The story of the RM2 Earnest Edward Dailey by Matt Zullo, CTICM (ret)

RM2 Earnest Edward Dailey
On-The-Roof Gang Class #2
Killed February 12, 1935

The U.S. Navy’s “On-The-Roof Gang” was a group of pioneering U.S. Navy and Marine radio operators trained to intercept Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) radio communications prior to World War II.  Their training took place in a specially constructed blockhouse on the roof of the old Main Navy Building in Washington, DC.  The graduates of this training became known as the “On-The-Roof Gang” and were posted throughout the Pacific Theater at various intercept stations and aboard ship.

Radioman Second Class (RM2) Earnest Edward Dailey, who was known as “E. E.” to his shipmates, was selected for the second class of the “On-The-Roof Gang” training that began in May 1929.  He was the first RM2 selected for this prestigious and secretive training; all previous students were either first class petty officers or chief petty officers.  In early September, having completed 90 percent of the rooftop training, E.E. demonstrated excellent skill at copying IN Kata Kana code and he was curious about the automatic promotion to RM1 he was promised.  The only problem was that automatic promotions were not possible in the Navy at that time.  It seems that during the recruitment process, someone who wanted E.E. to sign up for the training  promised him something that could not be delivered.

Dailey was disillusioned with the Navy’s new radio intelligence organization and quit the same day.  He was assigned back to the fleet to be a “regular” radioman.  He eventually was promoted to RM1 and assigned to the USS Macon (ZRS 5), one of the U.S. Navy’s two lighter-than-air flying aircraft carriers.

On February 12, 1935, off the coast of Big Sur, California, the Macon encountered a gale and experienced crippling damage to a vertical fin that would send the airship on a slow-motion crash course into the ocean.

Shortwave operators in San Luis Obispo were the first to hear the distress calls being sent via Morse code from the Macon.  RM1 Daily first reported, “We have a casualty,” and then later, “SOS falling – AS.” “AS” was the Morse code procedural sign for wait a minute.  Daily transmitted Macon’s final message at 5:31 p.m., “We will abended ship as soon as it lands on water.  We are 20 miles off Point Sur, probably 10 miles at sea.”  He repeated the location several times.

After the incident, the Macon’s commanding officer recalled in an interview, “Dailey stood by his post crackling out those messages.  I gave him the last message that we were abandoning ship.  We could hear water swishing around us, but Dailey just sat there chewing away at a hunk of gum and sending out or location.  The location probably saved our lives, but the sending of it coast Dailey’s own life.  I left him, and the boys told me later they saw him jump from a huge height, about 125 feet.  He probably had no idea how far the water was below him.”

RM1 E.E. Daily was one of only two men that died as a result of the USS Macon’s crash – a considerably smaller number than might have been if it weren’t for his heroic efforts to report the ship’s location.

Despite the fact that Dailey never completed the On-The-Roof Gang training, the rest of the gang thought so highly of his skill and sacrifice that they maintained him on the rolls of the OTRG for as long as the group existed.

Featured Image: USS Macon (ZRS 5)