Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What did Hugh do before & after the war?

In 1941-1942, Hugh was a lens grinder who worked at a production plant for precision optics in Camden, New Jersey. His childhood friend Jeanette, who he would later end up marrying, was a teenager and worked as a typist and secretary in an office, also in Camden. Hugh's parents lived on Deveraux Street in Philadelphia, and he likely rode the train over the bridge to get to Camden. They wrote letters back and forth and he probably saw her during this time. Based on Jan's birth year of 1928, she would have been 14 when Hughie enlisted. Hugh was born in 1919 and was older, he was about 23 years of age. (He enlisted in 1942, possibly to escape the draft) He enlisted in US Navy Reserves, not the Navy proper.

Hugh had always loved amateur radio and electronics, tinkering with them almost since their invention.  He probably took all the radios in his parent's house apart and put them back together as a kid, with or without success. He got his first real radio operator's license in 1937, so he was already a ham by the time WWII broke out. His bedroom walls were no doubt plastered with QSL cards. His first radio call sign assigned to him was W3GYY. Later on it became W2YAM and much later, K2CP. In his radio room in the 1980's were boxes of vacuum tubes, a throat mike used by fighter pilots, a couple old military radio headsets, a primitive code practice machine that used a magnetic tape reel recorder, and Heathkit equipment he had built and tested himself. He had an old telegraph transmitter key and receiver tapper from the late 1800's or very early 1900's. When I was little I used to play with a small code practice rig he had hooked up, as well as listen to cassette tapes he had with code lessons. He used to say that “Real radios glow in the dark!”

His old pal Tommy George (*actually his cousin) applied for a ham license the same day as Hugh. Hugh's call sign was K2CP and Tommy's was K2CJ. They remained friends until well into their 70's. Both Hugh and Tommy were licensed for over fifty years.

Hugh remained in contact with many of his WW2 submarine veterans well into the 1970's, '80s and '90s. He kept detailed lists of the men's names, their last known addresses and even their radio call signs. It may be worth contacting some of these people by mail --or their next of kin-- to find if they are still around. The most recent veteran's rosters I have in my possession are dated 1985 though. A lot changes in 30 years (like me growing up for example). Still it may be worth a shot in the dark.

I don't know what Hugh was interested in at the time the war came to America. I don't know what movies he liked, or what music he listened to, or what books he read. I can only guess based on what was popular at the time. I know he always loved books though, as he would sign his name inside the cover of each one as “From the library of Hugh N. Siegel”.

Hugh was always into boats and the sea. His own father served in the Navy around the turn of the century. Frederick Valentine Siegel was a gunner's mate aboard the steamship USS Indiana, and he fought in the Spanish-American war and the Boxer Rebellion. He may have given Hugh his middle name, Nelson, in tribute to Admiral Horatio Nelson, but this needs to be verified. So the Navy was in his blood. He always loved fish and sea creatures, and the ocean. We have many pictures of him at the beaches in Wildwood and Ocean City, New Jersey. As far as I know he never surfed though. He did not seem athletic; by that I mean he did not seem to enjoy sports. Though later in life he enjoyed camping, backpacking, hiking and skiing. He moved to upstate New York for this reason, to be closer to the Adirondacks.

He enlisted and was accepted into US Naval Training School as a Radio Tech 2nd Class because of his civilian experience. He worked at a message desk in the Commandant's office about the same time Jan was a typist. They could both type very well, and Hugh later convinced Jan to get a Novice-grade ham license (listen but code transmit only)

When he was still in training at the Navy academy, he learned that his Dad died of a heart attack on his way to a fire (he was a fireman). Then his mom died two years later. he received that telegram after arriving in Australia, having just survived the worst ordeal of his life.  He went to live with his uncle George on Albion Street.

Hugh worked at Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia for awhile before being shipped out.