Navy-Marine Corps MARS in Vietnam

Home Up N0EFS StoriesClick on thumbnail pictures for a larger view or on underlined text to go to a new location.



November Zero Echo Foxtrot Sierra

Naval Support Activity DaNang, Monkey Mountain, RVN

Amateur call N0EFS is not assigned.

"It was a life changing experience. Without a doubt, the most significant experience of my military service, and probably one of the most significant events of my life. The feelings of accomplishment and having performed a worth while service are more than I can describe in words. The feelings that go along with being able to give a wounded Marine, a home sick Sailor, or a Ground Pounding Grunt out in the Boonies the chance to call home are beyond description."

Dan Gannon, USN, N0EFS, 2/69 - 2/70

I have been a licensed Amateur Radio Operator since high school (first licensed as WA5ANF in 1960), and when I enlisted in the Navy, because I had a Ham Radio License, I was enlisted as an RMSN (E-3), a Radioman Seaman.  My first active duty assignment after boot camp was at the Naval Station in San Diego where I had a great job working in an engineering group that redesigned the radio spaces aboard ships that were being modernized.  Then I did one of the things they tell you to never do in the military -- volunteer.  I put in a chit for a change of duty station and, hoping to get closer to home in Texas, asked to be transferred to the Navy MARS Station at NAV8 in New Orleans.  Well, when my request hit BUPERS and they saw MARS and that I had a Ham Ticket, they thought Vietnam and the next thing I knew I was on my way to the Nam. 


After Survival School at the Amphibious Base in Coronado, and an abbreviated version of ITR at Camp Pendleton (San Onofre), I found myself in DaNang.  When I first got into country they were hurting for Navy Radiomen that could copy high speed CW, so my first stop was a 90 day TAD assignment to the Hospital Ship, USS Repose, AH-16.  There I worked primarily in Radio Central handling CW traffic – twelve hours at a stretch at a mill in headphones copying CW traffic.  During that time LCPL Mike Linger was the MARS / Amateur Radio Operator aboard Repose, operating under the ships MARS call, N0EFW, and his own Ham call, WA5MOE/MM R3.  When I could, I helped Mike with phone patches, and for a period when he was on leave, tried the best I could to fill in for the great job he was doing. 


November Zero Echo Foxtrot Sierra


After I finished the TAD assignment on the Repose, I was then assigned to the Navy MARS Station belonging to the Naval Support Activity (NAVSUPACT) DaNang, N0EFS.  The station was located inside the compound for the Navy Receiver Site on the top of Monkey Mountain on the end of the Ten Sha Peninsula and overlooking the South China Sea.  You could not ask for a better location for a Ham or MARS Station, except for the fact that there were “little people” all around shooting at GI’s.


When I first arrived at Sierra, the CHOP was RM2 John Burnett, and RM3 Ric VanSistine was the other operator.  I was an RM2 and was designated to take over as CHOP when it was time for John to DEROS the following month.  At that time the station was crammed into a small, and I mean SMALL "shack" that was about the same size and shape of a porta-potty, in fact, I think that is what the little structure had been built to be -- a portable latrine.  Where the stool would be we had a small shelf that would barely hold an S-Line, with a Henry 2-K under the shelf and a Johnson Matchbox on top of the S-Line.  The HAM-M rotor control for the rotor for the Log Periodic Antenna and a 24 Hour clock was somehow hung on the wall.  There was only room  for one person to hunker down in front of the rig to operate that lashup. 


Sierra Gets a New Station


Finally, after some serious begging, regulation cumshawing,  and down right stealing, we managed to scrounge enough material and Navy Sea Bees to build a regular "hooch" to house the station.  We found an Army Master Sergeant in Army Supply in DaNang that loved to call home, and we worked out a deal where he was always the first person to call home any night he wanted.  In turn we got a window air conditioner for the station, along with an entire pallet of plywood, a truck load of Styrofoam that had been used to pack mortar and 105 rounds, several gallons of stain and varnish, and several sheets of Plexiglas to make windows.  Later we expanded  the agreement with the Sergeant to include a couple of cases of Chevis Regal and Crown Royal any time we got thirsty and he was ready to call his wife in Boston.  Such a deal !!


Before long we had two full S-Lines and two Henry 3-K amps up and running.  --  thanks to the great efforts of Walt Henry at Henry Radio to make sure we got very latest and very best he had available.  One station was our primary phone patch position and the other was the back-up and the "in-country” position.   We could get about 3KW PEP out of those amps, and with a Log Periodic 75 feet in the air on top of a mountain overlooking an ocean full of salt water, we had one hell of a signal out of DaNang, RVN.  


Sierra and N0RTW --  What A Team! 


Our gateway at Sierra was the fantastic N0RTW at Barstow, and we were their primary in-country station for phone patch traffic.  And did we run phone patches!!  On a good night (morning in the states) when the band was in good shape, we could knock out 100 to 150 phone patches during a single schedule on 13,927.5 KHz LSB (give or take a few KHz to avoid QRM).  And, we did get QRM from Chinese and Russian CW and RTTY stations, and often from Russians jamming our frequency.  When that happened, we would do a quick QSY up or down the band or sometimes have to go "split" to a previously arranged alternate frequencies.  (What the hell, the statute of limitations has run on all this by now anyway.)   We did some really crazy stuff some nights to keep the phone patches going.  A few times we even went split on different bands – transmitting on 20 meters and receiving on 10 meters – or whatever it took to keep the calls going. 


Sierra Goes Teletype Capable


One night Bill Biggs and I were talking about how much time it was taking to transmit all the names and phone number for the phone patches and how we could be using that time to run calls if we could get the info to Barstow faster.  Bill mentioned that they had teletype capabilities at RTW, so the next day Ric and I made a cumshaw run to the Navy Teletype Repair Facility down in DaNang, and for a couple of cases of some kind of booze got one of the Navy ET’s to “survey” a complete Model 28-ASR Teletype, complete with typing-reperf unit (tape punch), and Transmitter-Distributor (tape reader) that was in pretty good working condition, and looked very similar to the one in the photograph below. 


Click to Enlarge

 Another stop at the ET shop at the Triangle, and a few more cases of booze compliments of our Army Supply Sergeant buddy, and we were the proud new owners of an URA-8A TU and power supply for a 60 mil loop.  We were ready to put Sierra in the RTTY business.  And, since we were MARS, we could do 100 WPM, unlike the Hams that were still limited to 60 WPM in those days. 


So, in just a few days we were able to start punching tape during the day, and as soon as we came up with RTW at night, send an RYRYRYRYRY Quick Brown Fox test loop so they could sync our signal, and when they gave us the word, put the tape in the TD, and in matter of minutes they had a complete print out of the names and phone number for all the calls scheduled for the night.  Talk about save time and increase the useful time for phone patches we got out of every band opening! 


Right now I have to stop and give credit for all of that happening to two of the greatest MARS Ops of all time, Silent Keys Bill Biggs and Jim Kuhl.  If it were not for their can-do attitude and facility with RTTY and willingness to experiment, we could have never pulled it off as well as we did.  Thanks, guys!! 


Dan Gannon, RM2, USN, N0EFS, 2/69 - 2/70      Back to Top

Remind me to tell you about the night Bill Biggs and I ran a phone patch to General Leonard F. Chapman, CMC, to wish him Happy Birthday on the Marine Corps Birthday in 1969.  He actually took the call and spoke with the contingency from 5th Comm that was in the station at Sierra that night. And, since Bill used Autovon to place the call, Gen. Chapman did not have to accept charges for a collect call from Barstow, CA.

To the best of my knowledge, that was the only MARS call ever placed to any Commandant of the Marine Corps.

Dan Gannon, RM2, USN, N0EFS, 2/69 - 2/70

Back to Top