Navy-Marine Corps MARS in Vietnam


 During the Vietnam War a small number of Marines, all licensed ham radio operators (sometimes known as radio geeks) in civilian life, were given civilian amateur radio equipment and told to use their ham radio skills to run phone patches, or telephone calls home for their fellow Marines. The operation was called the Military Affiliate Radio System. Most of the operators lived in their radio stations, which were known by their callsigns. November zero echo foxtrot alpha (N0EFA) was the first operating station. Eventually there were stations Alpha through Zebra (N0EFZ) in Vietnam and on hospital ships off the coast.  They had their own chain of command, as no other Marine Corps unit wanted any thing to do with them, they seldom wore rank insignia, went by only first names (even on the radio) and answered only to other MARS personnel. Their counterparts in the United States placed collect telephone calls to the families and friends of the Marines in the field and patched the calls through on frequencies near the ham bands.

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This site created and maintained by Barry Weathersby. If you have any suggestions, corrections, additions, deletions or other comments, please email me.

The crew 

at N0EFA, 

(the old station) 

Dong Ha, 

about Feb,



Left to right,  Standing:  Ray Gross, Barry Weathersby, Gunny Harry Boggs

(a founding father of Marine Corps MARS)   Kneeling: Bill BiggsJim Elshoff,


United States Marine Corps MARS Operations In Vietnam

Early in the Vietnam war there was no such thing as a MARS operator MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) in the Marine Corps. Operators came from infantry, recon, tanks, artillery, motor transport, engineers, helicopters, air wing and just about every other job in the Marine Corps. A few even came from communications. The one thing they had in common was ham radio. Some had been members of their high school amateur radio clubs just a few short months before and few had the money to invest in a real store-bought radio. Many had built their own or converted old WWII military surplus radios. But the Marine Corps handed them fifty to a hundred thousand dollars worth of state-of-the-art ham radio equipment and said, "Go play".

The original N0EFA on the hill in Da Nang, a young ham radio operator's dream. Collins KWM-2A transceiver, complete Collins 'S' Line, i.e., 32S-3 Transmitter, 75S-3A Receiver, phone patch consoles and a Henry 2K-2 linear amplifier.  John Haw runs phone patches at N0EFL ('The Lizard') at Red Beach in Da Nang.
And play they did. The Marine Corps MARS operators ran hundreds of thousands of phone calls from Marines to their loved ones back in 'The World'. Many seasoned veterans, before email or cell phones were even dreamed of, simply didn't believe it would work. There was no way some kid with a civilian radio, often under horrendous enemy fire, was going to figure out when the peak of the sunspot cycle would ionize the 'E' layer of the ionosphere, point an antenna at exactly the right spot a hundred miles out in space at the right time and reflect a high frequency radio signal off the ionized layer, over the curve of the earth into a similar station in the United States, much less hook it all up to a telephone line to their family.

But these 'kids' knew how to do exactly that. They had learned it to pass the Federal Communications Commission's test to get their licenses, some when they were 13 or 14 years old. Then they had (mostly) wished for the opportunity to own a radio to practice what they had learned. 

Then, for whatever reasons, they became United States Marines. By the time they got to Vietnam, most had shelved their ham radio knowledge somewhere in the back of their minds and concentrated on doing their assigned jobs and staying alive. But by various means their talents were discovered and they were taken from their units, from combat infantrymen to cooks, and reassigned to MARS stations. 

Sometimes, when the signals became too weak to be 'phone patch quality', they sent and received written messages for the troops in the form of MARSGRAMS by 'CW', or Morse Code, that could blast through the interference. Another skill they had acquired to get their 'ticket'. Many had only managed to pass a 5 word per minute test to get an entry level (novice) license and some of them were now working traffic at 30 to 50 words per minute. Practice makes perfect!



Alpha was born at 3rd Marine Division Headquarters in Da Nang. 3rd Mar Div FWD (Forward) HQ was created in Phu Bai and N0EFJuliet was activated there. In early 1967, 3rd Mar Div moved it's HQ north to Phu Bai and Alpha was moved north with 3rd Mar Div FWD to Dong Ha, within range of the big NVA guns in North Vietnam, and the station down in Da Nang got a new call sign.

N0EFA after an NVA artillary barrage

But by early 1968, the old Alpha in Dong Ha was badly damaged (more holes than walls and roof) and wounded operators and destroyed equipment were taking their toll on the phone patch count. Harry Boggs convinced the Seabees (using phone calls home and other bribes) to build a new station on the other side of the combat base. So Alpha moved north again. The new station was a beauty:

Jim Elshoff stands guard over the new Alpha, and more importantly, over the new sign.

The operators filled about a zillion sandbags.

Bill Biggs and Harry Boggs filling the shower at Alpha. The operators built a shower out of an aircraft fuel tank and had one of the few showers in Dong Ha.
Every Marine is a rifleman first. Or a bellhop. I forget. The basic attire for a MARS operator in the field was two Samsonite suitcases (custom made to hold a Collins KWM-2A and it's power supply), an antenna and vertical mast and an M-16. I heard a few chuckles when I got off the chopper looking like this. But the chuckles stopped when N0EFA/1 was up and running patches with the KWM-2A. Nerds win again! On the portable system, a patch console wasn't used and the Marines used the microphone and listened to the speaker. Here is the system in Con Thien and there obviously wasn't much privacy. 

"Our Turn in the Barrel!" Alpha at it's northern most point, as far north as it could go and still be in South Vietnam. Although full authorization was never granted for 'cross-patching', Harry Boggs considered it critical to run calls for the grunts in the field who deserved it the most. A portable station was assembled and taken to Con Thien, affectionately known as "The Meat Grinder", a few hundred meters south of the DMZ. Calls were run from Con Thien on the 'in country net' frequency and cross patched to the United States through N0EFA in Dong Ha. Barry ran over 500 patches from Con Thien in about two weeks, Christmas of '67. 



These former MARS members have checked in.  Please let me know if you worked in MARS during the Vietnam War.  If you would like to email any of these operators,  please contact me.  I am still in the process of developing this page and would welcome any and all comments, corrections, criticisms, pictures, stories (true or otherwise) about MARS in Vietnam to improve this site.

  (This Original Roster has been replaced and is now tracked on

Barry Weathersby Don Chilcote  Lenn Lengel
Bill Brady  Ernie Young Leo Apsey
Bill Riley Fred Berman Lewis Westfall
Bob Rotella Harry Boggs Mike Linger
Bob Runyon Henry Kenealy Pat Barnett
Clay Conard Jim Bogue Paul Cavnar
Dan Borgman Jim Elshoff Ray Gross
Dan Gannon Jim Kuhl McKinley Robinson
David Lane  John Haw Ron Ignowski
David Lee Foster Larry Mathess Rush 'Jack' Williams
Dick Stulz Lee Reisenweber Will Dunn

To all of you who made it back from Vietnam, "Welcome Home!". To those who didn't, Semper Fi.

"Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference. Marines don't have that problem." President Ronald Reagan, 1983.

"I don't know what happened. We were winning when I left." Barry Weathersby, 1999.
Thanks for all the help, guys. Keep it up.

USMC MARS in Vietnam is a member of the