From Warren Hogan’s home in Caneyville, on the corner of 185 and 411, he gets military sons in touch with their moms and military wives in touch with their husbands all over the world. His journey to this western Kentucky base for the Military Affiliate Radio System started in Louisville on the corner of Third and Broadway back in 1935.
“My daddy paid a friend $10 to move us up there,” Hogan says. “I was just a kid, didn’t have a notion, never suspected anything-we’d lived on a farm in Woolsey Valley near Mammoth Cave. Got a job selling newspapers, and then got a job at Taylor Drugs on the corner of Third and Broadway. I started taking sandwiches to WAVE radio on top of the Brown Hotel. They were broadcasting out of one studio and rehearsing out of another. I asked one of them, ‘How do you get a job like that?’
“And he said, ‘Go to school.’
“I said, ‘Where?’
“And he said, ‘Why, right down there,’ and he pointed to the YMCA. So my first radio school was at the YMCA.”
Today Hogan is a licensed operator for the Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS), working within a specialty group of operators who use radio and telephone to communicate directly with military personnel and keep them in touch with their homes and families. As one of 68 Afloat Net operators-and the only one in Kentucky-Hogan provides communications services to deployed military and government personnel worldwide.
“They call anybody on the MARS system and whoever answers them serves them,” Hogan says. “I’m here all the time and I generally can get back to them faster-being here all the time gives them confidence to call me.”
Hogan made his first radio in 1936. “You didn’t buy ’em then; you built them on a board.” His current up-to-date radio setup includes a computer that tracks the source of calls and an automatic antenna for fine-tuning reception. There are signs, however, that this is not an ordinary amateur radio setup: baseball caps with military insignia, a clock that shows military time, and a wooden shark, hanging above Hogan’s head. Hogan explains about the shark: “The Navy had contracted to build a school on an Indonesian island. Those boys enjoyed talking to their folks so much they gave a native a pair of wore-out Army boots to whittle out that shark and they sent it to me.”
Military memorabilia covers the walls of Hogan’s radio room, the most lived-in room in his small house. Jacket patches and autographed pictures from about a dozen Navy ships and countless commendations from Navy brass for times when Hogan’s help proved especially valuable: “…As a former Navy radioman you continue to serve your country and shipmates…You have assisted us in logistics, information, and communications…Your recent efforts for the medical evacuation for EN2 Garfield are particularly noteworthy.”
Hogan’s empathy for away-from-home military personnel dates to his own Navy days during WWII. He had learned to fly as a civilian at Bowman Field in Louisville, and the pilot’s license in addition to his radio license and experience landed him at Pensacola, Florida, teaching future airmen.
“(President) Bush is my favorite man,” Hogan says. “He was in the Navy in Florida same time I was. In Pensacola I taught him-and about 10,000 or 12,000 others-to fly the beam (to navigate by radar). If I’d known he was going to be president I’d been with him every day.”
Remembering those days when he was away from home and lonesome keeps him interested in his volunteer job for MARS. “All our boys in the Navy-they’re on the ship and don’t see anybody and they want to talk to Mama. They dial this radio station and I dial Mama. I don’t pay attention to what they’re talking about, that’s not my business. I tell them beforehand, ‘Now the world’s listening, don’t say anything you don’t want them to hear.’ I don’t get paid, but I’m here if they need me. Say you’re a 17-year-old mother with a little bitty baby living in Norfolk, running out of money, and you’ve got no one to look to. You send your husband a Red Cross message and then he’s got no way to get back to you-Ship to Shore (telephone) costs $10 a minute and a lot of people don’t have money to pay it.”
Hogan says he enjoys “carrying on” on the radio because he talks to lots of people who can’t imagine what Kentucky is like. “I tell them to come visit and I’ll go up on the hill and milk my goat for them.” His carrying on leads to friendships, letters, videos, and sometimes visits. One man came to bring him goat’s milk soap and lotion; a young woman from the Coast Guard came and stayed a week to help when Hogan’s wife was ill. His wife, Mabel, died last year.
The letters and pictures on his walls remind him of crises he’s been involved in: sailors who have had to take their ships to sea to avoid hurricanes and then want to know about their families onshore; a snake-bitten sailor in an isolated area (Hogan called for the relief helicopter); the five Greeks the U.S. Navy rescued from their burning ship. “I dialed their families in Greece and less than 10 minutes after they were picked up they could tell their families they were OK.”
Hogan says mothballing (the Navy’s program of ship reduction) and electronic computer mail has cut into the number of “patches” he runs. Some weeks now he goes three days without any contacts and then sometimes he’ll make 20 patches a day. That’s a contrast from the days of Desert Storm when he put in 16-hour days, running 120-150 patches every day. But even without a crisis, the United States has military people and civilians stationed in far-flung, lonely places. Several years ago Hogan started running patches for a dozen Coast Guard men stationed on Marcus Island, a 740-acre island 700 miles off the coast of Japan. “I ran patches twice a day for two and a half years and they got to know me pretty well. They sent me floats off of Japanese fishing nets, a clock made of wood from the island, and a video.” On the video the men show Warren their living quarters and the island’s scenery. Each man says, “Thanks, Warren,” and adds a personal note.
“I’ve got a plumbing license, an electrician’s license, a pilot’s license, and all kinds of radio licenses-now that’s not bad for somebody that only got through the third grade at Ben Age schoolhouse,” Hogan says. “I was the biggest (in school) and I carried wood and did other jobs around the schoolhouse and I didn’t get much time with my primer-but I was curious, curious about everything I saw-I wanted to know about it.”
Emergency Military Contacts
MARSgram, a system for sending telegram-type messages to or from military personnel anywhere in the world and all government employees working overseas, may be reached at (256) 876-0020 or use your computer modem to contact the website at www.redstone.army.mil/marsweb. This website also has information about the history and scope of the Military Affiliate Radio System.
The American Red Cross serves as the official means of contact between military personnel and their families in times of emergency. To locate Kentucky chapters of the American Red Cross, phone (800) 272-3635 or (502) 561-3620.