"Stories from 1963 Phu Lamers"

Kenneth Terry John Buquoi
Ronnie Bolden James O'Keefe
James Schumacher

1. KENNETH TERRY 2/63-3/64

First of all, I would like to compliment you on your fine site, Connie did a great job, although I don't know her, I say thanks. I served at Phu Lam in early months of 1963 to early months of 1964, when I was in Vietnam the longest you could be assigned was twelve months, I was extended one month beyond that.

I was a fixed station transmitter repairman, and have looked for a long time by searching for a site like yours on Phu Lam. I am glad that such a site was set up and that it was done so nicely. I could only receive one promotion while in vietnam, so I ended up as an acting sergeant, as a trick chief at the site. The only thing I could remember without looking at records, was that we were the STARCOM station.

Enjoyed seeing pictures of Mr. Taoi and somewhere I saw Mr. Hoan mentioned, one other civilian was there at the time, a Mr. Tongue, spelling may be wrong. We had a man named Chin who acted as our driver to get us to our hotels. I lived in the Capitol Hotel in Cholon, and then the Plaza in Saigon.

I was surprised to find that the site had grown up so big over the years. The Starcom station call sign was ADK, we worked with ADD, AIC, and ADL stations. Tropo Scatter was just starting, had a civilian who maintained it for the government, he was associated with Philco Ford I think. Many things happened while we were there, we had the Presidential Palace that had been destroyed when we arrived, we had the president of Vietnam, Diem, killed while we were there, and a lot of bombings and threats of such action. Had a nice theater for us when we arrived, but it was taken out by satchel bombs, etc. We had passports when we were there, we were under MAAG, then MACV. President Kennedy was killed while we were there also.

We had ARVN troops on the perimeter for guard duty, but the main guard duty was from US forces that were brought in at night, from the air base. We had contact with the helicopters from the air field outside Saigon, and a radio set up in the transmitter site to communicate with them if ever needed. We used the call Limelight and they used the ID of Little Joe. Anyway, those were the good old days, we had a small detachment of MP's for guard duty.

This was a very small picture taken of the transmitter room at Phu Lam, was in 63 or 64. I was a trick chief then, but not for sure of actual date, believe it was late 63 sometime, but not for sure. The boxes on the floor were probably associated with the new transmitter behind me being installed near the time of this photo. Two men were TDY from Okinawa and helped us with this and other projects at the transmitter site, as did the Vietnamese civilians who helped us maintain the equipment. I think the specialists name was Baker, but the Sgt., I am not exactly for sure of his name.

The big white streak going up at an angle above my head was a florescent lamp, like used for lighting in the building. We always had one taped to the open transmission line to tell if the transmitter was up on the air and putting out the rf. We were never for sure what was going to happen to that lamp if we got attacked, if the transmitter was on the air, the lamp would still have been putting out the light.

Enlarged the picture to 300 % and could see some test equipment on the desk, but the main item on the desk would have been the typewritter for the station log.

There was another line of transmitters straight across from me. To my left was a lot of vacant space to the back of the building. We had some test benches set up in this area and spare parts, test equipment. Spare parts sometimes were hard to come by, we had an IG inpection and the Sgt. from Okinawa was running at full speed ahead of him to put fuses in the ac fuse boxes, I had no idea we were operating on wire for fuses.

Straight out of the back of the transmitter building was bunkers, many others were scattered around the compound. At the corner was a guyed microwave tower, probably fit in the category of a portable tower. Near it was a 50 caliber machine gun mounted on an anti aircraft mount on the ground near a guard tower.

To the right of me was the entrance and rooms to store c rations and some weapons. These rooms were small, as was a room for the TRC 24 radio equipment,a little room on other side of building. Also would have been the patch panel and some equpment for teletype and our receiver for site testing.

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2. JOHN BUQUOI 10/63-11/63

The 3rdRRU 'occupied' Phu Lam intermittently for about three months in late '63...from sometime in August thru November 2..1963

Phu Lam was the location of the first operational 'mission' that I worked in Vietnam during my assignment to the 3rdRadio Research Unit (3rdRRU)...that was in October/November 1963..

.....we had a team of probably 18 VN linguists manning two trailers (maybe it was just one) doing some highly sensitive intercepts, the nature of which may still be mostly classified...I don't know...

....As I described it in response to an earlier inquiry from a friend who had preceded me at the 3rd, "Yes, arriving on October 10, 1963 provided a more than sufficiently exciting first month...lingies were in extreme high demand for a little mission out at Phu Lam...the product of which we carried back to the 3rd in ammo cans rigged with WP grenades ("If we're stopped, pull the lanyards and try to get out...!" Uh, huh!)".....

.....At that time, we had about 12-18 guys from the 3rd working 24/7 in two trailers that had been hastily thrown up behind and to one side of the two large, squarish antennas that appear in many of the pictures on your site... We jeeped in and out of the site via Plantation Road from Davis Station, Tan Son Nhat and worked 12 to 24 hour shifts...Phu Lam itself appeared to be virtually unmanned except for our guys at that time...there were no other facilities to speak of (I do remember a small office/storage type building with a lot of shipping containers addressed to 'Operation Back Porch'...I have remembered for 35+ years how ironic I thought that name was!) and, during my time there, I don't think I ever saw anyone from outside our unit...that may be understandable due to the extreme sensitivity of the mission and 'need to know'...

I do well remember the eerie silence and the wide open night views at Phu Lam...and the feeling that you were sort of out beyond the 'fringe'...kind of a 'Close Encounters...' place and feel...at least for this then young kid...

When I was there, there were only two antennas (as I recall)...both were surrounded by a gravel pad and a border (maybe railroad ties?)...there was a sign in front of each cautioning against standing near the antennas or within the border due to effects of high-power RF energy.

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3. RONNIE BOLDEN 1/63 11/63

I was in Viet-Nam the first time from Jan.63 till Nov.63. I was in the 232 Sig Co 39Th Sig Bn. We live on Tan Son Nhut airfield. The compound had 3 companies in the same compound. There was the 232 Sig Co, the 362 Tropo company and some MP company. I can not remember the MP company name. When I was there the 232 sig company operated the Radio vans @ Phu lam. We had the Radio vans that were at the Big ant: on the Phu lam site. There was 2 army green vans & 2 Air Force Blue vans at same place. I was there when they had started build up the phu lam site. They were working on the roads coming into the site. I worked mostly with the 232 Signal guys, but the guys from the 362 worked the Tropo Vans where the big ant was located. The Guys from the transmitter site and Com Center, I think that they took the same truck to work that the 362&232 guys took.

I remember the ASA guys we did not think of them at the time, because we did not under stand what they was doing but we got along pretty with them, we stayed to our self and they did their thing. I remember that the ASA guys worked around the clock monitoring the commo that was going inn & out or through my vans.

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4. JAMES O'KEEFE 7/63 1/64

I was there from July 63 to Jan 64. During that time the 39th Sig Bn was in charge of Phu Lam. Twelve men were shipped from parts of Nam to the 39 Sig Bn to start security duties for the site at Phu Lam. Also some men came from the 178 Sig Bn. The 12 men from the 39th Sig Bn which we call ourselves the Dirty Dozen, were in charge of guarding the site at Phu Lam. Sgt Godsey was in charge of this group of men, and we call ourselves " Godsey minute men, but later "The Dirty Dozen" Some of the names are jimmy root john lemar. There were also Vietnamese Civil Guards, and MP's. The MPs consisting of two men were station at the gate that enter Phu Lam. Then 30 men guarded the site at night until 8am in the morning.

When I was there, there were no bunkers. Just four towers and two posts by the antennas which was post 5 and 6. The towers were 1 to 4. I remember climbing those towers, and some time hearing pings. Later the Arvins build bunkers of sand bags for post 5 and 6. The nights were the scary part.

The only building there were two for the communication equipment. We slept in the communication Build until a hut was build for us to sleep at night during our time off. But for the first couple of months we slept at our post while one man kept watch. The tower was like a world of their own. We were fired off and on at times. Also was there when Diem fell.. The civil guard slept most of the time. In fact we were the only ones that was guarding that site, not the Vietnamese.

There is no record of us being there, but that isn't nothing new to the guys that were there. While I was there one of the MP that I because friends with shot himself in the mouth. When we first started to guard that site, our weapons consist of three 30--one 50 and our weapons were M1 carbines, 45 Grease gun and 45's. Later they took our world war two weapons and replace them with the M14. and when we went to get the ammo, We were told that the ammo for the M14 didn't arrive yet. So we went to Phu Lam without ammo for two days, Lucky no fire fights happen, the only fire we had were matches. Around Dec 1963 some of our men went home, because those thousand man deal.
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I was in phu lam got there about late 63, as I recall, and stayed there till about august 64. I worked in the teletype repair section, was E5 at the time. I lived in a hotel in Saigon, I don't remember the name, but we ate in a hotel across the street. When I first went there worked in MAAG bldg.

I'm sending you the picture of the old main gate at phu lam as it was when I was there. The picture was taken in early 64,when you got off the hwy from Saigon. We went down this road, and this was the entrance to the base past this checkpoint swung to the left towards the gate. The signs were in Chinese and Vietnamese warning people to stay away. I seem to remember that at that time we had VN irregulars helping us to patrol. I will have to think about my time there and put it in writing it has been quite awhile ago.

I will tell you about an incident I caused. We just got some 60's and I was the instructor. Then the 60's were brand new and just being tested. I was showing some people how to use them. I was going through the loading procedure inside the main bldg. The gun was facing the wall. I took a belt of ammo and put it in the tray, closed the receiver and the gun went off. I had to grab the belt and twist it to stop the gun. Later a modification had to be made as this turned out to be a fault with the gun. When I left there the holes were still in the wall, about 8 or 9 rounds. I got the devil about it.
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