Navy-Marine Corps MARS in Vietnam

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Laying Tiles At Mary Baker

I'll never forget the time I got orders to report to KR6MB.  It was the year before the first ground action in Vietnam would begin, 1964,  The routine rotations of units arriving for the Far East tour as a part of battle readiness training called Lock On, would end with our tour. Training took us from Okinawa, to Mt. Fuji Japan for cold weather, several amphibious exercises in Taiwan and all the rest in Okinawa. Around mid tour came the infamous Fifty Mile March up into the great Northern Training Area.  I'm proud to say I was a Grunt.  

On liberty call I used to drop by Mary Baker and shoot the bull with the operator, whose name I've forgotten.  BSing with him, I learned of the whole Amateur Radio network (soon to become the Navy MARS network)  and I naturally shared my own Amateur Radio experiences with the operator. Before I'd shipped out  of Pendleton in the U.S. for Lock On, I'd dropped by W6IAB's old Quonset hut antenna farm in some dusty gulch and Bob Rotella had snapped up my FCC license information.  So during forced marches in Okinawa, I'd be humping along with the 3.5 Rocket Launcher on my shoulder and flash a glance up at Mary Baker as we departed the base.  

My weapons platoon was billeted in the last barracks on the south side of the road, right next to the ocean. I shudder to think how much that real estate actually cost. One day while squaring away for inspection my Squad Leader said, "Report to the company office."  I walked up a few buildings and reported in the usual formal way, standing at attention..."Private Malsbary repor"......the Top interrupted me before I could finish.  He was real loud. 


    "I guess they need an operator for the radio station," I said reaching for my wallet, "I have a license...."  

    "Pack  you  gear!  You will report to that station by 1700!"  He might have said "dismissed" or "Good luck." he might have said "Why don't you give me fifty push ups before you leave."  It didn't matter. Next thing I know, I'm on the road with my sea bag heading up the hill to KR6MARYBAKER! T..A..D! I later found out that Corporal Littleton the head of the Marine Corps stations on Okinawa had arranged for my orders.  For some reason I could understand Top did not have a spare jeep to take me up to the station, 

     The operator of Mary Baker was due to leave the next few days, 'cause somebody had to let me in.  In a day or so I was alone in the station with a full compliment of Collins radio equipment, gear the operator had trained me on during a few of my visits.  Now, up to then my equipment as a kid had been with a 75 watt CW transmitter, a World Radio Laboratories- Globe Trotter with a Knight Kit VFO.  At Mary Baker, I was tuning up a Kilowatt Linear Amplifier!  Collins! And ohhh the signals that came over that receiver! I loved the Marine Corps more than ever.  One morning during that first week I opened the front door of the station to watch my units with full combat gear rattling up the road, heading out for that Fifty Mile March.  At that moment I missed them and felt very lonely, I even didn't want them to see me watching, so I guess I must have turned too on making Mary Baker better than ever.  Some one had left some black tiles and mastic in the corner of the block building. 

The station had established schedules with W6IAB and the station at 29 Palms. But with everyone off the base for the march, there were few Marines calling home. So after running a few calls, I started laying tiles. The previous operator told me he definitely didn't like the cement floor.  He wore starched white Special Services shirts with KR6MB embroidered on the pocket and kept his gear and quarters very squared away, so I took a lesson and continued the esprit by doing the same plus laying this tile floor.  I worked all day and on into the night.  I didn't want anyone to say that I or my station was not squared away.  It was good duty and I wanted to perform well without any trouble.

By midnight the floor looked terrific. I guess the tile floor had been the plan all along because there was an old filthy buffer and some floor wax in the back of the station. So on into  morning, I waxed and buffed, the heater going and I remember there were spots where I had put too much mastic and if you stepped on it with bare feet, you could see an  imprint of your toes.  But I learned to thin out the mastic as the job progressed and as the wax build up toward morning, the floor looked great.  With the heater and the flammable mastic its a wonder the whole station didn't explode. Job done.  Deck waxed, my rack was tight, Mary Baker was spotless and I was ready for any visitors.   If there was ever such a thing as a Gung Ho radio operator it was I.

Today, during correspondence with a young Marine in Iraq he said he had just come from duty at Schwabb, So as history and the Corps march on dealing with the awful realities of this troubled world I know that tile floor or at least Mary Baker and Schwabb are still out there looking out toward the East over the wide Pacific. That tile floor with all that wax should by now look unbelievable.

Semper Fi Mike Malsbary, February , 2007, Corporal - Weapons, 81 Mortars 3/7/3, MARS, FMF PAC 1964-1967 

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