Would you believe? A radar technician…

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Airwoman 1st Class

My children gently tease me about being technologically challenged. Well, I’ll have you know, you young whippersnappers, believe it or not, I was a radar technician during the 1950s. It was the height of technology at the time and I did it for the Air Force! So there!

The Air Force Auxiliary paid more per hour than I earned at my office job and I was always interested in earning extra money. They provided a free air-force uniform, winter coat and shoes, plus trips to the mountains on weekends, which, because I didn’t date much, were boring anyway.

muriel-and-mary-vien-1950s

Arriving by bus — Mary, a devout Catholic, and I attended Church services every Sunday morning

It proved to be an adventure. They’d drive our ‘flight’ (class) to the Radar Station atop a mountain by bus. It was an interesting experience and I look back at it with pleasure.

I also had my very first marriage proposal (from a regular airman) whom, I believe, really meant it. I shall never, ever forget that! He was from Prince Edward Island and handsome in his uniform. I’ve never been to PEI, but have always wanted to visit there because of this memory. Perhaps he was attracted to me because I was the first virgin he ever dated. He told me I was, he respected me for it, and never attempted to change my status.

airforece-auxiliary-1950s

No, I didn’t get garbage detail, but already had a twisted sense of humor

Some other flight colleagues obtained jobs at Montreal’s Dorval airport. It was miles away from my home and I didn’t drive. The mere thought of bracing dark winters on public transit all the way out there didn’t appeal. I just didn’t have the courage. Thus, I was perhaps saved some health issues.

My friend Philip was a WWII pilot. Now, he chuckles when he tells me that on the way out on flying missions, he’d turn hot and cold, a cold hand would clutch his innards and oops, the poor guy would throw up — in the cockpit. It was embarrassing and humiliating for him, and unpleasant for others. Surprise, surprise — they didn’t want to fly with him. So Philip was grounded — and he believes probably survived the war as a result.

Recently, I heard on CBC Radio that Radar Technicians from the 50s are trying to get compensation from the government for health issues resulting from electromagnetic rays they experienced from those early radar screens. I could have been one of them. The only reason I’m not is — I was chicken.

Former radar technicians complain of ‘headaches, fatigue, weakness, sleep disturbance, irritability, dizziness, memory difficulties, sexual dysfunction and occasionally shortness of breath after exertion……

‘During the 1960s and 1970s, ophthalmologist Milton Zaret, under contract with the Army and Air Force, examined the eyes of thousands of military and civilian personnel working at radar installations in the US and Greenland. Large numbers of them, he found, were developing cataracts….caused by chronic exposure to radiation of the eye at power densities around one milliwatt per square centimeter — a level which is regularly exceeded by each of the two and a half billion cell phones in use today.’ (Birenbaum et al. 1969, Zaret 1973)

I did develop early cataracts, which my eye specialist called ‘juvenile cataracts’. But they were probably as a result of my juvenile brain rather than being caused by 1950s radar screens.

projectionist-certificate-mur

Okay, so I don’t know how to scan these and get them straight, but I’ll learn

I looked for some of the photos taken then with one of those Brownie cameras, (remember?) and also found my official R.C.A.F. Projectionist Certificate. Hey guys, look at me!!! This old gal was up on the newest technology of her time — the 1950s. Have some respect.

 

 

 

(For more information on older radar screens, microwaves, and televisions, try Google.)

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14 thoughts on “Would you believe? A radar technician…

  1. Amazing reflection on what you did in the 1950’s. Had you accepted the proposal from that handsome soldier from Prince Edward Island your life would have been very different. He knew quality when he spotted you. You must have had good reason to have said “no”. Anyhow, you had great experiences in the mountains and thereafter picking yourself up to go to L.A…..there your life really changed. And probably for the better in retrospect. The ophthalmologist’s findings are believable. I think you should have proceeded with a claim. Some of the dizziness etc. might be associated with the excessive radiation. Is there a statute of limitation or can you still file a claim….The I.D. card is proof and the claim can probably be done on line. Is your maiden name Muriel Ruch. ? You might have to submit proof of name change or marriage license. No big deal….. Thanks for sending these “thoughts from an opinionated high tech young at heart lady”. Great article. Fascinating to read. Beats watching TV. Send more if time permits. Joe in California

  2. Wow, mom — you were so gorgeous! It’s no wonder that young airman was crawling at your feet. I agree with Joseph in CA that it might be worth looking into a claim. You do have eye damage (that came on unusually early) — not just the cataracts, but the macular degeneration. And the dizziness. Anyway, I have to selfishly say that I’m glad you said no to that airman and yes to Al — otherwise I wouldn’t be here, and I love being alive!

  3. Donna read the blog first and said, “What else has Muriel done that we haven’t yet heard about?” We ticked off a few other occupations you’ve had, and it makes for quite a resume. Keep telling your stories, and we’ll keep listening.

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