A Navy communications technician named Glenn Pladsen shared an interesting story of how Morse Code saved a naval ship when all other communications were down. Pladsen was recruited by the Naval Security Group to be a Cryptologic Tech, Maintenance (CTM) where he developed his skills in Morse Code and electronics. In 1972 Pladsen was assigned to a direct support position where he was one of eight CTMs that actually was positioned on ships. His placement was aboard the USS William M. Wood destroyer in 1973 where he was placed to maintain electrical gear and do repairs when needed.
The duty of the ship was to show the presence of the U.S. Navy in the Mediterranean and they did so by sailing from port to port. That summer the USS Wood was ordered to participate in a NATO exercise where it would act as a “bad guy” and shadow the NATO taskforce. Part of this exercise meant hiding and pretending to be a ship from an enemy navy. Upon the onset of the exercise the other US ships had been designated to other areas and had sailed away.
Given the old age of the USS Wood it was probably not surprising that it ran into some problems out in the wide ocean. As the exercise ensued the USS Wood experienced engine problems and was left stranded in the ocean. Normally this would not have been a problem but the two emergency generators on board were down and restoring power to the ship would take another eight to 10 hours. Being that the ship was in a major shipping lane with no power, no lights and no radios and no expectations of being at any port they were facing a bit of adversity.
Turns out adversity came in the form of a huge freighter which was headed straight for the destroyer. Luckily a Russian destroyer was in the area and with some quick thinking was signaled using battery powered flashing lanterns. The American ship managed to use Morse Code to communicate to the Russians and luckily they understood the international language of the code. The Russian destroyer then helped divert the freighter out of harm’s way and stayed with the USS destroyer until it restored power.
If it weren’t for the use of the Morse Code than this story may had an entirely different ending. Unfortunately Morse Code is no longer a requirement and thus fewer people are learning this useful and potentially life-saving skill.