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Navy-Marine Corps MARS in Vietnam

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N0EFA

N0EFA

November Zero Echo Foxtrot Alpha

3rd Marine Division, RVN

Jim Carter   John Buynak  Barry Weathersby

Amateur call N0EFA is held by Nathan A Houseman and expires in 2008.

N0EFA -

All that I can tell you about the "first" MARS station was that it was developed and installed while I worked in the 3rd MarDiv CEO shop in 1965. Col Von der Hyde (sp) was the Division CEO. Major Pishock and Major Bynack (sp) worked in the shop and put together a plan to bring it into country (Vietnam). One of the Majors flew back to Okinawa and returned with the shelter. It was installed up near the Division Command Post where the General's Bunker was located.  General Lew Walt was the Commanding General of the Division at the time.

Again, if I am correct the first call (early one morning) was to be made by some Marines that were shot up and being treated at Charlie Med (at the foot of the hill). The General was down at Charlie Med to observe the first call.  It was also the General's anniversary. They planned and made the first call to Mrs. Walt and surprised the General with that. After he completed the call (which was short) they started processing calls for the Marines that were at Charlie Med.

Semper Fi, Jim Carter (CWO-4 retired) Gunner type    Back to Top

THE BIRTH OF MARS

CHRISTMAS DAY, 1965  DA NANG, VIET NAM 

Prior to his departure from Viet Nam in the fall of 1965 Major Ed Driscoll (Col. Driscoll, USMC (Ret.) informed me, Major Jack Buynak, (Lt.Col. USMC (Ret.) that amongst other items left behind at Okinawa was four complete sets of Collins radio equipment.

In early December, I was directed to return to Okinawa to deliver current maps, and other classified documents to Col. Wilson, (CMC. Ret.) G-3, 1stMar Div.  Knowing that I intended to locate the Collins equipment I requested a set of orders for a ham licensed operator to accompany me. (I donít recall the name of the Sergeant but he set up the entire operation.)   During my conversation with Col. Wilson I mentioned that I intended to hunt down the materials and equipment left behind by3rdMarDiv. and deliver them  to Viet Nam.  He directed me to an officer who would be able to assist me in finding the material including the Collins equipment.  

In a conversation with BGen. Henderson, ADC, in late November 1965, LtCol. Hank von der Heyde, (Col. USMC Retired), CEO, 3rd MarDiv, mentioned that he would like to establish a radio link for the purpose of patching telephone calls back to the states.  He also informed General Henderson this was prohibited by Viet Nam law. Upon the Generals next visit to Saigon he requested permission to establish a radio station which would be used for morale purposes only. The General returned to Da Nang with a letter authorizing the use of Amateur Radio transmissions from Viet Nam to the U.S. 

After locating and inspecting the radio equipment, the sergeant and I went to 3rdFSR to locate a radio van that might serve as a station.  We did find an appropriate van that was removed from a 6X6 and prepared it for shipment to DaNang.  We also located a steel antenna mast, height I canít recall. I then went to the Fatima Marine Corp Air Facility commanded by Colonel Phil DeLong.  He informed me that he had a C130 being rotated to Da Nang the next day and would arrange for transporting all of our gear. 

Once the equipment landed in Da Nang, Major Herb Fogarty, (Col. USMC Ret.)  CO, Div.Comm Co., was assigned operational control of the station.  The station was set up near the Div Command Post, in the vicinity of the bunker.  A number of test calls were patched through Hawaii and Camp Pendleton.   A reliable schedule was then established with Camp Pendleton.  Captain Steve Pishock, (Major, Ret.), was assigned the responsibility of setting up a schedule for use of the station by all personnel. Time and dates were allocated by unit strength with emergency calls having a priority.  

On December 25, 1965, General Lou Walt cut the ribbon activating the station. In the presence of General Walt the first official phone patch was placed from the bedside of a wounded Marine at Charlie Med.  A total of 24 patches were made on Christmas Day to the families of Marines back in the states.  General Walt stated that this was the most rewarding day of his time spent in Viet Nam.  In as much as a MARS call sign was not issued at that time, I believe the sergeant used his own call sign.

 THESE ARE THE FACTS.  THE REST IS NOW HISTORY.

Lieutenant Colonel John Buynak, USMC Ret.

Call signWB4ABQ

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INCOMING....WHAT GENERAL?

 One Wednesday evening in late 1967 the operators of MARS station N0EFA in Dong Ha were waiting for the band to open to 'The World' so they could run some phone patches home for Marines and other combatants near the DMZ, but the ionosphere and Father Marconi weren't being particularly cooperative.  It was near the top of the 11 year sunspot cycle but HF (high frequency) long distance communication was still a crapshoot of sorts.  The station itself was physically divided into three equal sections.  The western most area consisted of a waiting room and a small booth to allow some privacy for a phone call.  There was a hard wall between that area and the operating area, with a window between the booth and the operator.  The operating room was filled civilian radio equipment designed for ham radio operators and foreign to military communications types.  That room was connected by a door to the living quarters for the operators which was connected to a porch with a shower and a door to the outside on the east end of the station. 

It was a typical MARS station, constantly visited by the troops but usually avoided (and it's existence sometimes denied) by the brass.  We might as well have been running a whorehouse on the compound, although the service we provided was more important and a hell of a lot more popular. 

That night I was sitting at the patch console in the operating room next to the window to the phone booth, but the band was slow to open.  There came the rumble of jungle boots on the plywood floor from the waiting room.  I looked through the window at the surprised Marine in the booth and wondered why everyone was moving.  "Incoming?" I asked.  He replied, "Incoming?"  It echoed.  "INCOMING?"

"INCOMING!!!"

"In F..ing Coming!!!!" 

The station evacuated in less than ten seconds.  Our escape hatch was a small hinged door on the south side of the operating room.  It opened into the entrance of a long 'Z' shaped trench about 5 feet deep covered with timbers, PSP (perforated steel plate) runway matting, and about 6 feet of sand bags.  We never took a direct hit on it (although many 144mm rockets and   152mm artillery rounds came damn close), but we had built it ourselves and were fairly sure it could handle one.  The other end of the 'Z' was the entrance near the door to the waiting room. 

Bill beat me to the bottom of the hole and Jim was behind me and since the waiting room had been crowded, there were a lot of Marines in a very small, dark place.  Somebody said, "I didn't hear it." Then, "must have been a dud."  But some smart*ss PFC said, "Ah don't think it was no incomin'."

"Then what was it?"

"Ah think it wuz just everybody jumped up when that General walked in." Bill eyes got big.  Mine, too.  The bunker was very quiet but it echoed in my brain, "General?  What general?" Behind me, Jim chuckled. 

Bruno Hochmuth, Commanding General of the Third Marine Division, said from the other end of the bunker, "Yes.  I may have caused the commotion.  Can we get on with the phone calls?" 

Jim laughed, but The General's voice had enough command presence to empty the bunker as fast as it had filled and although I could see the shock on Bill's face, he levitated himself out of our end of the hole and was at the other end helping The General out before I got outside.  He convinced General Hochmuth that it would be in everybody's best interest if The General would come to the operator's entrance when he wanted to call home and wait in the operating room.  Bill (an E-6 Staff Sergeant) and The General knew each other and I could see some camaraderie between them.  Seems they had worked together, fairly closely, in the past and either I was never told the circumstances or they escape me today.  But Bill knew him well enough to tell me to fix him a particular drink with some ingredient forbidden to enlisted men and I did and was shaking so hard when I gave it to him that he laughed. 

The General insisted he wait his turn to make his call and that we limit him to the official three minutes, so we put his call through as soon as the band opened and let him talk until he was through.  He then advised us he would be back every Wednesday evening at whatever hundred hours to call home.  Unless the band was totally dead, when he knocked on the operator's door on Wednesday nights, His Wife was on the line and his favorite beverage was next to the phone. 

I understand General Hochmuth was the highest ranking American officer to die in Vietnam, his helicopter shot down by ARVN artillery.  We were ready to place his call and make his drink that Wednesday when we found out.  I've heard a lot of stories about what a hard-ass he was and I'm sure they are true, but everything I knew about him was from listening to his calls to his wife every Wednesday. 

Semper Fi, Bruno

Sgt Barry Weathersby

Barry Weathersby's original site depicts much of N0EFA's history USMC MARS Operations in Vietnam.

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