Different Wars Change Signals
A veteran of World War II and the Korean War shares how
these dissimilar conflicts shaped military communications.
This is the last installment in a series of interviews with signaleers, one for each of SIGNAL Magazine’s seven decades, to
commemorate AFCEA International’s 70th anniversary.
Flush from victory over two of the world’s most menacing
dictatorships, the U.S. government raced to dismantle the
most powerful military in the world almost as fast as it was
built up. By 1949, U.S. defense spending was only 4. 8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product,
States remobilized to confront a new threat.
Four years earlier, a group of electronics and
media leaders had established the foundation
of an organization designed to continue the
communication between government and
the electronics industry that had played such
an important role in contributing to force
superiority in World War II. That organization became AFCEA, and the need for improved two-way
communication between government and industry became
In some ways, Dan Carvalho is a living example of AFCEA’s
creation, development and evolution. Carvalho served in
the Army Signal Corps in World War II and even joined the
American Signal Corps Association—one of AFCEA’s progenitors—during the war. Afterward, he was on active duty
in Japan when he found himself thrust into combat with the
onset of the Korean War. Carvalho landed at Wonsan shortly
after the 1950 U.N. forces counterattack at Inchon sent the
North Korean army fleeing back across the 38th parallel
toward the Yalu River. He experienced the Chinese invasion
that drove the U.S. 8th Army and the 1st Marine Division
back south over the rugged hills of the peninsula during one
of the coldest winters on record. And he saw firsthand how
some of the signal equipment that helped win World War II
was not nearly as effective in the Korean terrain.
“Our systems [in Korea] were so obsolete. It was terrible,”
Carvalho relates. “I’ve never seen such bad communications.
We had hardly anything—we didn’t have half the equipment
[we needed].” Soldiers relied heavily on the EE- 8 telephone,
which required cranking to initiate communications that
were poor in quality. “Most of the time, you could almost yell
louder than you could receive,” he says.
Conditions were difficult in the hilly terrain. Troops had no
winter clothes, only regular uniforms and boots that provided
little comfort as they battled against temperatures as low as
20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Soldiers looked forward
to receiving newspapers from home because they could roll
them up and wear them under their clothes as insulation,
Carvalho recalls. Meanwhile, Chinese troops continued to
swarm over the hills “like ants” as they attacked U.S. Army
and Marine forces relentlessly.
Many communication systems were set up in the back of
2.5-ton trucks. A gasoline-powered potbelly stove in the truck
would provide enough heat to keep the equipment functioning in the harsh cold. Generators that
powered communications gear also ran on
gasoline, so when they ran out of fuel, communications were lost.
The Army began to use microwave communications systems, but they were so heavy
that soldiers could not carry them alone.
Carvalho explains that they bartered with
local Korean civilians—usually offering a
couple of packs of cigarettes or candy bars—
to carry the gear up to the top of a hill so the
soldiers could establish line-of-sight communications. The Koreans used a centuries-old carryall known as
an A-frame backpack to tote the modern electronics gear.
The civilians were not always so helpful, Carvalho relates.
Many times, as the Army moved forward, the locals would cut
the soldiers’ trailing cables and strip them of their rubber to
lash together their A-frames. “They really messed us up with
our communications,” he notes. “We had a lot of bad times.
Most of the time, we had to run a messenger back and forth
between the divisions and the signal company.”
The military applied lessons learned in the early part of the
Korean War to improve communications during later periods
of the conflict. By 1955, two years after the war ended, mili-
tary communications were much better, Carvalho offers.
In addition to being a signaleer in combat, Carvalho
worked as a cryptologist in Korea, at Fort Shafter, Hawaii, and
at the Pentagon, where he serviced related gear aboard Air
Force One. Retiring as a senior noncommissioned officer after
20 years of service, he can include among his many achievements being a founding member of the AFCEA Hawaii Chapter in 1953.
There is no comparison between today’s military communications systems and those he struggled with in the early 1950s,
Carvalho declares. “You can’t beat them now,” he says.
BY ROBERT K. ACKERMAN