Navy-Marine Corps MARS in Vietnam

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November Zero Echo Foxtrot Bravo

1st Marine Air Wing, RVN

1966 -

Phil Barnes-Roberts   William Darnell

Amateur call N0EFB was relinquished in February of 2005 and is not in use.

Bud Rosenberg was at 29 Palms when I bounced into the station, all of 13, wanting to get my license.  He and several others helped me with code practice to 5WPM, and administered the Novice exam in '59, so I could be WV6DZS. Bill Richardson (callsign??) from Odessa TX) was Elmering me with a 40M transmitter, single-band version of a WRL Globe [Chief or Scout?], a 6AG7 driving a pair of 6125's (12V 807's.)  Bill got transferred, I wound a final tank coil good for probably 15 meters, and had a nice TVI generator.  Never did get on as a Novice.  In '60 we got orders to El Toro, and Don Salisbury there helped me get the Technician license. 

After boot camp, ITR and avionics school in Memphis ('64 and '65) I went from El Toro (H&MS-13) to Iwakuni.  Who do I run into there but Bud? 

"The General at Division in DaNang has a MARS station.  The General here at Wing wants one too.  We're going to clean up and fit out a Mark-32 van and go down there and run some phone patches for the troops.  Don't worry about the Phantoms or the radar shop, I've got some friends in G-1." 

Two weeks later, my orders were in.  We got the van out of Okinawa, cleaned it up, painted it aluminum (why try to hide with green?  We were going to be in a Wing headquarters area - an old French compound.)  A couple of Japanese carpenters came over from the Iwakuni boat ramp, and measuring with unmarked wood slats, cut two holes in the van, welded up angle frames, and slid two (different-make) air conditioners into the frames - they fit with a 'click'. 

We put black-painted plywood over the teletype mounts for a tabletop, with Plexiglas over that (a place for references.)  We stripped the station and filled up the remaining space with trading goods from ServMart - we were going to an admin outfit, after all.  Bud's fridge, my bike and seabag, and we were on our way. 

Unloaded from the C-130 on the dusty ramp in DaNang, outside a tin shed that was the transient terminal, we made our way to the Wing HQ.  We were told that it would be a few weeks before we could situate our station.  Bud disappeared into the Staff Club, and the next day, we had a spot, on the slab that had once been a garage (sloped on one side) across from the old French mess-hall.  With a canvas fly over the van, and one (never both) of the A/C's on, it was pretty nice.

Listings started about 3 in the afternoon, and 20 was opening up to our gateway at NAS North Island (San Diego) at 9 or 10 at night.  I had to transfer to H&MS-11 to the Radar Shop to keep drawing pro-pay, so I'd work the three-thirty to twelve, ride the bus back around the airfield, get some mid-rats at the mess-hall, and come back to the station to work the last half.  At 1 or 2 AM, 20 would fizzle out, and 15 would open to Hawaii, which was great for some of the folks from Kaneohe, with family still there.  It was tolerable for the desperate customers, who couldn't reach home earlier, since a call from Hawaii was still cheaper and more likely. 

The ones that got me were the Hospital Corpsmen over at (was Charlie Med really at China Beach?)  They saw the possibilities and ran with it. We had a EE-8 crank phone (in a green bag) on the bench.  Many attempts at a patch ended with "Moment Operator, sir, are you working? 'click'" but some really memorable patches came from the HM2's who lined up the listings bed-by-bed, put the phone on a trolley, and ran it down the line, week after week.  These guys were shot-up, going to be heading to a hospital, but at least back in the World, and the line that most sticks in my memory is, "I'm all right, Jeez, they're only holes, Ma!  Uh - Over!"

Of course, Gen. Bruno Hochmuth had to come see us, and had his picture taken at the mike.  Most of our patches were in person, not over the (somewhat unreliable) phone system, so customers sat around outside smoking and shooting the breeze until it was time, and they climbed over the bottom-door (this van thing used to sit in the bed of a six-by, right?) to get in, sit down in front of the mike and talk to loved ones. 

We brought along a Drake 2B with the S-Line and 30S-1.  It turned out the passband tuning on the Drake could nail a woman's voice on SSB and the sensitivity was better than the 75S-1.  We proved it to ourselves many times, by swapping the phone plug between the two during a patch.

Many years later now, of course, but even some at the time, I appreciated the fact that we got people talking to each other  rather than shooting at each other. Even the couples on the verge of divorce could patch things up in real-time; like the entire CONEX box of mail that was lost over the side of the ship down in Cam Rahn Bay (so we heard) became part of the fix-up. "I been writing every week, Honey, and I don't get any from you, either, then suddenly it's a bunch all at once." And one divorce that was sort of consummated by patch; this NCO and his (almost)-ex had just a few loose ends of business to clear up, and it was Sayonara time. Sad, but it takes all of it together to make a world. Some come, some go. Some learn.  Ham Radio changed my life so much, I had to get back into it and give a little back. I teach a little (General upgrade), hold an occasional   J-Pole workshop, serve in the local club (W6KA, Pasadena Radio Club.)

Phil Barnes-Roberts


At the outset of the Navy/Marine Corps MARS program I was a holder of the callsign N0AQN with an amateur radio callsign of K4ZBG. I am still active and still maintain the callsign K4ZBG, however over the years I was not able to keep active in the Navy/Marine Corps MARS program and my callsign of N0AQN has been reassigned to another individual.

However, during the period January 1967 and March 1968 N0AQN was a valid callsign for me and while I was stationed at DaNang, RVN, in the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing I was Officer in Charge (OIC) of of both N0EFB (at DaNang) and N0EFC (at Chu Lai). OIC of the MARS stations was an additional duty for me as I was the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing Flight Equipment Officer.

N0EFB was the gateway station for all Navy/Marine Corps MARS teletype traffic out of country and one of our gateway stations in the U.S. was Omaha, Nebraska but I can't remember the callsign. (editor's note N0HFO)

I remember my troops running phone patches at all hours of the days and nights for the Marines that hung out waiting for favorable conditions . I also remember my guys canvassing as many switch boards they could reach through out our area and as far north as Dong Ha allowing Marines in to make calls even while under mortar attack.

Staff Sergeant Joe Cutitta USMC was my NCOIC for the MARS Station in DaNang during the period and if you can locate him he can fill you in on a lot of details. And, if you do locate him he can tell you the wild tale about a "brick radio station" we had built there.

Major William M Darnell, U.S. Marine Corps Retired