...between the USS Density and the mv Galaxy

Radio London's ship the mv Galaxy was originally the WWII minesweeper USS Density. In 1999 while researching the history of the Density on the Internet, John Platt discovered that, incredibly, the wartime crew never knew of their ship's second life as a radio station. Believing the Density to have been scrapped after the war, they had no idea that when they commenced their bi-annual reunions in 1965, their ship was off the coast of Essex, fighting another battle against the British establishment under the banner of Radio London.

On December 29th 2002, the Radio London webmasters received an amazing message. As soon as we spotted the name of the sender – Ron Buninga – and the country the message came from – the Netherlands – we knew this was something special. However, we had now idea just how special and were not prepared for the stunning news the message contained.

Ron wrote:

I was doing some surfing on the net and found out that there is a site about Big L. My father, Bill Buninga, has been a crew member on board the Galaxy during its broadcasting years from the beginning all the way up to the 'final hour' in 67. Actually longer than that, he still was the captain when the ship was laid up in Hamburg.

I know the Galaxy throughout, because I have served as a watchman during that lay-up for nearly two years. The wheelhouse and the engineroom were my most favourite places.

When I got on board the ship shortly after it was brought to Hamburg, the studio was hardly vandalised. Only the most recent records were taken away! All the eight-track-style tape commercials and jingles were still in the racks! You are not going to believe me if I tell you that I did even discover the original final hour on tape! I stacked my cabin with a lot of memorabilia but unfortunately the tape was given away by my father to a German dock worker who probably did not have any idea what was on the tape! The only thing I probably still have are photographs from the DJ's Paul Kay, Duncan Johnson and some others with their original autographs.

I know part of the ship's history during the second world war, and know it served as a minesweeper in the Okinawa area amongst others. I have been searching for the ship's logbook but never recovered it.

It really touched me to read about the veterans who served on board the Density. I have got one great surprise for them! I have the ship's US marked bell and one of the aluminium lockers with pencilled markings on the inside. I did have two of them but am not quite sure which one I gave to a secondhand shop not too long ago. I will search the locker if I can find any clues to the owner.

My father (pictured here aboard his ship) got the bell as a present during Big L's broadcasting years. The crew made a special designed hook to attach it to a wall. Ever since it adorned the outside wall near the front door of my parents' house. After my mother's death nearly three years ago I took it down because the house was sold. The bell was prepared very well and it still looks as new today. I would like to get in contact with them and return the bell where it belongs.

Anyway, great to have read your site about the Big L. If I can be of any assistance please let me know. Ron Buninga.

We were stunned. A vital artifact of the Density/Galaxy, the ship's bell, had been hanging outside Captain Buninga's house in Holland for all those years and now his son Ron was generously offering to return it to the Density shipmates! Captain Buninga's voice was, of course, frequently heard on Radio London, when he would broadcast his regular message in Dutch to family and listeners in the Netherlands, every Sunday morning.

A USS Density reunion was already in the planning stage for September 2003 in Branson, Missouri and we knew very well that the shipmates would be as thrilled as we were that the bell had been found. The news was immediately relayed to the reunion organisers, Mary Simmons and Tanya Baugus (both daughters of Density crew members). We left it to them to make the difficult decision as to whether or not to tell the shipmates the news, or whether to keep it as a surprise. September seemed a long way off!

In the meantime, we replied to Ron to inform him about the proposed shipmates' reunion in Branson. We explained that although we realised it would incur a long and expensive trip for him, it would be wonderful if Ron could attend to present the bell to the shipmates in person.

Ron responded:

Hello Mary, thank you for your quick response. I loved your story about the veterans – you know my father was a war veteran as well. He was a merchant marine during that time for Shell Oil. I have been to many veteran get-togethers in this country as well as on the Normandy beaches during the sixth of June celebrations.

I am really feeling very honoured, the way you presented my father as well as me touched me. I would be really thrilled to visit the Density crew and present them the bell.

There it was. After thirty-odd years (over fifty for the Density crew!) with no knowledge of the bell's continued existence, within the space of a couple of weeks and the exchange of only TWO e-mails, the bell was not only found, it was beginning its return journey to the USA! The final link between the two incarnations of an incredible ship called 'The Mighty Little D' which had touched innumerable lives in countless countries, in so many different ways, had been set in motion. She had proved her amazing ability, yet again, to bring people together.

Mary and Tanya continued with their plans and decided that the stunning news would be kept secret from all but a very small number of the shipmates. This meant that nothing about the exciting find could be mentioned on the Radio London website before the reunion. When the date of the event was finally set for September 18th-20th 2003, the news was revealed to personnel who had been associated with Radio London, in order that they should have the opportunity to attend Ron's very special presentation, should they choose to do so.

Chris and Mary booked their flights from Heathrow; Ron booked his flight from Amsterdam via Heathrow and went to great lengths to construct a suitable case for carrying a precious and extremely heavy item of hand-luggage. (Picture: sneak preview in Branson! Note the strong likeness between Ron and Bill.) Ron had the bell specially cleaned and made
advance arrangements with customs so that there would be no difficulties with transporting his priceless cargo. Its total weight was around 15 kilos!

On September 16th, we met Ron for the first time when he arrived at the reunion hospitality suite at the hotel in Branson and it was like meeting an old friend. Ron was immediately embraced by the Density shipmates as a member of the family.

We were all more than grateful for Ron's generosity and the trouble he had taken to return the bell to the people who would most appreciate it and were very happy when, at the end of the reunion, Ron told us he had enjoyed more fun during the few days he had spent with us all than he had done in years!

The story of the 2003 USS Density Reunion, September 18th - 20th, in Branson, Missouri and the presentation of the bell is told in photographs over the next few pages. Ron has also very kindly given us his personal Radio London memorabilia, which we shall be sharing via the website over the coming months.

The fantastic story of the Density Reunion and Bell Presentation!
Many more pictures of the combined USS Density and Radio London family!
Ron Buninga's Presentation Speech plus 'wonderful' feedback from reunion guests
Reactions to the story received from around the world

Story Picture Gallery
Family Picture Gallery
Back to Radio London
Back to general Reunion Index