Friday, June 19, 2020
It wasn’t the first time I had been awakened in the middle of the night by noises from the next room. I could hear my husband’s voice and the squirrelly SSB sounds along with the soft reddish glow emitted from the tubes of his Drake R4B Amateur Radio. After tuning across the band he heard the word, Lawrenceburg, and this was the beginning of a two-year friendship with Pat Cornelius. Pat was at the South Pole.
Jack Demaree’s fasinatation in electronics started when he was just a boy. He was absorbed and bedazzled as a child and the interest and excitement never left him.
I married into this whirlwind, noisy and expensive, but I must say, I was quite fascinated also, as I lay awake many nights listening to him open up the airwaves at late hours to make it possible for a young man to communicate with his mom and dad from a cold and barren land.
Pat was living at South Pole station, Antarctica and there was no communication in 1980,
except for Amateur Radio and the phone patch. It was an answered prayer for Pat, I’m sure and a realized dream for Jack.
Although Antarctica is on the same planet as the rest of us, this continent at the bottom of the globe isn’t a part of the world the public knows. It is the highest, windiest, driest and most desolate place on earth.
The whole continent is buried under one mile of snow and ice, but it rarely snows. Instead, windstorms blow off the surface of the ice, which creates the impression of snowstorms.
What is typical today for this desolate area was typical in 1980 and 1981, regarding temperatures, and general weather conditions, however, as far as communications for all the scientists living there at the time, there just wasn’t any. This leads me into my story, as told to me by my husband.
He had been interested in Antarctica for a long time and read nearly everything he could find on the subject. Then in 1980 he was dialing his receiver across the twenty-meter band and he heard the word Lawrenceburg. This is a town about twenty-five miles from where we live. To his surprise, the call sign the fellow was using was KC4AAA. This told him he was located at the South Pole. When he signed off with the station he was in conversation with, he called him. He answered and told him his name was Pat Cornelius and he was training to be an astronaut. He said his hometown was Lawrenceburg, Indiana. This was the start of a friendship not only with Pat, but his family as well.
They set up a schedule later on, after both realized that Jack could make it possible for Pat to talk to his parents at home by means of the phone patch. Twice a week they would meet on the radio starting at midnight. (This was three in the afternoon where Pat was at). Jack had to leave
for work at four A.M. Sometimes other stations on the Antarctic continent would call and want
him to run patches for them after Pat and Jack were finished. How could he refuse? He didn’t get a lot of sleep back then, but he was a lot younger.
I believe it was the winter of 1981 at the Pole, which is June or July here, since the seasons are opposite in the two hemispheres. On one of their schedules Pat told Jack they were going to have an airdrop. This hadn’t been attempted before because of the great distance and weather conditions the planes would encounter during their trip from New Zealand. The planes would be C-130’s with no skis. Their plans would be to drop and make their way right back. The planes would need to refuel mid air before returning to Christ Church, New Zealand, so you can see this was quite an undertaking. Families of the men (and one woman) were contacted and told they could send one package. Most wanted requests that ranged from ice cream to Kiwi fruit. Yes, I said ice cream. Pat told Jack he could send a package also, so he sent some information about Ham Radio and a photo.
The day came for the drop and all the crew were lighting flairs (its dark for about three months) to mark the drop zone. Jack was monitoring on the radio and could hear the planes call the Pole, but neither could get through to the other. He contacted the Pole and told them he could hear both of them. The planes were on a frequency that he was not permitted on but they were also listening on the Ham frequency so they could hear him. He transmitted in the Ham band and the planes transmitted on the military frequency. This is called operating split. It worked quite well. He relayed the location and arrival times to the Pole. I must say he was feeling pretty important being so privileged to be a part of this relay and what he considered a monstrous adventure. There were a few things that took place when the planes made the drop,
but he was sworn to secrecy. Let’s just say they were quite low to the ice when they kicked the freight out of the planes. (nuff said). Unfortunately, the cargo was full of bacteria and viruses,
which in the excessively cold environment at the Pole is non-existent; therefore, after being brought into the dome and heated, was spread to all the crew and many became ill with colds and such. Needless to say no one had considered this and there have been no more airdrops.
I cannot end without mentioning the most emotional experience of the story. It was about three in the afternoon after he had returned home from work when the phone rang. The young lady on the other end of the phone said it was imperative that she contact her brother, as soon as possible. He asked her who her brother was and how he could be of help. She began to cry and after a moment she said “I need to get a message to my brother at the Pole to tell him mom has died.” She gave him the details and he felt his heart sink as he attempted to muster up enough strength to plan a contact with Pat. That night at 11:00 P.M., he began calling on their scheduled frequency. It wasn’t long until he heard “WB9OTX this is KC4AAA go ahead.” It was Pat and he gave him the name and the message. He secretly wanted Pat to relay the information but he said he would call on the intercom and then Jack could speak to the man one on one. He conveyed to the gentleman exactly what his sister had said and knowing there would be no way for him to come home as nothing comes or goes from the Pole in the wintertime, all he could offer to his sister was encouragement. He called her back the next day and she was very grateful. He asked her how she got his phone number and she replied. “The National Science Foundation gave it to me.” To this day we don’t know how or why our phone number was available to her but it just proves-- Big Brother is always listening.
After Pat’s tour at the Pole he went to Germany pursuing a career in hot air balloons. He
never made it as an astronaut. Him and Jack lost contact, but he will never forget his association with him and all the other interesting people he met during those two years.
Jack is still a Ham after fifty years. He holds an advanced license and has worked all states, zones and most countries. He handles messages on 75 meters through an Indiana Traffic Net and belongs to a local Repeater club. After many years have passed and numerous awards for public service, his passion remains the same for Amateur Radio.
By Betty Demaree