Irving Vermilya was among the first to volunteer for the Naval Service following U.S. entry into World War One. Vermilya had been manager of WCC, the Marconi station at South Wellfleet, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and he served there during the war, with the station now under Navy control. However, as recounted in this memoir, life in the military proved difficult. Apparently unknown to Vermilya was the Navy's strong dislike of privately held radio stations in general, and the Marconi company in particular. During the war the Navy gained control of most of the radio stations in the country, excluding a few operated by the Army. After the war ended, it made a strong effort to continue control of all radio communication, and returned the stations it had taken over to private control only after Congress refused to go along with the plan. Even so, pressure from the Navy convinced Marconi Wireless to withdraw from the U.S. market, so in late 1919 Marconi sold its U.S. radio assets to a newly formed General Electric subsidiary, the Radio Corporation of America.

The South Wellfleet site was prone to erosion, so during the war the station was shut down and dismantled by the Navy. And although this was said to be only the opening installment of Vermilya's wartime reminiscences, nothing additional was ever published in QST.

 
QST, December, 1919, page 6:

"S.  O.  L."

By  Irving  Vermilya
 
          Mr. Vermilya will be remembered by QST reader's as the author of "Amateur Number One", a laughable tale of the days of the real old timers in the amateur game. He is now Assistant Shift Engineer at the Marconi Station at Marion, Mass., and meditates upon his happy days in the Navy during the recent unpleasantness. His tale will strike many a responsive chord among our readers.
I'M notta going to have to tell any wireless bug that was in the navy what S. O. L. stands for, and before you finish this you'll understand it's got a powerful lot to do with being outta luck. Nuff said. That's me--I sure was outta luck nine-tenths of the time. No, I'm not looking for any sympathy; all I ask is--pursue this tale, all ye radio bugs, and see if you can see any experiences that will resemble any of yours. I haven't interviewed all the amateurs I ever knew about "How'd you like the Navy" but it's a safe guess that the next war, when it comes and if we're alive, Josephus Danglenails will find the Gang in the Army wearing officer's uniforms.
    What a lovely day was last April 7, 1917, when I sauntered off down to Provincetown--that dear, quaint little fishing town on the tip of Cape Cod--and asked Ensign Oh Pshaw "What's the chances of gettin' in this here Naval Reserve force you fellows is going to start up?" "Yes, yes", came the happy response; "surest thing you know; I've been waiting for you for three days now." "How nice", thot I. "Here's where I get to be a regular fellow--I'll be the first one on Cape Cod to volunteer, and dear old Marconi will pat me on the back." So Old Boy Pshaw did there and then enroll Marconi's Manager as a Chief Petty Officer. I might have been a deck swabber or a Rear Admiral, for all I knew about it, but I was carried away with enthusiasm and patriotism, and I even forgot to ask him whether a CPO got paid in the Navy or not. They don't! You get a little cash once in a while, but it ain't what you'd call a regular payday, because it don't come that way, and besides when it did come it had already been spent. Talk about yellow slips--well, I got enough of them to paper a house with. I took sick the day they stopped coming after a period of 'em spread out over four months, and the doctor says I'll never be the same.
    But let's go back. War was declared; Pshaw called up and said "You are Commanding Officer at South Wellfleet; you are Chief Electrician, Radio. The Marines are coming." "Ah, fine!", thot I, "here's where I learn something and gather worlds of experience." The next day was Sunday, and sure enough down came six marines and a corporal, each one with a great big rifle slung over his shoulder and all ready for business. What an impressive sight as they marched up the pathway, thot I. "This surely will be a great place; I've been here all alone for three years. Now for some company". So I strapped my big 45 Colt and belt full of bullets around me and went out to meet and greet them. And lo and behold! No more had the corporal arrived than he informed me he had to come along without any bullets. Some army; talk about Carranza's outfit. My Gawd, I nearly passed away. I still laugh when I think of it, and I nearly spoiled my dinner yesterday when I made a call at the cable station in Orleans and found a marine still on guard and the war's been over some months. No, I'm not an anarchist or a red flag man, but honest, Anabelle, some things are funny to me. I know of one high power radio station where neither marines or any other guard ever did arrive. There are fourteen poles, thirty miles of aerial wire, and a million dollars worth of property there, and it could have been blown to seven bells and a jingle if anyone wanted to do it. The skipper didn't care--that's why he didn't have the guard. Besides, he told me, he didn't like the leathernecks. So he should worry; the station didn't work anyway; and they went to sleep at night, trusting to Hannah no one would be so mean as to blow 'em up.
    Well, the Bulletless Marines landed. Next thing we did was to march--on to David I. Buitekan's little shop, combination post office--gasolene wagon's retreat--ice cream, popcorn, cake and candy. Everyone grabbed an arm full of groceries and the general retreat for quarters was once more begun.
    Chaffee--a buck private Marine of Swedish direct (not descent)--was elected cook. If I live to be a thousand I shall never forget Chaffee as a cook. Grease-Oh Boy! However, we managed. I never knew a bunch of Marines that didn't. You could set a Marine down at the North Pole and he'd find a stove to keep him warm.
    Next day brought "sad news from home", for behold! none other arrives upon the scene but his Honor J. W. Teapot Mulldoons, First Class Electrician, Radio, U. S. N. His boss also arrived, in the person of Gunner Jane, the only original guy at whom all radio men, politicians, and superior as well as inferior officers should tremble whenever he looked at 'em real hard-boiled-like. Mulldoons was placed in charge and my career as a K. O. died abruptly. I very suddenly discovered that in their estimation everything that Marconi had ever done, hoped to do, or ever would do was rotten--rotten beyond repair and all hopes. Not only did this apply to equipment all over the world but every Marconi operator and his uncle were the same way. In fact we weren't operators at all; everybody--in Marconi, in the Reserve, all the amateurs--were hams, downright hams. The operators, thank you, were all in the Regular Navy. "How nice", thot I, "I'm going to have a regular little teaparty around here." But it wasn't so bad. Things started out pretty good, and in the excitement I lost track of these bright remarks. We signed a death warrant for the dear old station and the following Wednesday it was no more as far as Marconi was concerned.
    Next day there was more excitement. Imagine my surprise when a gob with a wooden leg reported for duty ! Sure enough, tho--one of the other gobs swore he saw it lying on the floor one night when he called him for relief. He was over six feet tall and built on the order of a ramrod. When he had a flat lint on you'd swear it was a piston rod you saw. But hats off to him--he was a very decent fellow and with a good disposition. He soon acquired the nickname of B.V.D. which speaks for itself that he was a good feller.
    Next in line to arrive was the cutest little gob, Arthur Steeves. The only thing I can recall that was interesting was that he had an everlasting habit of cleaning his teeth, and he knocked a side off the Selectman's house in Wellfleet one day with a twin-cylinder Indian. He escaped alive.
    Enter next upon the stage Mr. Albert Smith, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer. Gob, cook--oh, excuse me, let's get seagoing--Ship's Cook 2nd class. We now come down to the fact that "Smidy's" arrival meant the end of leatherneck Chaffee's career as a cook. No tears were shed. Poor Smidy--he had only one regret as long as he bunked at South Wellfleet, and that was that during the wild poker games that eventually came to pass there he had a queer habit of betting all the chips before him on a pair of Jacks. How I smile when I recall Smidy saying "Well, I guess I'll take the whole woiks out for an airing", as he shoved every chip to the middle of the table. On several occasions this proved so disastrous to poor Smidy that he didn't hire any taxi-cabs the rest of the month and spent a lot of time in very simple pastimes--very simple indeed.
    We thot we had the last word in the cook line till one bright and sunny day appeared over the horizon one William Josephs, the wildest man in captivity. I ran afoul of said Bill along the State Highway, steering a Tin Lizzie head on to me. Bill was a great looking sight--he had been troubled with boils and hadn't shaved for three weeks. Well, he wanted a job in the Navy, poor cuss, so I sent him to his Royal Highness Ensign Oh Pshaw to see what was doing. By this time Pshaw had a feeling he was in Admiral Sum's class, and when Bill had piloted that poor Lizzie seventeen miles to Provincetown to enlist, Poo Poo Pshaw very regulation-like informed him that anyone that came to him from Chief Vermilya was null and void and that he'd have to go back over those seventeen miles and see J. W. Teapot Mulldoons and then return to him. Thanks to Bill's everlasting courage he covered thirty-four more miles back and forth and finally enlisted--first class ship's cook. Joe, as he was frequently called, was some cook, what I mean. He was there--the best over, and the boys all liked him. I saw some cooks during my brief stay, but Joe had it on 'em all.
    'Twas only a few more days before in blew another detachment. One among them, a recruit from Harvard, was brand new and one of the first attempts. We will call him Moo Hoo for short, and especially is the name fitting 'cause it's like a Chinaman's name and he came the nearest to looking like a native of Peking. One old fisherman on the Cape handed him his laundry one day, so it wasn't all imagination. Moo Hoo finally pulled some string and was transferred to Boston, lucky boy.
    It wasn't many weeks more before Mr. J. W. Teapot Mulldoons was called to the front and togged out all nice and sweet in a C.P.O. uniform. Oh yes, brand new. The only reason why he didn't look like a big Irish cop was because he wasn't big. It was almost fatal to me the day he sprung it that he was French. If he was French so was O'Sullivan. But said J. W. Teapot was now a Chief Petty Officer, commander at that pile of junk known as Marconi's Radio Station. At first I was delegated to be "nice and accomodating" and show the boys all the circuits and switches and how they worked. I was not to be bothered and made so common as to have to stand watches or anything like that. Just see that everything "went all right". Well, it did--and so did I. I went from bad to worse till finally I was standing a dope watch with the gobs. Of course by this time my services as a blueprint artist had become obsolete. I was fast becoming null and void because I had known too much. I shouldn't have known anything in the first place. I can see that now, but of course it's too late now.
(To  be  continued)