Story 32 - Two Stories from US Army Signals

By Robert Stephens

Teletypes and Officers
(Link to Nui Dat)

US Installation on VC Hill, Vung TauIn 1967 I was assigned to D Company, 41st Signal Battalion.  We were not actually part of the 41st, being assignaed to the 39th Signal Battalion.  How that all came about is the subject of another narrative, and not needed here.  D Company operated the tactical communications in the area of Vung Tau, a city in Vietnam located on the South China Sea.  I worked, most time, at what the Americans called Vung Tau Relay, a mulichannel radio site on VC Hill, which stood above the city, between it and that part of Vung Tau Bay where the Saigon River entered the sea.

We had multichannel systems going to various points, including two between us and Tan Son Nhut Airbase.  We also had a system between the hill and the Australian Task Force at Nui Dat.  We had a team there to operate a AN/MRC-69 terminal.  We had a large number of telephone and teletype circuits going to various places, some terminating, some just patched through us to and from other places.  We had one teletype circuit which was patched through to the Australian area.  That circuit was one belonging to the Radio Research Units (RRU).  That was the name all Army Security Agency units used in Vietnam, for unknown reasons.  Regardless of what name they went by,  their circuits always had high priority and were guaranteed to be trouble if they were not kept working properly.  That particular circuit was a sixty-words-per-minutes (60 wpm), four wire, full duplex circuit from their headquarters at Bien Hoa.  As with all their circuits it was fully secured, with all traffic encoded.

Map showing circuit routeThe circuit ran from Bien Hoa to Long Bien on cable, from Long Bien  to   Tan Son Nhut as one channel of  a microwave system,  from TSN to us on one of our sytems, and was patched over to Nui Dat on our system, and was finally carried to the RRU area at Nui Dat via a "Spiral-4" cable.  Once a circuit such as that developed trouble it became a problem to get everyone concerned to start checking what had to be checked in order to find and correct the trouble.  Different people at different locations had different ideas about how to go about fixing troubles, and also had their own ideas about how much they would do to isolate the trouble.  Being in the middle, we should not have been the responsible party to control the troubleshooting, but our officers sometimes had other ideas.

For example, in the summer of 1967 we received a report that the circuit was out.  Bien Hoa RRU had already gone "lowers," that is they had taken their crypto equipment off-line, making it a regular teleytpe circuit so the signal people along the way could check the working.  As long as they had been encoded all we could receive was scrambled teletype.  Bien Hoa had not only gone lowers, they had put a "RY" test tape on.  That involved a short loop of punched-paper tape which would send a steady stream of the letters RYRYRYRY, etc, which was the standard teletype testing and adjusting signal.  Bien Hoa RRU was good at helping because they realized their circuit could not be restored without such help.

The RRU people at Nui Dat, by contrast, always refused to go lowers.  I checked our reception of the Bien Hoa transmission and we were receiving perfect RYs.  We did not have any distortion testing equipment but both Long Bien and Tan Son Nhut did and they both reported the signal well within distortion limits. As the terminal people would not go off-line, the next best thing we could do was have our people at Nui Dat put a "loop-back" on the circuit, feeding the signal coming from Bien Hoa back to them, thereby testing everything on the circuit path except the terminal equipment at Nui Dat.  Bien Hoa reported the signal was coming back perfect.

Australian SIGINT operators (547 Sig Tp) working from Nui DatAfter making some other tests, all working fine, it became time to try and get some sense out of the Nui Dat RRU people.  They were positive they had no trouble and would do very little to help.  The first twenty-four hour period of outage went past with no progress.  We had already been receiving telephone calls about the circuit.  Our lieutenant had been on the site almost full time, getting steady briefings because the battalion operations (S3) officer, a major, was after him to do something.  The S3 was responsible directly to the battalion commander and there was no doubt that person was also yelling for updates.  The company commander had also come to the site and again I had to interrupt my work to brief him in detail. I told him about the trouble we were having with the Nui Dat RRU people who insisted their equipment was working but not having any maintenance people to check it out fully.  Their maintenance support had to come from Bien Hoa and there was no chance of getting any soon, or so they claimed.  I asked the company commander if the 39th Signal Battalion could send a teletype repairman to Nui Dat.  He said he would check on that but it would take time as our repairmen were not "cleared" for access to RRU areas.  The request would have to go through channels all the way to Saigon and back in order to authorize the required security clearances.

The circuit was out for a full three days before we finally managed to get one of our repairmen into the RRU shelter.  The S3 major and company commander, in those three days, had  spent much time on the hill, flat out telling me the trouble had to be at our site and we were going to be in big trouble if it was not corrected.  They were both, along with our poor lieutenant who knew little about what we were talking about, continued to jump on us, especially me, as I was doing most of the testing and reporting.  I had even drawn up a paper diagram of the circuit in order to explain why the trouble could be no place except in the terminal equipment but the major did not care to look at anything or hear anything other than an outage completion report.

TH-5/TG which was part of the Telegraph Terminal Set AN/TCC-14The third day our repairman finally got in and within five minutes he had changed a defective TH-5/TG (see details below), the interface equipment between the teletype machine and the voice frequency circuit, restoring the circuit.  I expected to hear from at least one of the officers who had been on my back.  When I reported to the lieutenant all he said was that's good, or some such thing.  The company commander nor the major ever said a word, neither coming up or telephoning to admit I had been right all along.

TH-5/TG  Telegraph terminal, Frequency-shift keying, Used with standard tetetype machines, Vacuum tube based, Mark 1325 Hz, Space 1225 Hz, 20 Ma loop, Maximum speed 100 WPM (75 Baud), 115 VAC, 50-60 Hz, 65 W, Worked with 4-wire (full duplex) or 2-wire (half duplex) circuits, 15 Lbs, TM 11-5805-246-10.

Comment:  This circuit was most likely connecting to the Australian Unit '547 Signal Troop' who role was Signals Electronic Warfare (EW) and worked with the US Army Radio Research Units (RRU). 

The Memory Of Alfie

VC Hill, Vung TauFor thirteen months or so in 1966-67 I was assigned to D Company 41st Signal Battalion at Vung Tau, Vietnam.  We operated all the tactical communications which terminated or passed through there.  My duty station was a multichannel terminal/relay on top of what the Americans called VC Hill.  As far as people in charge were  concerned, for some reason we were left out most of the time.  We went through at least eight noncommissioned-officers-in-charge (NCOICs) in that period.  As far as officers went, I totally lost count.  I do remember that the longest serving one stayed less than a month, while we had one who came up at 1700 one day and had been transferred by morning.  Such turnovers did not allow any of us to get used to our "leaders."  The only officer I can now remember by name was Alfred P. Davidson.  He is not memorable for being a good officer or for staying with us an extended period.  I remember him because of a little puppy.

One of our men had a little puppy which he named Alfie, a lively little thing, hard to keep up with.  One night when things were slow several of us were standing around in front of the site.  Our building had a sandbag wall around it, with the entrance blocked by a section of wall, offset so that there were two sides to go around in order to enter.   Alfie was with us but all at once he took off around the blast wall and ran into the building, with  his owner close behind yelling,  "Damn it, Alfie! Come back here!"

Things went quiet and seconds later the soldier came back out carrying Alfie.  He glanced back inside the building,  than told   us that when he ran inside Lieutenant Davidson  had been standing in the hallway.  The soldier had caught Alfie, picked him up and said, "I was talking to the dog, not you, Sir."  He came back out without waiting for a reply.  We went on with our conversations and laughing about Alfie.  About five minutes or so passed and Staff Sergeant Dixon,  our current NCOIC, came out, glanced back inside and asked what we had done to the lieutenant.

We told him what had happened and he had a good laugh.  He said he had been holding the laughter inside, trying to keep from laughing out loud in the lieutenant's face.  LT Davidson had entered the office, sat down at his desk, and after a long pause had said, "Sergeant, these people have no respect for officers."  He had been so serious, both in tone and look, that Dixon had to control himself until he could get outside.   

Robert Stephens

Back   |   Story Index   |    Next
If you would like to add a story to this Web Site, please email with details.