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If only someone had heeded Joseph Lockard...

by Henry Holmes

As we observe World War II's 50th anniversary, a former Signal Corps member recalls only too well how the war began for the United States.

Joseph Lockard was an Army private in Hawaii, manning a radar site on Oahu called Opana Point.

The radar, an SCR-270B, was very new — so new the people responsible for it, the Signal Aircraft Warning Company, Hawaii, were still in a training status — and very secret. Its antenna generated an electrical pulse into the sky. If anything interrupted the electrical beams, the radar's oscilloscope reflected the object as an echo.

Some echoes appeared constantly, such as from the nearby hills and cliffs, but others were temporary, and those were the ones be alert for. They showed and tracked planes intersecting the radar transmitter's beams.

Lockard and Pvt. George Elliott were waiting for a truck to take them back to their camp for breakfast. They kept the equipment on while they waited.

At 7:02 a.m., a large and luminous echo such as neither had seen before appeared on their oscilloscope. The more experienced Lockard took over the dial controls, and Elliott went to the plotting board. They calculated a large flight of planes 132 miles off Kahuku Point, approaching at three miles a minute.

The date was Dec. 7, 1941.

Lockard and Elliott notified the information center at Fort Shafter. On duty was switchboard operator Pvt. Joseph McDonald and new Air Corps Lt. Kermit Tyler. The plotters had left a few minutes earlier.

When Lockard told Tyler what was on the radar, the officer said, in effect, "Forget it." It was 7:20 a.m. — Tyler assumed the planes were B-17s from the West Coast, bombers from Hickam Field or Navy patrol planes.

At Opana the two soldiers continued to follow the temporary echo until 7:39 a.m., when it was lost in the permanent echo created by the surrounding mountains. A short time later, the truck came to take them to breakfast.

Lockard and Elliott could see the black, oily smoke down in the harbor on their way to camp; back at camp, they knew immediately what they'd seen on radar.

Lockard, 19 years old at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, had been in the Army a little more than a year. On July 12, 1942, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Signal Corps, one day ahead of the rest of his class of 855 new Signal Corps officers at Fort Monmouth, N.J.

Now, 54 years later at his home in Harrisburg, Pa., he still thinks about if "the attacking planes had left their carriers 15 minutes earlier."

Joseph Lockard, who saw Japanese planes on radar Dec. 7, 1941 Pvt. Joseph Lockard, pictured, and radar partner Pvt. George Elliott spotted the attacking Japanese planes before they reached Pearl Harbor and reported them, but an officer told them to "forget it." This photo was taken Feb. 1, 1942, before Lockard attended Signal Corps officer candidate school.

Lockard said the significance is that radar in Hawaii operated for only three hours — 4-7 a.m. — and in the peacetime Army in Hawaii, after 7 a.m. "everybody took off like the roadrunner. So nobody was there, but had the planes been picked up when the plotters were in place, the observers were there and so forth, it might have been a little bit different," he said. "They may have been able to alert the gun crews on the ships and gotten a few planes in the air."

The radar unit that did its job that morning in Hawaii can't be found anywhere now, according to Lockard.

He said it was a portable unit that fit in four trucks. The antenna was a steel tower folded over on itself, with nine bays clamped onto it. When in position, it stood 50 feet, according to Lockard.

How the radar worked was very primitive compared with today, said Lockard, "The difference between a Model T and a Corvette."

The antenna was swept back and forth and controlled by a rheostat underneath the oscilloscope. A target appeared as a blip on the scope's baseline. The target's azimuth was determined by sweeping back and forth until it peaked, getting the highest resolution.

"At that point you'd tell the plotter to mark the azimuth and he'd read the number at the pointer on the antenna," Lockard said. "At the same time you'd look down at the dial on the oscilloscope that registered the miles and call out the miles to him. He had on his plotting table an overlay on a map guide and a ruler pivoted at the antenna location, and he would scale off the miles and make a mark, noting the time from a clock right over his head."

Lockard left the Army in December 1945 and held a variety of jobs. He started first as a trackman for Pennsylvania Railroad; when he left, he was a maintenance supervisor. He worked for Sylvania Electric and then AMP Incorporated, from which he retired in 1986.

He was an inventor for AMP and holds some 40 patents for switches and connectors. He has the original patent, for instance, on the switch inside your garage-door opener.

"Get lucky," said Lockard to today's signalers. "I don't know of anything to compare (serving in the Signal Corps) with. I can't think of a branch of the service in which a young person can get better training or education to benefit from the new technological age."

Mr. Holmes, the media-relations chief at Fort Gordon's public affairs office, holds a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia. Fascinated by history, he said he is always interested in historical "what ifs."

dividing rule

(Editor's note: For more reading on how the Japanese slipped through to attack the U.S. fleet in Hawaii, see Chapter 1, The Signal Corps: The Test, part of "The Technical Services" subseries of the U.S. Army in World War II historical series; written by George Raynor Thompson, Dixie Harris, Pauline Oakes and Dulany Terrett; published by the Army's chief of military history in 1957.)

Last modified on:
April 04, 2012

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