It was early in 1957, and three east coast hams were chatting during one of their regular skeds on 75 meters. They had all gotten their tickets at about the same time, and since they were all born-again Christians and involved in church work, they had a strong common bond that naturally drew them together.

"You know," said Bob Matthews, W3BBM, "this get-together three times a week is excellent, but I think that we ought to get other Christians involved." Bob was the pastor of a church in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. "I would like to see a more formal organization of born-again hams."

"Well, I know that there are other Christian hams out there who might be interested in getting together with us," said William (Doc) Mierop, K2JEI. Doc was the president of the Philadelphia College of the Bible, and lived in nearby Collingswood, New Jersey.

"I know that Van (Leonard Van Saun), W2RJQ, would be interested," interjected Sherm Milligan, W3CGH. Sherm was a pastor of a church in Hollisterville, Pennsylvania. "I know that he contacts quite a few missionaries on the field. Maybe we could develop an organization that could be of some service to them."

"That would be great," said Bob. "I'd like to see us present a Christian witness on the air any way that we can. Service to missionaries is certainly something that is needed."

"Not only that," said Doc, "but just discussing things of the Lord on the air would present a good witness. We don't want to be pushy, but quoting a scripture now and then can't hurt. You never know who might be listening. What do you think, Sherm?"

"I think it's a great idea," said Sherm. "Doc, why don't you get something going on this."

"I will," said Doc. "We can meet in my office at the college. I'll contact a few others in the area and set something up."

Thus, the wheels were set in motion for the establishment of an organization of Christian hams that would provide a service to missionaries as well as fellowship on and off the air. On March 2, 1957, five hams gathered in Doc's office to set up that organization. In addition to Doc, Bob and Sherm, the group included Van, W2RJQ, who was a tool salesman from New Jersey, and Dick Harris, K2MBT, a missionary's son, also from New Jersey.

"The first thing we need is a name," said Doc. "We know what our primary mission will be--to provide a service to missionaries on the field through amateur radio, so how about Amateur Radio Missionary Service--A.R.M.S. for short?"

"Perfect," said Van, and everyone agreed.

"We can continue to meet on the air," said Bob, "but instead of just the three of us having a roundtable three times a week, we can have a net--the A.R.M.S. Net--at 3.907 kc, and invite any Christian ham to join us. We can take turns being the net control station."

"But you know," said Doc, "if this thing develops into anything, and I think that the Lord is going to bless it, there will be members who won't be able to check into our net. We need to keep in touch with them. I think that we ought to have some sort of a bulletin or newsletter to keep people informed and to let members know about missionary skeds."

The group agreed, and eventually the name The A.R.M.S. BEAM was settled upon. Doc said that he would see about getting something together. Today the newsletter is called simply, The Beam.

Another immediate need was publicity. They needed to get the word out to Christian hams that ARMS existed. Dick Harris was asked to take care of that, and soon a letter was sent to several foreign mission headquarters. The May issue of the Foreign Mission Radio Bulletin carried most of the text of Dick's letter to them. Thus ARMS was born--five dedicated Christian hams intent upon serving the Lord through what for many was no more than a diversion, but which for these five was an avenue to implement the Lord's work by providing a communications link, not only with missionaries overseas, but with fellow Christian hams everywhere.

It is interesting to note that the vision of those founders of ARMS was rather limited. They really couldn't see what the Lord had planned when He prompted them to establish the organization. They had in mind a very local group, centered in the New York-New Jersey-Pennsylvania area. Their geographical area would extend about as far as their 75-meter net would allow them. They could enjoy fellowship on the air as well as occasional picnics and get-togethers. Beyond that, they would reach out to just missionaries in distant places on the air. Three months later, on June 1, 1957, the first regular meeting of ARMS took place in Philadelphia. By that time there were between 20 and 25 members. We don't have a record of the attendance at that first meeting, but it was noted that the turnout was smaller than expected because it was the Memorial Day weekend.

Officers and board members were elected and committee chairmen were appointed. The officers were:

President - William A. Mierop, K2JEI
Vice-president - Robert Matthews, W3BBM
Secretary - Leonard Van Saun, W2RJQ
Treasurer - Richard B. Harris, K2MBT (later K7VCD)

The members of the Board were:

Sherman M. Milligan, W3CGH (later WA2CNK)
Harry L. Woll, W3TEM
Robert G. Burns, W3FTH
Vernon A. Bell, W3EOD
Richard Seymour, W3FJK

The committee chairmen appointed were:

Communications - Leonard Van Saun, W2RJQ
Engineering & technical - Al Heil, W2OZO and Hal Reynolds, W3LJ
Fellowship - Al Howe, W3BJF
Activities & programs - Vernon Bell, W3EOD
Publicity & membership - Dick Harris, K2MBT

Later that month the first issue of The A.R.M.S. BEAM was published. We don't know how many pages it contained, but we do have copies of pages 1 and 2. The last article on page 2 ends in the middle of a sentence, and this suggests that there were more pages. (Note: If anyone has a complete copy of that first BEAM or any early issues, the current editor would greatly appreciate a photocopy.)

The masthead displays a drawing of a three element beam on a tower, a motif that we have continued to use to this day. The headline reads "CHRISTIAN HAM CLUB ORGANIZES" and the article below it describes the officers and appointees. The president has an article defining the word missionary. Page 2 includes a membership report and a report from the publicity chairman. The last article on page 2 reports that A.R.M.S. stationary was available, in two colors, blue or silver, for $1.00 for 50 sheets and 50 envelopes.

From that beginning more than 40 years ago, ARMS has continued to grow. Doc, K2JEI, continued as president for the first three years, and Van, W2RJQ took over in 1960.

The BEAM in the fall of 1961, after just four years of existence, had grown to an eight-page publication. The picture of the beam and tower on the cover sheet was replaced by the familiar ARMS emblem with the cross and two lightning bolts. (The beam and tower did not appear again until 1965.)

The ARMS motto from Galations 6:10 appeared at the bottom. It is interesting to note that when ARMS was founded, Hebrews 13:16 was suggested as a motto: "But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." It is not known exactly when Galations 6:10 was adopted as the official motto.

The ARMS club station at the Philadelphia College of the Bible, K3CBM, also was named on the 1961 BEAM cover sheet. Although no mention is made of the BEAM editor at that time, apparently Van, K2RJQ was responsible for putting it out, since his name appeared on the return address.

In that 1961 issue, mention was made of the organization of a Midwest Section under the direction of Francis Finck, WŲQCB. Dick Harris, K2MBT, had moved to Seattle, Washington and was nurturing ARMS activities on the west coast. The organization was expanding across the nation.

A number of ARMS nets were in existence by this time on 75, 40, 20, 10 and 6 meters. The Midwest Section had a net on 14.270 MHz on Fridays at 1330Z, with WŲQCB and Forrest Milliken, WŲQKI, as net control stations. This was the forerunner of the present 20-meter ARMS net that meets every morning except Sunday on 14.3075 MHz. However, it was not until 1970 that the "Transcontinental Net," the ARMS 20-meter net, operated on a daily basis on that frequency.

By early 1962, after only five years, ARMS had grown to nearly 200 members. While over half of that number were 2's and 3's, there were 14 Ų's, 16 members from outside of the U.S. (of which four were Canadian) and 23 Associate Members.

ARMS not only has provided an invaluable communications link with overseas missionaries as well as providing a Christian witness on the air and fellowship among members, but it has provided an incentive for many members, as well. Doc Mierop has pointed out that ARMS membership encouraged many of its early members.

"Those of us who had only meager rigs," he writes, "which could operate only on one band at very low wattage began to upgrade our licenses and our equipment in order to operate on all bands at sufficient power to cover the earth. We designed QSL cards that included a witness for the Lord and His Word by including a reference from Scripture. Mine had two tall towers with a wire between them and the verse from Proverbs 25:25: 'As cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.'

"I wrote two tracts that related amateur radio to the Christian life. They are called Your Best Contact and The Wrong Manual. I always included one of these with each of my QSL cards and phone patch acknowledgements."

Where are the ARMS founders now? Doc, K2JEI, is now a silent key. He died in July, 2003 at the age of 91.

Bob, W3BBM, lived into his early 90's, and passed away on March 15, 2005.

Dick, K2MBT, moved to the Seattle area in 1963 and became K7VCD. He works for a Christian radio station there. He has recently renewed his interest in ARMS.

Van, W2RJQ, is now with the Lord. He passed away in 1993 at the age of 81. Sherm, W3CGH, became a silent key in 1981.

Click here for an interesting clarification on this article from ARMS co-founder Dick Harris, now K7VCD.