Over the Labor Day weekend, while watching yet another preview on the television announcing an upcoming 9-11 memorial program, I turned to my husband Art, K5DID, and said, "Wouldn't it be nice if..." After 11 years of marriage, he has learned that when I get that passionate look in my eye, he has no choice but to hang on tight for the ride I have dreamed up! The rest of my thoughts that day encompassed operating a special event from the Pentagon Amateur Radio Club (PARC) station to commemorate the victims of the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon, their survivors, and the Amateur Radio operators who responded after the attack to provide emergency communications.
Wanting to do something like this has always been in my blood, I suppose, having been exposed to Amateur Radio 'from the womb' because my father, Ron Gorzynski, K8DID and my uncle, Ben Wright, K9DID have been heavily involved in the hobby since well before I was born. I started out coloring in logbooks before advancing to holding up aluminum in the back yard while my father tried to work rare DX during a contest. Emergency response was a key element instilled in me at an early age and I feel that the hams who responded to the Pentagon on September 11, 2001 put into motion everything that Amateur Radio operators are trained to do.
I was determined to activate a special event station on September 11, 2002. Discussing the operation with fellow Alexandria (Virginia) Radio Club members Rick Bunn, N4AXY, Rich Adamy, KA4GFY, Ian Keith, N8IK, and Harry Jones, N4CWP, I received enthusiastic support. However, I was concerned about our ability to obtain the necessary clearances to operate from the PARC station K4AF, which is inside the Pentagon building.
I made my first telephone call the following day to the American Radio Relay League and spoke with Bart Jahnke, W9JJ, at the ARRL-VEC. Bart listened to my concerns about obtaining clearances for access by several ham operators to the PARC station. He too, supported the idea and explained to me that ham operators who operate a special event station do not all have to be at the same location during the operation. I hung up the phone with lots of ideas from Bart as well as the special event call sign K4P, issued by ARRL-VEC.
The rest of the week was a whirlwind of emails and phone calls. I had heard of the PARC station K4AF, but word was that the station wasn't used much and no one I talked to seemed to know if the station was still in working order. Through the help of other area clubs, the call for volunteers went out over the evening two-meter repeater nets for volunteers.The designer of the image that I wanted to use on the QSL cards gladly agreed to allow its use, a local printer donated the QSL cards, 28 hams came forth (listed at end of article) to help cover all bands and modes for the 24 hour operating period, and if all this wasn't exciting enough, Mr. Harry Rensel, KF4CFZ, of PARC graciously supported our effort by allowing use of the K4AF station. On September 11, 2002, the Pentagon would be on the air participating in the special event!
Unfortunately, due to the short turn around time and increased security at the Pentagon for the 9-11 events, my husband and I were unable to gain security clearances for the other operators. Art works at the Pentagon and was able to serve as my escort. Between the two of us, and the many volunteers who would operate from their home stations, I was confident that we would provide considerable coverage of the HF bands for the 24 hour special event period.
At 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 10th, Mr. Rensel met us at the PARC station, K4AF. He showed us the equipment and wished us luck with our event. I was excited about activating K4P, yet scared to death that something would go wrong. My husband and I spent time trying to get familiar with the station and the equipment. However, the Kenwood that Mr. Rensel suggested we use wouldn't tune to the antenna. After about an hour of checking cables, reading the manual, etc., we headed home to rest, planning to return to the Pentagon later in the evening to get the station ready for the K4P activation at 12 a.m.
Once home, sleep turned out to be the farthest thing from my mind. This event had grown beyond just an idea of something important to me, to something that was also very important to so many other people and a fitting thing to do for the Amateur Radio community. So many of the volunteers that came forward explained that they were part of the crew that responded to the attack and, "would be honored if I would allow them to participate" in this event to remember the day. Many friends, hams and non-hams alike, said that the special event would mean just as much to them as the memorials would to the survivors of the Pentagon victims. We had to get the PARC station on the air as a symbol to the world that Pentagon and its people were alive and well.
Arriving back at the Pentagon about 9:00 p.m. on September 10th, Art started checking cables again while I was working on the rigs. I suppose nothing feels as helpless as my father did that night on the other end of the phone offering suggestions. We didn't have access to the Pentagon roof to check things out on that end, and I know that a station is nothing without a good antenna. We were trying every combination of antenna and rig that was available. Gratefully, the Yaesu FT-1000 and the Cushcraft R-7 vertical matched up wonderfully and I was able to make a few QSOs with my father in Michigan and my uncle in Wisconsin as K4AF, with great signal reports. I breathed a sigh of relief as the clock neared our midnight local time kick-off.
The event started out nicely and by early morning local time, I had a couple hundred calls in the log. Art and I were aware of the ceremony scheduled outside the Pentagon later that morning, but I had not heard that there was to be a fly-by. I was in a QSO when I heard the roar of the planes approaching. Memories of the attack crossed my mind. Could it be happening again, I wondered? The ham with whom I was in contact explained to me that he was watching the ceremony on television, and that my keyed mic was transmitting the live sound over the air and, together, the fly-by was beautiful!
At 9:37 a.m., the moment American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon a year earlier, all K4P operating stations observed a moment of silence. The pile-up respectfully went dead as I sat there holding my husband's hand with tears in my eyes. After a moment, an unknown voice came over the air proud and clear, "God Bless America!" It was difficult to resume calling QRZ choking back the tears.
The wall of sound that comes out of the speaker when hundreds of hams want to work you at the same time is truly unbelievable and what a thrill! All of the K4P operators were moved by the size of the pile-ups, and by the outpouring of support extended to us. Rich Adamy, KA4GFY and Harry Jones, N4CWP both expressed they had never expected or experienced anything like it. Jim Talens, N3JT noted, "At one time I had hundreds of stations seeking an exchange with K4P, and many of those worked offered short, comforting comments honoring the day and our radio effort in a common demonstration of support." "We are with you on this occasion" was sent to CW operator Brad Farrell, N3BF from KP4P and Bruce Plantin, W3BP copied "God Bless America" from a ZC4 station. Operator Steve Hawley, K4EU relates, "Patriotic comments such as 'We are with you in solidarity' and 'God Bless America' really made my day. PJ7/W1AB down in the Caribbean said that American flags were flying at half mast there." "It is good to know that we are not alone in the world, notwithstanding the impressions we get sometimes from the media," says Jim.
CW operator Hugh Maddocks, K3SS, echoes the feelings of many of the K4P operators, "When I was making QSOs with other U.S. hams, I felt that I was representing both the government and the military, and that my operating should be of the highest quality possible. When I was making international QSOs, I felt that I was definitely representing the United States to the world."
In all, Special Event Station K4P had over 4000 QSOs in the 24 hour operating period. Most of the QSL cards received repeat the sentiments expressed personally to the operators on air. I am grateful to those who offered advice, suggestions and experience to help get this idea off the ground. K4P would not have been a success if it were not for the operators that signed up on such short notice to give of themselves and their time. A heartfelt thanks and I am indebted to each and every one of you.
At midnight EST on
9-11, I officially signed off concluding the use of special event call
sign K4P and released the PARC station back to normal use. Calls of "73,
Dee", "Good night, Dee" and "Well done, Dee"
from hams still on frequency again brought tears to my eyes. As I had
replied so many times on air in the previous 24 hours when hams thanked
K4P for being there, it was our sincere pleasure.