amateur radios most interesting projects is also one of its best kept
secrets. It's a story of the successful Vietnam war-time partnership
between the military and the countries radio amateurs.
back/ it's hard to believe that in the 1950's and 60's, "phone patching"
by amateurs was strictly forbidden. If an amateur had a "phone patch" and
would occasionally run a long distance patch for a friend, the phone
company could, and some times would, take out his or her phone. Before
deregulation, Ma Bell was one tough old gal. How the military, the hams
and the ARRL got around this problem during Vietnam wasn't easy - and it
makes quite a story.
the Military Affiliate Radio Service, or MARS, back in the early 1960s. In
those days, Kennedy was President, the Cold War was at its coldest and
news about the minor squabble in Vietnam was seldom mentioned on the six
o'clock news. Unfortunately, this nasty little war on the other side of
the world, soon turned the United States upside down, quadruple the size
of the various MARS programs, and give me my first gray hair.
up a strange new world to amateurs. The first shock came when you cranked
your rig OUT of the ham bands and timidly looked around for your MARS
frequency some where out there where you had never been. When you found
the frequency and keyed your rig, the response you felt SURE would be,
"WHAT—are U -oo~ doing on THIS frequency???"
Each of the
military services, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force has a MARS
Program. I was in Navy MARS and during the 1960’s and 70’s, was running
phone patches into the States for Marines serving in Vietnam.
those early days in MARS were doing a great job handling WRITTEN traffic
but phone patches were still a ways down the pike. A few of the amateurs
in MARS however, felt that "sideband", the new mode of voice communication
on the ham bands, had the potential of adding an interesting new dimension
to the MARS programs. The unique capability of long haul sideband phone
patches seemed made to order for MARS.
these amateurs who were experimenting with sideband phone patches were the
new kids on the block and the results of their test were impressive. Those
peace time years before Vietnam erupted gave them the opportunity to show
the military just how effective sideband phone patches could be from any
part of the world. By the time the military turned up the wick in Vietnam,
phone patches with excellent audio, were coming through the 9,000 mile
radio link from Asia ~ and the military was VERY impressed.
could get on with the war in Vietnam, MARS, the ARRL and the amateurs had
first to win the war with the telephone company. As it turned out, no one
WON this "Telephone War" but after a great deal of maneuvering - and some
strong language, a settlement was reached. It wasn't a good settlement,
in fact, it was a BAD settlement, but it was the ONLY settlement that
would end the hassle. Nothing was put in writing, but the phone company
agreed to look the other way on Vietnam phone patches, PROVIDING, that QST
and other amateur publications soft pedaled articles on these patches.
didn’t like this at all, but neither did the military OR the hams as it
had the potential of leaving untold the story of one of amateur radios
finest achievements ~ and that's EXACTLY what happened.
war, our Omaha "phone patch" project with the Marines, OPERATION HELLO was
read into the Congressional Record as one of the finest humanitarian
projects to come out of the Vietnam conflict. This gave us fifteen minuets
of fame, but there were dozens of other MARS phone patch projects that
were doing as much or more than were we. The story of the MARS phone patch
projects were never publicized, and it's a shame as today, few amateurs
are aware of one of amateur radios finest public services.
on Ma Bell.
In any big
organization, there is always some nut who doesn't get the "message" and
one of these characters with the phone company and. hadn't heard of
the "phone patch agreement". This clown called me one day and said
it had come to his attention that I was running phone patches. "IF this
was true" he said, "and IF I continued, it would become necessary for him
to have my phone removed." He made it sound as if -- God — had just
I told him
that yes, I WAS running phone patches and planned to continue but it would
be interesting if he and his people came to take out my phone. If they
did, I would alert the press and a Marine general would be on hand to
handle the news briefing. I suggested that when he and his gun slingers
showed up, that they wear decent clothes as their pictures would be all
over the evening news.
it, no one showed up and Ma Bell and I got along happily for the rest of
war. Today, I almost miss that old girl. Well - sort of.
phone patches for service men in combat, could pump up your adrenaline.
Nothing I have done before or since has generate the feeling of
satisfaction that came from putting a wife or mother into voice contact
with a husband or son in a hostile country some 9,000 miles away. Running
those patches was heady wine.
joined MARS in those early days, the Marines reminded you that if you
deliberately screwed up these phone patches, that in war time. Uncle Sam
could have you shot, or might in some other way, spoil your day. For
…IF you or
the Marine operator at the other end of the radio link, let information
get out on the air that gave "aid and comfort to the enemy", you could be
blindfolded and stood against a wall. We knew the Marines were jerking our
chain a little on this, but -- they did get our attention.
also told the Russians, the Chinese and the North Vietnamese had our
frequencies and the State Department said the bad guys regularly monitored
these phone patches.
And we were
... that if
we got off frequency and caused interference to other United States
agencies or those of friendly countries, we probably wouldn't be shot, but
would be in trouble. (I assumed it was ok to caused interference to the
enemy, but was afraid to ask.)
war time MARS.
patches from Vietnam seemed to fall into four categories...
CALLS... and that's what the majority of calls were. Often in these calls,
both sides were so thrilled and excited at hearing each others voices that
it was hard for either to start a conversation.
One of the
most interesting "Happy Calls" was from a young Marine who had been
captured by the North Vietnamese and after being held for thirty days or
so, managed to escape.
Bowen ran this call. Connie, and her husband Norval, make a great pair.
They have been running patches for the military for over 30 years and are
two of the most dedicated navy MARS operators in the country. I never
tired of listening on the frequency when Connie was running patches. Her
pleasant, friendly voice worked wonders in calming excited teen age
Marines and their equally excited mothers.
Back to this young
Marine. He had not only escaped, and not been shot by the enemy, but
managed to get back through his own lines with out being shot by his
was hungry, dirty and hadn’t shaved or bathed in a month/the first thing
he wanted to do was call his mother. The MARS operator over there put him
on the horn but the moment Connie told his mother she had him on the line,
the mother hung up. We learned later that the boy had been missing for so
long that the military felt sure he was a casualty, and sadly, the mother
was convinced of it.
only after Connie managed to keep the mother on the line and the boy was
able to tell her the name of his last years high school English teacher,
the name of his girl friend and the name of his dog, that she became
convinced that it WAS her son that was calling ~ and that he WAS alive and
CALLS... No on liked to handle these but they came with the territory and
had to be run. Divorces, unfaithful wives, unfaithful husbands,
jealousies, hate, money troubles, in law troubles, troubles with the
military, troubles with the boss at the office. All the troubles that
plague mankind were discussed over this radio - telephone link. We had to
listen to all the sad tales, not because we wanted to but because the
military insisted on it and because we had to know when to flip the
switches on the patch.
felt that running these patches would have been great for a newly ordained
Catholic priest who needed practice hearing confessions.
One of the
worst experiences imaginable happened to one of our operators who was
running a seemingly routine patch for a young Marine who had just received
a "Dear John" letter from his new bride telling him she wanted a divorce.
Very upset, the boy spent 20 minuets tried to talk her out of the divorce.
When he saw he wasn't convincing her, he paused and said, "If that's the
way it has to be, then that is the way it has to be". Picking up his
rifle, he killed himself —— right on the air. That rifle shot sounded as
loud in the radio room in Omaha as it did in Vietnam, and as it must have
in the ear of the wife who seemed to have caused the suicide.
CALLS... If you wrote a book about the hilarious calls that went through
these nets it would be a best seller.
funniest one I ran involved two Marines. Both by coincidence, were named
Anderson and both were calling their wives. One wife was in Albany, New
York and the other in Phoenix, Arizona. Well, unbeknown to the Andersons,
or any one else, I got the stupid phone numbers mixed up with the result
that the Anderson with a wife in Albany, New York ended up talking to the
other Andersons wife in Phoenix, Arizona. It's hard to believe, but these
two talked for ten minutes and didn't know the difference.
There was a
reason for this. Radio conditions were miserable at the beginning of the
patch and got worse as it went along. The two were so excited at hearing
each others voices, that when they didn't understand what was said, they
blamed it on the QRM — and kept right on going.
finally found out what had happened, and when they did, the two Andersons
in Vietnam climbed all over the poor MARS operator who was there and
handy. You guessed it, coward that I was, I didn't mention that I was the
one that goofed this up.
over thirty years has gone by and as confession is good for the soul, if
either of the Andersons --or their wives --or the MARS operator reads
this, they will learn who fouled up this call. I did but am still thankful
I was 9,000 miles away when I did.
Sherman said, "War is hell" and I would agree and might add that it's even
true in the days of phone patches.
early years of Vietnam, the long distance phone charges for phone patches
were "reversed" and were paid by the family or friend the Marine was
calling. As these Marines were taking casualties, it seemed a shame, that
inexpensive as these calls were, families or friends had to pay for them.
point, my company. Farmers National of Omaha agreed and sent a letter to
each of its 2,000 clients asking if they would care to pay for these
calls. The response was so favorable and so great that for the rest of the
war we were able to run as many free calls as the Marines cared to make.
Marine Corps found they had free calls, they sent an interesting letter to
the families and friends who received such a call. This letter not only
told what radio amateurs were doing for the Marines, but gave the name and
address of the individual company client who had paid for their call.
mother who received a free call would be so touched by a strangers
generosity that she would spend twice as much calling the individual who
had paid for her call to tell them how MUCH that call had meant to her.
Some remarkable friendships were formed around the country by this novel
arrangement and many of these friendships remain to this day.
Back to the
war. UNUSUAL CALLS
would write a book about the humorous calls that went through, you could
write another book about the unusual calls that were handled.
husband and wife team ran dozens of these calls and one of the most
unusual was the calls they handled for three companies of Marines who held
the TOP half of a mountain while the North Vietnam army held the BOTTOM
half. The Marines were not in any particular difficulty as this was a
planned operation, and they were to be relieved in about a month.
these calls unusual was that the MARS station was with in ear shot of much
of the combat action and families and friends at home could often hear the
sounds of battle over the phone patch.
thought that home folk in the States hadn't heard the sound of warfare
since the Indian wars when husbands and sons were firing out of the log
cabin windows while family members in the cabin were loading and handing
them their rifles.
months I was running calls into the States for Marines who had been
wounded and were in the hospital on Okinawa, an island not far from
there were no technical problems with these hospital calls, there were
many EMOTIONAL problems.
Marine was wounded and in the hospital a phone patch was normally not run
until the Marine was well on the road to recovery. Though the wife or
mother might know that their husband or son was coming along fine, she was
seldom aware that he MIGHT be calling her. The result was that when he DID
call, she was taken by surprise, was often at a loss for words and
occasionally became hysterical.
frustrating for the hospital, the Marine, his family and for we amateurs.
We agreed (reluctantly) that the only way to correct this was for us to
alert the family in advance about the up coming call.
these extra calls alerting the families would about double our work load
and would drastically reduce the number of calls we could get through from
Vietnam. We got around this in a novel way. A large Omaha company agreed
to have THEIR people call the families around the country the day before
the calls came through. All we would have to do was get the list of up
coming calls to them from the hospital.
to perfection and it was satisfying to run those calls the next day. The
wives and mothers KNEW the call was coming and were ready for it when it
did. If any one ever got full satisfaction out of the phone patches, it
was these families on the hospital calls.
hospital calls marked a turning point in the lives of both the wounded
Marines and of their families. By the time the patch was run, the first
shock of the wound was over and the lives of the Marine and the lives of
the family would forever be marked by this major event, neither would EVER
forget the wound -- or this radio call home.
after this session with the hospital, the Marine Corps asked if I would
like to visit the hospital on Okinawa and meet the friends I had been
sounded great, and I went, and it was and it enabled me to present a
plaque to the hospital commandant from the people of Omaha, Nebraska.
While there, I had the opportunity to operate the MARS station at that end
for a few days, and run patches in to the States.
back, nothing could match the heart felt thanks of a wife, or parent who
through a miracle they felt WE had performed, had put them in to voice
contact with a husband or son on the other side of the world. We amateurs
were not paid for what we did but were more than adequately compensated
with the sincere thanks of these good people. For our part, we were
grateful for a hobby that made this all possible.
How well I
remember the days of OPERATION HELLO.
Click picture to enlarge
Hugh Tinley has been a ham since 1962. He retired as president of
Farmers National of Omaha, the largest farm management company in the US,
and also served as a volunteer for the US Departments of Agriculture and
State, briefing overseas embassies on agricultural issues. During
the Vietnam conflict, he originated Operation Hello, running phone patches
for serving Marines and their families. Tinley remains active in the
Service Corps of Retired Executives, Rotary Club and Amateur Radio.