I served in
RVN as a field radio operator from Jan until late April 1967. We
returned to Okinawa on a BLT (float). While having a little R&R and
undergoing additional training, I happened to notice a 20meter YAGI
antenna on a tall tower. I proceeded to the station and met the chief
operator there at Camp Schwab. Upon discovering that I had an Amateur
license he asked me if I wanted to become an operator in the Navy/Marine
Corps MARS program there on Okinawa. I told him I was interested and
before long I had orders for duty with the MARS station at Camp Hansen. I
also worked a short time at the station at Camp Foster for a little
indoctrination training. My MARS and Amateur call signs at Camp Hansen
were N0ETH/KR6MH respectively.
We had a very
busy operating schedule at N0ETH/KR6MH. We ran many phone patches and cut
many MARSGRAMS on RTTY, which were relayed to the US. Our highest priority
became running phone patches back to the US for transient personnel. These
guys were either headed for RVN or on their way back home to the US. It
was extremely important that they be able to talk with their loved ones
back home for obvious reasons. We also ran many phone patches for the
permanent personnel at Camp Hansen. This was always given a lower priority
since these guys could make calls more frequently. The only exception for
giving them higher priority was Emergency situations. Amazingly we always
managed to get everyone in on a daily basis as long as radio conditions
were cooperating. We had a card file (before computers) on all the
permanent personnel with all the required information, i.e.: dates, home
phone number and their phone number on base so we could call them directly
at their duty station, and patch them thru. Permanent personnel were
limited to one call every 2 weeks except during emergencies. This was done
to allow as many personnel as possible to have a chance.
for the MARS station at Camp Hansen was outstanding. Everyone on base was
always there to help with any maintenance items at the station if needed.
Prior to a Typhoon, we had to take down the antennas and tie them down.
I was amazed at how many personnel from all ranks showed up to pitch in
to help. Without their help I could not have managed the task by myself.
They even sent pole climbers to take down the 15 meter beam off a 40 foot
There was one
instance that I remember when I was running some RTTY traffic over the
air, and the phone rang. The call was from a Colonel who wanted to make a
phone patch. I was interrupted while talking to him by another call on a
different line, about the RTTY traffic I was sending to another station on
the island. While talking to the station operator on the other end I had
forgotten about the Colonel who was on the other phone (he wasn't on hold
so he could hear my conversation with the other operator).
After about 3
minutes I realized that the other phone was off hook sitting on the
operating desk. I then remembered I had a Colonel on that line waiting. I
quickly picked up the phone and he had already hung up. The next thing I
heard was a pounding on the station door. It was him, and he was very
unhappy with me to put it mildly. All I could think of was being busted
or losing my position at the station. I managed to calm him down and had
arranged for him to come back to the station that evening and I would see
what I could do to run a patch for him. He came back that evening and the
patch I ran for him was excellent. He was very pleased, and had forgiven
the earlier incident. That was one lesson I learned about paying
attention to the phone and never leaving anyone hanging on.
Being a MARS
operator during that period was a very rewarding experience. It was great
to see the many happy faces with those who got to talk home. The morale
that this service provided was beyond explanation. It was a great feeling
to help these guys and after a while I even got to know some of the family
members on the other end, by running so many patches. The hardest ones of
course were the family tragedy patches. Some of these were difficult for
me as it was sometimes hard to keep control of both parties, but somehow
it always worked out. Being a MARS operator in the military was one of the
most rewarding experiences I have ever had.
stations listed above were my steady phone patch schedules, however there
were many other stations whom I worked on an occasional basis who really
helped a lot with many fill-in between regular schedules. All of these
people deserve a lot of appreciation for all they did.
note, the operator at the station at Camp Schwab was Bob Mattson, whom I
have met after many years after the military days. We continue to be good
friends and keep in touch with each other on a continuing basis. Guess it
is a small world.