Vet's debt of gratitude hard to repay

The telephone rang early on a Saturday last month, but not too early. Roy Ranum and his wife normally are up before 8 a.m. -- and this was a call the Silver Bay retiree had been waiting for for about 60 years.

The telephone rang early on a Saturday last month, but not too early. Roy Ranum and his wife normally are up before 8 a.m. -- and this was a call the Silver Bay retiree had been waiting for for about 60 years.

Back in 1946, on Christmas Eve, Ranum had been in the Navy aboard the USS Becuna, a submarine stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He was feeling about as far from his home in Cloquet as an 18-year-old ship's clerk could while filing paperwork in a dingy, windowless office. His mood didn't brighten until he was summoned to the ship's radio shack. He had a call. On the other end of the line were his mother and father.

"I had about a 10-minute conversation. Ten wonderful minutes of conversation with my folks and then it faded out," Ranum recalled. "I tell you, you don't know what it's like when you're 3,000 or 4,000 miles from home, to get a call on Christmas Eve from your folks."

After being discharged, Ranum made a point of writing a letter of thanks to the Duluth police officer who manipulated telephone lines and shortwave radio signals to pull off the connection.

Over the years, however, as Ranum's appreciation deepened for what the officer had done for him, the letter seemed more and more inadequate. He yearned for another opportunity to show his gratitude, "to thank him again. He sure deserves it," Ranum said.


This winter, with another Christmas Eve approaching -- and with his memories once again flooding back to Pearl Harbor, 1946, and that unexpected phone call -- Ranum allowed me to tell his tale. With no idea anymore who the officer was, he hoped someone might read the column and offer a clue.

"I thought what he did for me was unbelievable," Ranum said. "I would love to find out again who he was. I would love it."

Ranum's answer came not long after the column hit doorsteps. Mike Horowitz, a newsman for WEBC radio in the late 1950s and early 1960s, called from his home in Richfield, Minn. He had known well the supervisor of the radio dispatch center for the Duluth Police Department, he said. Back then the center was on Park Point in the rear of the fire hall.

"I was interested in how the dispatch center worked, so I'd go down and observe. That's how I met him," said Horowitz, whose on-air name was Mike Mitchell. He left Duluth for the Twin Cities area in 1966.

"As soon as I saw the story [online]," he continued, "I thought of Lyman. He was extremely articulate [and] a real nice gentleman."

Lyman Nylander. The moment the name reached Ranum's ears something not far beyond clicked with recognition. "Some things get burned up there and it takes a certain code to bring them out. Lyman Nylander: The amount of Ys in his name rang a bell," Ranum said.

Nylander was a "pioneer Duluth radio man," as the News Tribune once called him. He worked with the Duluth police radio system from the time the department's first tower was erected in 1934 to the addition of ship-to-shore capabilities in 1937 and the innovation of station-to-squads, two-way radio capabilities, in 1939.

"The system as it exists today is largely his creation," the News Tribune reported in March 1972, when Nylander died. He had retired just three months earlier. He was 66.


"Radio was his love. That was his one and only love," one of his two sons, Fred Nylander, said this week. "He was a ham [radio enthusiast] forever. I would guess he started hamming in maybe 1915 or 1916, sometime in there. ... And he ran the Police Department's whole dispatching office starting before World War II and until he retired. He was a really dedicated radio supervisor."

Fred Nylander had never known about his father's efforts to brighten Christmas for Ranum -- and no doubt many other Northland military members. But neither was he surprised. "That's a typical ham operation," he said, "a standard procedure that the hams provided."

Plus, his father had been a Navy man himself, called to active duty as a reservist and shipped to Iceland during World War II. He observed and reported on German shipping activity in the North Atlantic. "He would make regular contact using Morse code," his son said.

Calling every Nylander he could find in the phone book, Ranum contacted Fred Nylander and repeated his thanks for his father's efforts all those years earlier.

"It made me feel a lot better," Ranum said. "I would have liked to have had a longer talk with him. Maybe sometime."

Chuck Frederick is the News Tribune's deputy editorial page editor. He can be reached at 723-5316 or .

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