My Vietnam Experience
I arrived in Vietnam late December 1968. I remember spending Christmas day in Dalat as I was in transit to Qui Nhon. Like most veterans, I have mixed feelings about my experiences. They are part of who I am. They are also part of history, history that should be shared. I have links to over a hundred photographs that show my perspective of the war. I will admit that my experiences are very different from others who were there. In the future, I will post some of my stories here, so that others will understand.
Since my background, prior to entering the Army, was in communications, it was natural that I would work in communications. I was an amateur radio operator since 1959 and just prior to entering the army, I was a broadcast engineer. I was assigned to one of the most elite communications unit, the 362d Signal Company, otherwise known as tactical troposcatter. In the history of the 1st Signal Brigade, it was written:
"If they gave medals to machines, troposcatter would rate the Navy Cross, the Congressional Medal of Honor and just about every commendation for fighting the enemy. It has been credited with saving more lives and killing more Communist guerillas than any other single weapon introduced into the Vietnamese fighting. One senior officer claimed that no one would have been driven from Vietnam if troposcatter had been available in the early 1950s."
Most people have never heard of troposcatter, so let me tell you about it. Today's two-way radios, with the aid of satellites, can communicate anywhere in the world. Forty years ago, satellites were just being introduced. The radios that were used in the field were basically line-of-site. Their range through the jungle was less than a mile, making them almost useless. There were Army companies who set up VHF repeaters on mountaintops to pick up the signal from the radio and retransmit it at high power to other radios, so that operations could be coordinated. The problems came when the commander was fifty miles away. VHF has a range of perhaps ten miles. Short wave is acceptable at night, but is erratic and often unusable, especially during the summer months.
At the same time, in the United States, the problem existed for the telephone company. They needed to get telephone signals hundreds, or even thousands, of miles. The telephone company put microwave repeaters on hills and bounced the signal from hill to hill to hill. In a war, it is difficult to put microwave repeaters on every hill. It takes personnel to install, maintain, and defend these repeaters. Troposcatter was the solution.
By now, everybody has seen "weather radar" on newscasts. Radar will bounce off clouds. In troposcatter, you aim the antenna at clouds half way between the two ends of the system. When the signal hits the clouds, it scatters and some of it reaches the distant receiver. When the telephone company sets up their microwave, the output from the antenna is in the order of 100 watts Effective Radiated Power. In a troposcatter system, the power can be over a million watts. Instead of taking five or ten microwave stations, we did it in one shot. Thus, the soldier in the field could talk to his commander as easily as if he was just over the hill, even though he was fifty miles away. Without troposcatter, communications would have been very difficult or impossible.
Tactical troposcatter used equipment that could be picked up and carried to any location within days. The dish antennas were collapsible for easy assembly and disassembly. The first generation of antenna was inflatable, but that did not work out too well. (I wonder why!) Everything could be carried in a two-and-a-half ton truck or helicopter. At the site, there was a permanent troposcatter system called "Long Lines" which was tied into the unreliable telephone system.
Duty on the mountain was not bad. It is partly the luck of the draw. I took over a hundred pictures. Some of the pictures are not the best quality. That was partly due to the camera, an Instamatic. It was partly due to the fading and deterioration of the slides. The slide scanner left much to be desired. Of course, some of the poor quality was my lack of skill in photography. I wish that I had had a digital camera, but a lot of people would have liked a digital camera in 1968!
The first two pages are pictures of the city of Qui Nhon. They are shown in the order in which they were photographed.
In 1987, I went to Hong Kong and China. I was astonished by Hong Kong. There were so many cars, busses, trucks, trolleys and other means of travel. The buildings were huge; twenty, thirty stories. I had never before seen a Rolls Royce, but I saw a dozen or so. Everybody, even the workers, were prosperous and the city was as modern as any American city. When I arrived in Shenzhen, China, the streets had very few cars and most people were on bicycles or on foot.
I walked some of the streets, just as I had in Vietnam twenty years earlier. I found little difference. The buildings were single story, with dirt floors. The stores had little to offer. It was pathetic. It was like giving a child a job, only to return hours later and finding that nothing had been done. It was obvious that the people had no prosperity. I visited a factory and my presence attracted the attention of some of the workers. It appears that they had rarely seen an American. The workers were isolated from the rest of the world.
That night, I attended a banquet for local "businessmen" who were probably Party members. It was lavish. At least, in Hong Kong, the workers had a good standard of living, so that the opulence of the factory owners was not offensive. I understand that things have improved in China, but I cannot forget how dismal China appeared during my visit.
The next series of pictures is the mountain and the fantastic views. I wish that the pictures were better. Maybe I can find a way to clean them and get better scans.
Next are pictures of the detachment. It should give some idea of life on the mountain. Despite all of the protection, including sandbags, drums full of sand, and guard towers, there was very little action. I know that I was a target on a few occasions because I heard the bullets whiz by my ears, but it was mostly quiet. The luck of the draw!
On a couple of occasions, I saw action, in the distance. I took a few photographs.
I have several pictures that I cannot identify. I posted them on this page.
The pictures that I posted were compressed for easy downloading. If you would like an uncompressed version of any photo, you may contact me and give me the number of the photo. (Put the cursor on the photograph and right click. Select "Properties" and observe the number on the window. It will begin with "V" and end with ".jpg")
I would enjoy comments on these pictures. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org