In 1995 I thought it would be neat to have my own website. Most of the names I wanted were already taken but I remembered a phrase I had heard that seemed to sum up how I felt about a lot of things. SNAFU - Situation Normal, All Fouled Up (okay, it's not really "fouled"). I purchased the URL and started this website. Since I really had nothing to put on a website, I began to place jokes I had received through e-mail that I thought were especially funny. So far, that's about all I've done with it. Then I got this e-mail...

Hello there SNAFU.COM,

What would you say if I told you that I and a Military friend initiated the term SNAFU at a military base called Camp San Luis Obispo in mid 1941. My son has been after me for years to write something up explaining how it all came about.

I never dreamed that there would be so much (stuff) on the internet. A hippie Rock band, A motorcycle, a dog kennel in Oregon etc. It's even in Webster's dictionary. I guess I have no problem with all of this. BUT, I would also like to have the true story published somewhere for those that might be curious about it's true origin.


WHEN: April or May of 1941 (before Pearl Harbor)
WHERE: 160th Infantry Regiment of the 40th Infantry Division at Camp San Luis Obispo, Calif..
HOW: By the transmission of a practice encoded radio message from radio operator John to another radio operator named Don.

Don Taylor and John Paup, both members of the California National Guard in Los Angeles had been ordered to active duty in March of 1941. While in training at Camp San Luis Obispo they spent their daylight hours out in the hills surrounding the Camp sending practice radio messages to each other...

This is the radio they used

BC-148 Radio

The Headquarters Company of the Regiment was the entity responsible for all communications within the regiment and to other entities. Telephone circuits using wire on the ground was the preferred method of the time but radio had to be used when distances were too great.. Most communications by radio was done using the International Morse Code as opposed to voice and was far more dependable and reliable.

Radio communication had the disadvantage of being intercepted by the enemy, and to overcome the problem messages were "scrambled" or converted into five letter code groups by a mechanical device shown below.

M-209 Converter

Example: original "clear text" message.
General Bootlikker requires more artillery support.

After being scrambled or converted, it would then be
transmitted in five letter groups..

At the end of the day and a delicious military meal, Don and John would sit in their spacious five man tent and, having nothing better to do, would sit and convert all the messages they had received back into intelligible words. In the process they would make a game of creating sentences out of the meaningless coded groups.

CSIAM.... = (Colonel Smith is a moron)
OTILA.... = (Our tent is leaking again)
IHTDA.... = (I hate the damn army)
SNAFU.... = (Situation normal, all f----- up)

Don recalls that even though this all happened 63 years ago, he vividly remembers the message he had received from John that day, and the code group with the AFU in it. There was absolutely NO DOUBT as to what THIS stood for but the SN part was a bit of a problem, and may have taken several seconds to resolve.

Don's E-mail continued:
"I was also stationed at a radio station on Kauai and in a park in Honolulu while I was going to Japanese Code school at Fort Shafter. I was then sent to operate in a Signal Intelligence radio monitoring station in the heights above Honolulu.
This was the outfit that picked up the important message from the Japs that turned the Battle of Midway into a victory for our Navy. I imagine you have heard that story.

"As to how it spread, there is no way of knowing for certain. I think initially it got spread all over the 40th Infantry Division. At that point in time people were being sent to training schools such as Fort Monmouth, N.J., & Fort Benning Georgia. People from other divisions would be attending such schools and would take "SNAFU" back to their outfits when their training was completed. We also had people that were already proficient in certain jobs and they were sent in small groups to become the nucleus for new Divisions. There were also a number of individuals that were sent to Officer Candidate schools."

A picture of the HQ Company of the 160th infantry regiment of the 40th
infantry division in April/May of 1941..

More information about the origins of SNAFU and the many things that have come from Don's expansion of the code group will be posted soon. There was a military cartoon, "Private Snafu", a record with Louie Armstrong, and even a website.

Don's son Greg is also posting SNAFU information on his website. Click Here to learn more about SNAFU.

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