downed aviator was not found.” Bob Morris later received the Purple Heart medal.
As Ensign and Lieutenant j.g. Morris was pilot and navigator in squadron VP 44 flying the PBY-5 (Patrol Bomber) Catalina, serving in Florida, San Diego, Naval Air Station Alameda, Pearl Harbor, and Solomon Islands. The Presidential letter of condolence from Franklin Roosevelt to his parents identifies Morris as being attached to the Fleet Air Wing 8, Alameda, California.
Ensign Morris was promoted to Lieutenant (j.g.) Morris, on or about May 1, 1943 as indicated in the Aviator Log Books of Lt.(jg) George W. Hanthorn with whom he flew many missions. And who noted in his log the attack when Morris was wounded. He returned to San Diego with the whole VP-44 Squadron and then he went home to Pt. Pleasant in late June or early July of 1943 on his first leave since his commission. Most of his radio buddies, like the Colaguori boys, and most of his college and high school friends were away due to the war. Some were working in the war effort as civilian instructors in electronics and radio communication at Ft. Monmouth training G.I.s to do what they had grown to do as a hobby years before; some were involved in as yet secret radio and radar communication development at the same post.
After returning to duty after a well deserved leave, Bob went to Naval Air Station Alameda where he continued training duties with the PBY Catalina, expecting to be re-assigned to duty in the Pacific once again. However, Bob Morris died in a night landing in Oakland Bay, California. Adverse cross winds caused the plane to crash while piloting his PBY Catalina with a full crew of seven aboard (one crewman was from Belmar). His co-pilot (a man from Brielle) survived and returned later to meet Morris family members to whom he recounted the skill and bravery of Lt. Morris during and after the crash. Morris actually assisted one crewman and his co-pilot escape the crash but he himself was injured and trapped. The crash took place in late September, 1943, and Morris died of his injuries in the Oakland Naval Hospital October 24, 1941. He was buried in the family plot in the White Lawn Cemetery, Trenton Avenue, Pt. Pleasant, N. J.
After his death a local ham volunteered to assist the family to dispose of all Bob’s ham radio equipment and associated books and papers. Bob’s brother Elbert suggested that it may have been a man named George Fable, perhaps from Belmar or perhaps from Pt. Pleasant. This may well have been Bob’s earliest “elmer” helping him from beginning to the very end.
Two obituaries were written about Lt. Robert W. Morris:
Asbury Park Press, Wednesday October 27, 1943, page 1 PT. PLEASANT FLYER DIES OF INJURIES IN AUTO CRASH (Special to the Press) (A large Photograph shows Morris in his flying gear and smiling.) Point Pleasant–Lt. (j.g.) Robert White Morris, Jr., a naval airman, died Sunday at Oakland Naval Hospital, California, from injuries received in an automobile accident, [This is not correct and it is not known how the mistake was made.] the Adjutant General s Office has informed his parents Mr. and Mrs. Robert W. Morris, Sr., Davis Ave. No details of the accident were given. Lt. Morris was graduated from Point Pleasant high school in 1935 and from the Monmouth Junior college two years later. An amateur radio operator and member of the Naval Reserve he enlisted in August 1941 for active duty, received his preliminary training at Jacksonville, Fla., and was commissioned an ensign at Pensacola, Fla. After spending some time at the west coast base (Alameda Naval Air Station) he saw active duty in the South-west Pacific. He returned with wounds and a Purple Heart medal. He was promoted to Lt. just before he returned home for leave last summer. Before entering the navy he assisted his father who is Borough Engineer. Besides his parents he is survived by a brother Albert and two sisters Miss Martha Morris and Mrs. Grace Sacker, Pt. Pleasant. His body is being shipped home and H. Allen Van Hise will announce arrangements.
The other obituary was from the Pt. Pleasant Leader:
Unfortunately a copy of Bob Morris’s original W2GSA QSL card has not survived.
We know from his logs that he requested and sent out cards with many stations
and apparently had cards to confirm having worked all states (only 48 at the
time since Hawaii and Alaska were not states ).
Bob Morris W2GSA, a close up taken from a group photograph of Jersey Shore Amateur Radio Association at Sandy Hook for Field Day 1939
Bob’s home station showingLeft to Right, showing thehome brewed 803 pentode 200 watt input Amplifier, Log Book on table, Meissner Signal Shifter with single round dial, RME-69 Receiver, Vibroplex standard key. Gooseneck lamp, world globe, ARRL WAS award. This photo appeared in QST June 1941, page 50 because Bob had achieved 4th place nation-wide in the previous 1940 11th ARRL November Sweepstakes.He had a score of 97,417 points, having made 631 QSOs with 62 ARRL sections. This contest had 1,114 CW and 274 phone contestants submitting logs. It was W2GSA’s keen operating skills from years of rag chewing, contesting and Navy Reserve drills and training and superior CW receiving and sending that brought his achievement, not expensive receiving and transmitting gear. Bob exclusively operated A1 or CW transmissions operating at a minimum speed of about 20 words per minute on his Vibroplex original key.
RME-69 for 6 bands (160 through 10 meters) and nine tubes.
The heart of Bob’s station, the Meissner Signal Shifter was a 6-8 watt variable frequency transmitter typically used as a driver of a 50 to 100 watt output CW amplifier. There were a few versions of this rig with various dial schemes and costing in 1938 $39.95.The Meissner Signal Shifter at times was operated alone as a low power transmitter; more often it served the ham to drive an amplifier (home-brewed or commercially made) to more than 100 watts output. It sold for $66.50 in 1947, less tubes (807 final, 6v6gt oscillator, and 5y3 rectifiers).
His log books are a meticulously written record of his ham radio activity; almost all QSOs were with US or Canadian stations, and only a handful of DX stations were found, namely, Spain, Germany Australia, Holland, Cuba, Belgium, France, Alaska, and the Panama Canal Zone. He clearly enjoyed chatting with people and generally called CQ only about 20% of the time. He operated almost exclusively on the 80 and 40 meter bands using a Meissner Signal Shifter (6 watts output) driving a home brewed 803 pentode amplifier at 250 watts input. His receiver was a state of the art 1935 design, RME-69 (Radio Manufacture Engineers, of Peoria, Illinois). He worked only CW using at first a straight hand key and then almost exclusively a Vibroplex standard speed key. His antenna was described by the brother Elbert as a doublet wire supported at one end by a hope made mast some 30 feet tall (hand machined from a local pine tree) and suspended by bolts between two 6 x 6 timbers set into the ground, so that the mast could be hinged down to the ground as needed. The other end was supported by the house peak and home-brewed open wire feeder came from the center of the antenna through the glass of the attic window. From there it appears to have continued to his bedroom-operating radio room on the top floor of the house. Likely no antenna tuner was used: they were neither popular at the time nor necessary since the amplifier final tuning could generally handle all mismatches. Mismatch loss was minimal with the open wire feeder used by Morris.
Bob’s log gives an insight into his personality and interests, both ham and social. We learn that he operated only CW and mostly on the 80 and 40 meter bands. He was an ARRL appointed ORS or Official Relay Station and noted in the log that he took the test for the appointment and passed it with corrections. At times Bob called CQ-ORS or CQ-TFC looking for traffic to handle. He made and kept skeds with several hams and with W8KOB he spoke for 45 minutes. His QSOs with W2GUM usually ran a minimum of 20 to 25 minutes. Crowded conditions were frustrating just as they are today and Bob often noted “QRM terrific.” Most of his QSOs ran at least 8 to 10 minutes and show that real talking was going on rather than the normal lightening fast exchanges of 599, name John, QTH NJ all too common on the bands today.
Notes occur that make us want to know more. For example, “Rose—xyl—Agaqn NY” or “a YL but didn’t know it at the time.” Or “Clara W8KYR said she would like to swap photos.”or “Talked to Rose’s sister—Simone Lacroix 18 year old French girl.” “W9TSV-she told me she was married!”
Other log notes are ‘they’re palls I got em together, W8PUM and W2CLC. “W3GIT Luke the blind fellow” “W3ENX is building an electronic key.” “My antenna is lying on the garage roof. Now it’s back up and I am ready for the Sweepstakes.” “SS Contest starts 6:00 PM Nov. 9 and ends 3:01 AM Nov. 11” “November 22, 1940: W2GSA’s Sweepstakes Score 94,400” “wow a 4 way QSO!” “10 wpm—a new ham” “October 1, 1935: now using the new RST system giving R 1-5, S 1-9 instead of 1-5, T 1-9” “Wow, six stations replied to my CQ and I worked all of em from 0945 to 1152” “W1GAG said my sigs sounded like a KW input.” “Was running the Signal Shifter into a 803 pentode at 250 watts input and about 100 out” “80 meter Navy drill this evening on 3.5 mc for 80 minutes” “No soap” “No Dice” “ND” “cant click with em” “fuse blew as I started to answer him” Frustration with other hams on the air prompted rare renmarks such as “what a sock” or “a real lid.”
Bob had ham friends over frequently and noted that they operated his station “ W2GPS or W2HBQ or W2GPI at the key.”
Note the neatness of his log, typical of the man himself in all his endeavors, especially as a navigator, surveyor and map maker. See five lines from the bottom the call of Tony Colaguori W2GUM one of the best CW operators the author KA2F has known. The meaning of the X after numbers in the T column of the RST signal report is not known, although it may indicate a crystal clear tone quality free from clicks or chirp.
Call sign W2GSA lay dormant after the death of Bob Morris in 1943 until after World War II in 1945 when hams were permitted to resume operating. For Field Day 1947 the Jersey Shore Amateur Radio Association used the call W2GSA making it heard on the air for the first time in more than six years since last sent by Bob’s key in 1941. The club petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to assign the call to the club in memory and honor of JSARA club member Bob Morris. In 1951 Jersey Shore ARA and Monmouth County ARA united to form a new radio club. Using the call letters W2GSA the organizers naturally selected the name Garden State Amateur radio association, itself preserving the memory of Bob Morris. Although a Silent Key, Bob Morris’s key is yet alive in the hands and hearts of decades of his radio friends each time they sign on phone Whiskey Two Gulf Sierra Alpha or tap in code W2GSA.