Navy-Marine Corps MARS in Vietnam

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AB8AX Stories

John Keene     Dave Frandin     David Dull

John Keene

1968 - 1969

Never operated any kind of radio until I trained by the ARMY. When I got in country I was sent to replace a guy who was leaving in the next couple of days. He was the most experienced operator there at the time and had the most knowledge of the equipment. I got the quickie training course on how to use the civilian radios, changing frequencies and all, and I was on my way. Our antenna was home made by a previous operator who had been a ham operator before entering the army. The antenna was called a (not sure of the spelling) sturba-curtain. It was nothing more then two very tall towers made out of 2X4s. There were wires strung between the two towers and we used what was called a matching unit which allows us to utilize sections of the wire antenna based on what frequency we were operating on. Youíll see the antenna in one of the pictures Iíll send along. We couldn't get our hands on an LP antenna, which we were suppose to have received. It never made it to us at LZ Baldy. We always thought that division high jacked it. Division was the Americal Division in Chu Lai, they had a couple of LPs. With the sturba-curtain antenna we had to match the frequency to the antenna, as I mentioned, and it wasn't a quick task to accomplish. The matching unit wasn't a very exact science and I think I got the quickie training on that a well. You know the right way and the quickie way.

We were able to use land lines, crank phones or whistle down to make the line drop at the switch board in order to complete calls home. Many a night I missed calls from state side because the switch board operator fell asleep and I couldn't get my guy on the line in time. We finally told the people who had tried to make the call that it was missed due to the the switch board operator not answering our call. That got the switch board guys on board and a couple of calls home for them as well made them realize just how important these calls were to everyone.

Our power supply at one point was a small generator that almost stalled out when we hit the enter key. When the artillery unit next to us got 3 new large trailer mounted generators we taped into their lines that ran nearby our station. They never felt anything. I did get a bit of a kick in the butt when I cut into the hot line wearing only my ho-chi-mens. I went inside put on a pair of socks and my combat boots and taped up my knife and made the tap. Boy was it nice to have real power for a change.

We were easily the weakest signal in our net. There were times that AB8AQ or AB8AS would talk over us because they never heard our signal. State side would have to tell them to hold off for a moment, that we were currently transmitting. AB8AS was the leader of our net but AB8AQ was probably the strongest signal. I think AB8AQ was a Radio Research unit.

I thought it was a great thing to have the ability to call home and talk to loved ones. It was especially important with the Red Cross emergency calls. I wanted to get into ham radios when I came home but it all got away from me. I always tried to give the infantry guys preference when we had state side contact. The would come to the station and wait forever and never complain. Some of the guys who were stationed on the hill full time would complain if they didn't get a call whenever they wanted. I think they took it for granted at times. The infantry had it the toughest in my mind and they desired some consideration. Just my opinion.       Back to Top

Dave Frandin

SP4  5/70 - 4/71

Was drafted into USA in 9/69, was assigned to RVN in 3/70, originally assigned to HHC 2/1 Infantry, 196 Infantry Brigade as a 17K20 (Ground surveillance radar operator), was reassigned to HHC, 196 Infantry Brigade MARS station, served there for the remainder of my tour in RVN. 

I had become interested in ham radio in high school, but never became licensed, but after working in MARS during my RVN tour, decided to obtain my ham license in 1976 as WA6QNW, now K7DGF.

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David R Dull

SP4 1971 - 1972

When I arrived in country the Army was looking for soldiers with ham radio experience - I went to a short orientation and then was sent to FB Hawk Hill in the 23rd Infantry Div.  When they stood down, the 196th Light Infantry Brigade became a separate unit (again).  At about the same time we moved to DaNang and took over the Mars Station from the 1st Marine Div which was also standing down.  Then, as now, I was always more interested in the technology than the operation.  I built a 3-element 19MHz beam that helped the station and was pretty adept (if I do say so myself) at getting through multiple levels of manual switchboards.  This allowed folks even in the most remote locations to make calls back home.  By the time I left, I was spending a lot of time on and off duty repairing equipment for other stations in northern Vietnam. 

I enjoyed and grew from the experience; the satisfaction from that, my first military assignment, set the stage for a twenty-seven year career.  In later wars and when assigned to distant locations, I managed to find ways for my soldiers to phone home.   

Military personnel today, with worldwide cell phone service and commercial phone booths that follow them wherever they go, just don't really appreciate their ability to phone home almost anytime they wish. 

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