Navy-Marine Corps MARS in Vietnam

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In early 1967 N0EFJ was the MARS station for the Third Marine Division Headquarters (Forward) base camp in Phu Bai, Republic of Vietnam. It was about 60 miles north of DaNang, the main division HQ. I had been a MARS operator for four or five months and we had improved the station from a 'van' in which three operators worked and lived, to a real building with a waiting room for troops trying to call home, an operations room with our radio equipment, and sleeping quarters. The entire building was about the size of an average two car garage but we were proud of it. It had been built and furnished by our own sweat and.... trading phone patches for what we needed. Bill Biggs, my mentor (and best friend) was the best scrounger and trader I have ever known. Somehow he acquired the stuff we needed to do our job. I'll never completely understand where he found most of it, but if we had to have it to run phone patches, he traded for it.

He came home with a 100 watt, AM broadcast band transmitter the size of a small refrigerator. He said someone was going to get us a new telephone pole for our inverted 'V' for the in country net, but we had to provide an AM radio station for the Phu Bai area. So we strung up the longest dipole I had ever seen and started asking for tapes of music from friends back in the world. I played 60's rock and roll and Bill was a jazz nut, so we played that. We took requests but you had to provide the music if we didn't have it. We never said "Good Morning, Vietnam" but instead identified ourselves as 'N0EFJ, the tower of power in the north of the south, the Voice of Vietnam'.

One afternoon I saw a Marine staring at our new log periodic antenna. He had obviously been in the bush a while, and even more obviously recognized the LPA for what it was. When he saw the call letters on the sign, I knew I had a new operator. I recruited Jim Kuhl immediately. He was in Third Force Recon and was reluctant to leave such a tight unit, but the lure of the Collins equipment in the station won. I didn't know it then, but I had recruited my replacement at 'Juliet'. 

Gunnery Sergeant Harry Boggs, WA4RPE, showed up at N0EFJuliet one day with news. Third Mar Div was moving north. The main headquarters was moving from DaNang to Phu Bai, and 3rd Mar Div Fwd was going north to Dong Ha. Phu Bai was civilized by then and we knew the real action was up north, meaning that's where the grunts who needed the phone patches the most were. He and Bill flew north to scout out a location for a new station. The original NAVMARS station in Vietnam was N0EFA. Alpha had been in DaNang since day one, but it was being closed (actually changed to N0EFDelta) as the new division HQ station would be Juliet in Phu Bai. The new N0EFA would open in Dong Ha, just a few miles south of the DMZ. What a plan!

Bill told me he and Harry wanted me to go north with them but it was my choice. Like there was a choice! I had already packed my stuff and didn't even bother to get orders. I just jumped on the first C-130 going north. Jim Kuhl replaced me and another ham was brought in to help run Juliet.

Dong Ha was scary. Nobody had mentioned to me (and obviously to the generals who made these decisions) that we were within easy range of the big 152 mm artillery and 144 mm rockets in North Vietnam. I figured I was good enough to handle it...  until about 0200 my first morning there. My first job upon arrival had been to dig a 'fighting hole' near the back door of the station and I was glad I had completed it when the first rockets came slamming in. Nobody had ever told me this job was going to be easy, but nobody had ever told me ham radio would be like this, either. The North Vietnamese Army never sent us a thank you card for allowing them to use our tower with it's log periodic as an aiming stake, but we know they appreciated our efforts.

But we ran phone patches like there was no tomorrow. When the band opened to 'patch quality', we would get our own Pacific Bell operator (my favorite was Delrae) in the local phone company for our gateway station, and she could take five to ten phone numbers at a time and stack the collect calls back to back with no time lost between calls. When it was busy we limited the calls to three minutes and let them run longer when it wasn't so busy, and could average fifteen to twenty calls an hour. On a night with really good propagation we had been known to run seventy five phone patches, but fifty was a great night. 

At Alpha I also recruited Jim Elshoff, another Force Recon Marine and ham. To this day we remain close friends.

Barry Weathersby W6YDK, is once again active in MARS as NNN0JKZ.  He married his "favorite" operator Delrae when he returned to the World to work at N0ANP.      Back to Top