K4AHS - August 12, 2001

John Nagley

According to his charming wife, Liz, John was building radio receivers in his teens while growing up in Wilmington, OH. Recently found in a drawer of his ham shack desk was a photo with a note on the back, written in his mother's hand, that says: "John's radio room on Columbus St. Here's where you got your start on the radio career that has gotten you far." John was first licensed as an amateur radio operator in 1933, when he was 20 years old. His younger brother, Philip, recalled that John's first call sign was "W8JGJ" and commented that the walls of his room were soon covered with QSL cards from everywhere.

In the late 1930s, while studying to be an electrical engineer at Wilmington College, John ran short of funds and couldn't remain in school. He decided to enlist at Chanute Field, Rantoul, IL, which in 1938, was the only technical training school for the small air arm of the U.S. Army. http://www.aeromuseum.org

Apparently on the strength of his radio experience, he was accepted into the Army Signal Corps and was sent to Medford, OR, where he became a radio operator handing message traffic on aircraft movements to and from an airport there. While in Medford, John joined a church youth group, sang in the church choir, and was active in little theatre presentations. According to Liz, John had a natural musical talent and a wonderful bass singing voice.

According to his youngest brother, Kenneth, John was sent to the Philippines in the fall of 1941. There, he took a competitive examination and was selected to enter Officer Candidate School back at Ft. Monmouth, NJ. While en route from the Philippines to NJ, World War II started. Orders were sent canceling his transfer, but he never received them. When he arrived at Ft. Monmouth, he was accepted into the school and earned his commission as a 2nd Lt. soon after. In March of 1942, John and Liz were married in the chapel at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD. John met Liz through an aunt of Liz's who was head of the Red Cross in Wilmington, OH, and for whom John had been a volunteer driver. Liz says her aunt got them together because she thought "John was the very best."

John was initially assigned to the 85th Division at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, MS. When the 85th Division was sent to Africa early in 1943, John received an assignment to Ft. Bragg, NC that took advantage of his radio experience. He was involved in the equipping, flight, and repair of radio-controlled aircraft used as targets in gunnery practice. He remained at Ft. Bragg for the remainder of WWII, rising to the rank of Captain. After the war, he joined the US Air Force reserves and remained bringing his total time in the service to 37 years and rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel.

After the war, John was offered the job of Chief Engineer for broadcast radio station KYCA in Prescott, AZ. John and Liz lived there four years, and then John found a job in the Frequency Assignment Office of the Voice of America. That job took them initially to Orangeburg, NY, and then to Washington, DC. They made their home on Great Falls Street in Falls Church, where they have lived ever since. He retired from VoA in 1976.

Church services for John were held in the Falls Church Episcopal Church, a church built in the 18th century, and followed by grave-side services at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. A caisson pulled by 4 horses carried John's casket to the site. The graveside service included a color guard, a 21-person drill unit, a 15 piece Air Force band, 7 riflemen who fired a 21-gun salute, a bugler who played Taps, and several officers. John Swafford and I attended and were moved by it all. Afterwards, members of his family and friends gathered at John and Liz's home in Falls Church for a buffet lunch.

His post-war logbooks were found in a desk drawer in his ham shack. There were four:
#1 Dec 46 to Dec 57 the front of the log carries the call sign W7HKV - most were contacts on 40 and 20 meters
#2 Jan 57 to Apr 67 most were contacts on 10, 20, and 40 meters - quite a few were n-way contacts
#3 Apr 67 to Mar 68
#4 Jan 68 to Dec 89

Though the logs indicate that he used both modes "Al" and "A3," Liz said that what he really enjoyed was CW. His friends that heard him on various nets say that John "was really good at it." A few years ago, Jim Wilcox and I helped John get his long wire antenna working again. While there, John showed us a kilowatt transmitter in a 19" rack that he'd built. His log entries showed that he would normally run 200 watts, but crank it up to as much as 900 watts, when warranted. He had saved a stack of favorite QSLs that included friends, such as Ethel Smith, K4LMB, and many DX contacts the world over.

Since moving to Virginia, he has been a member of the Fairfax County AREC, the Northern Virginia Radio Club, the Old Old Timer's Club, the Department of State Amateur Radio Club, the Veteran Wireless Operators Association, and the Society of Wireless Pioneers. John joined QCWA in 1967 and became a charter member of Chapter 91 when it was founded in 1975. He served as chapter's Secretary in 1982 and was recognized with QCWA's 65 year award in 1998.

Dick Rucker, KM4ML
August 31, 2001