MCARA Sea Stories

Bill's Black Box

I guess this qualifies as a Sea Story since a sailor was involved! Any how I had the good fortune in the Summer of 1971 after my second WestPac tour to get assigned to the MAD Pt. Mugu, CA. as Bill Gordon’s relief as the EW projects officer at the Naval Missile Center. Yes, this is the same Bill Gordon who has served MCARA as Secretary/Treasurer forever. Bill was retiring from active duty later that Summer so we had a couple of months overlap which worked well for me as I was new to the RDT&E world and anxious to represent our VMCJ EW community well. SSgt Luther McIntire, then an ALQ-76 tech, but later a USMC pilot, also came onboard that Summer to support our “Black Box” projects.

One of Bill’s first turnover missions was to show us the way down to El Toro to try and help VMCJ-3 as they were struggling then with getting their EA-6A ECM black boxes up and running. On the way back across LA in our official Navy black sedan Bill impressed Mac and I with his intimate (I think that is the right word) knowledge of the local terrain and choice of eating establishments in North Hollywood. Mac did express some reservations about parking the official sedan out front of this particular establishment in the middle of the afternoon, but Bill advised not to worry as we were really just looking after its security, and besides the parking spaces around back were all taken up by local officials. ( Remember this was BTH… Before Tail Hook!)

A few weeks later as Bill’s retirement day was approaching, Mac and I decided we needed to get Bill a retirement present. We thought our gift must somehow reflect back on his outstanding career as a RIO in the fighter world and of course later on his ECMO time in the VMCJ squadrons, and finally his technical contributions at Pt. Mugu. Mac I believe first suggested a “Black Box” would be nice but we struck out with that idea until one day down in our “Skunk Works” we mentioned it to the head civilian, a former Navy CPO who Bill had worked with quite often. He suggested a match box that his shop could make out of a piece of radar waveguide that would indeed remind Bill in later years of the high tech world he had so ably served.

When I came back a few days later to see their masterpiece I was shocked as they had taken about a 4 inch piece of hollow wave guide and made a nice tray to slide into it that looked just like a box for fireplace matches. Only thing they got carried away and chromed the whole thing so instead of it being black it was nice and shiny! I commented that this was indeed a wonderful gift but not exactly a “Black Box”. One of the young Petty Officers in the shop who knew Bill real well spoke up and told me to wait a minute as he had something posted down on his wall locker door that would solve the problem. He returned and handed me the matchbox with a proud grin on his face. I didn’t get it until he told me to look at his addition to the matchbox tray. Sure nuff … this was now a “Black Box”!

A couple days later at a great retirement luncheon attended by a big crowd of civilians and military types Bill proudly accepted our retirement gift. We had it appropriately engraved with a USMC emblem on top and when he first saw our creation it brought tears to his eyes…and as he struggled to express his thanks he pulled opened the tray to discover he indeed had a “Black Box” as a keepsake! The look on his face was as they say Priceless!!

(Col. H. Wayne “Flash” Whitten USMC (ret))