Sunday, April 22,
Ernie holds photo of shell-damaged
church steeple in Bremen, Germany
where he was stationed
Ernest Bivans was one of the many
thousands of soldiers in the war against Germany who was not
involved in the fighting, but whose hard work was vital to securing
Ernest and his family moved to
Georgia in 1931. In high school, he joined the ROTC. His interest in
the military led him to apply to his senator for entrance to West
Point. He was turned down because he is somewhat color-blind. Ernest
then applied to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, but was again turned
down due to his color-blindness.
He went on to college, earning a
bachelor’s of science in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech in
After graduation, he was sent to
Fort McPherson GA for induction in the U.S. Army. He finished basic
training and was sent to Signal Corps School, which he quickly
finished because of his training in electrical engineering.
Ernest and a number of others in
his class were then sent on to Officers Candidate School. He
graduated as a second lieutenant and was sent to Harvard University
for a three-month advanced training course in electronics, basically
designing radio circuits.
Afterward, he was assigned to MIT
for four months where he worked developing the highly secret radar
systems that became so important to winning the war. “At one point I
was sent to Camp Wheeler GA to install a large, 20 – 30 foot radar
antenna with nine sets of crossbars. Copper was rare after the war
began so we had to use silver.
“The treasury sent us a number of
silver ingots, 5 inches wide and 1 inch think. We had to drill and
shave them to the correct size. There was a treasury agent present
at all times o the correct size. There was a treasury agent present
at all times to collect the shavings and scraps.
"I then received a two weeks notice
to go to Europe, where the war against Germany was winding down. I
sailed on the USS United States.
"The gyros, which kept the ship
balanced, had been removed in order to transport a larger number of
troops. We were hit by a terrific storm halfway across the North
"The ship rolled 45 degrees in each
direction. We had to be strapped to our beds and needless to say
most of us were sick for the duration of the storm.
"We landed safely at Le Havre,
France shortly after Germany had surrendered (Victory in Europe Day
was May 8, 1945).
"We went to Osterholz near Bremen,
Germany, where I was made exec officer, Headquarters 3125 Signal
Service. Since we were living on canned Spam and vegetables,
including canned lettuce, we sometimes avoided the food monotony by
hunting deer with our rifles and Tommy guns.
"The base had two 50,000-watt AM
radio stations that could reach anywhere in the world and were
mainly used to coordinate the Allied forces after the war. In
addition, we had a manual phone exchange.
"I had four men who owned small
telephone companies in the United States and they oversaw the
numerous Germans working for us to repair lines and help
re-establish the German central telephone exchange. In addition, we
had a platoon of engineers helping Denmark re-establish its
"Even though the war with Germany
had officially ended, the occupying forces still faced danger. In
Northern Germany, including Bremen where I was stationed, there were
German terrorists whose goal was to shoot U.S. Army officers. There
were 23 killings in one week.
"Although this information was kept
classified, most of us knew of the danger and we never went off base
unarmed. I was shot at only once when my men and I were asked to
help search a nearby house for weapons, which we found in abundance.
"In October of 1945 a merchant ship
whose radar had failed came into a nearby port. I and another
officer were sent to repair it. I had to climb to the top of the
mast to get the damaged radar down and replace it with a new one.
"Even though it was somewhat nerve
wracking, we managed the replacement and were rewarded with a
"I had the wonderful experience of
meeting Pope Pius while on leave in Rome. Several of us met him in
his private chapel room. He thanked us as members of the American
army. He then blessed us and I shook his hand instead of kissing his
ring (oops). We later were guided down a secret staircase and
actually touched the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The famous Pieta was
just sitting on the floor unprotected.
"I came home in August 1946 aboard
a Kaiser Victory ship made of cement. Wouldn't you know it, we were
caught in bad weather and everyone was sick just as it had been when
I sailed to Europe."
Ernie worked in so many capacities
after the war that only a few of his endeavors can be mentioned
In 1946 Ernie went to work for
Cambridge Research Center, working to encode radar signals to
digital signals that could be sent over telephone lines to
He was later instrumental to the
air defense system by teaching Air Force personnel how computers
could talk to the radar system. This system later became basic to
the civilian air traffic control system.
In 1956 he was sent to the NATO Air
Defense Tech Center to help them develop an air defense system for
In 1967 he was sent to Vietnam and
worked on devices that could be planted on the South Vietnam
northern border to detect insurgents trying to enter from North
Vietnam. The project was top secret and he worked directly out of
Gen. William Westmoreland's headquarters.
Birth Date: Oct. 9, 1921
Born: Ojus, Fla.
Residence: Santa Barbara since 1961
Military branch: Army
Years served: 1943-August 1946
Family: wife, Patricia; two sons;
one daughter; three grandchildren, one great-grandchild
Honoring our War Heroes appears
every other week in the Santa Barbara News-Press, written by Frank
Cox who is solely responsible for its content. Any opinions are
those of Frank Cox and not necessarily of the News-Press. If you
would like to be profiled as a veteran, please contact Frank Cox at