"Stories from 1964 Phu Lamers"

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Do Toai Ralph Lanham Gene Venzke
Jim Branum Joe Vinson N/A

1. DO TOAI c1964 to c1973

On July 9, 1999, Howard Hickman interviewed Do Toai, who is now, aged 84, living in Fountain Valley, CA.

Do Dinh Toai was employed as one of the four Vietnamese who were hired as maintenance technicians for the transmitter equipment at Phu Lam. He worked only in the transmitter building and worked closely with the PhuLamers G.I.s who worked as operators of the equipment.

Toai remembered these names of those who worked in the Phu Lam transmitter building: Garland, Rasmussen, Bruce, Pfaff, Jorgensen, Hartwick, Atkins, Peter, Gamby, Buchanan, SP5 NCOIC Ellis, Fairfield (early years), Whitfield (black), and a name similar to "Aunne"

Toai was first hired in March 1963, by the U.S. Government. Shortly thereafter, he was assigned to Phu Lam when the first transmitter equipment was installed there. They were only two buildings: the transmitter building and a power plant in the middle of rice paddies. He remained employed in the transmitter building until the transmitter equipment site was shut down during the U.S. phasedown. He then was assigned to the Phu Lam JOSS telephone switchboard for a few months. By that time all the equipment had been removed from the transmitter building. He does not remember what year that was. He was then was assigned to the ROK transmitter site, until that was shut down as well, and he was terminated from employment. Due to his son's work and his own work at NBC Saigon, his whole family received a Priority 2 for Evacuation, and was able to flee on April 24 and 25, 1975, four days before the fall of Saigon.

He remembers the HF transmitter building as being very hot. The equipment gave off a lot of heat. There was no air conditioning, just large exhaust fans in the room.

At the beginning, he remembers that the transmitter equipment failed. He discovered that the wiring had become all wet from the seepage of the rice paddies. Also, early on, there was an explosion at the Power Plant, where one person died. Another person survived, by crawling out a window. There was a 2 day protest demonstration outside the front gate, against either the Vietnamese or US. Government. The protestors prevented him from entering the Phu Lam base.

He remembers Bruce. He wanted to know if there were any local Vietnamese that were fortune tellers that could help him predict the future. Later, he was accidentally killed by his M-14 at Phu Lam. Toai was not on-duty when it happened, but remembers being told that the weapon had been loaded from an alert the previous night.

He remembers that the Vietnamese citizens believed that Phu Lam was just a broadcast station, not an important relay communications station.

He still has a vivid memory of the inner workings of the transmitter equipment. He has very little knowledge of other aspects of the Phu Lam base, as he worked only inside his assigned building. He did attend a once a month party, which he thought was located between the transmitter building and the Front Gate. That was the only time that he ventured away from walking only a straight line between his assigned building and the Front Gate, as was expected of him, to avoid be considered a spy.

The following names are on Toai's various award certificates and personnel papers:
Jan 1964: Jesse C. Hardwick Jr.
Dec 1966: Robert R. Ryason, LTC SigC Commanding
Apr 1970: Edward B. Howard, LTC SigC Commanding
Jun 1972: Maj. Thomas E. Johnson; J.L. Ingersole 8 year certificate
His earliest documents indicate Phu Lam as "Starcom DCS/Station Phu-Lam." A October 1972 document indicates "USARV/ MACVSUPCOM; 69th Signal Battalion. APO 96309"

He has kept in contact with only one other person who worked at Phu Lam: Tu Hoan. Hoan was one of the other 3 Vietnamese who worked in the transmitter site. Toai does not have fond memories of his former country, based on the Communist takeover of his land etc. However, he but would like to correspond with anyone who worked with him at the Phu Lam transmitter building.

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2. LANHAM, RALPH 1/64-12/64

I was at Phu Lam on opening day. First I was in the basement of the MAAG building. Then in Jan 64 we moved to Phu Lam> I was a SGT E5 working mostly in tape relay but did my last few months in the M&R section. I remained there until Dec 64. I have many memories of the time there. It was still in the build up stage when I left. I am still in the communications field field working for the Navy in Yokohama for over 30 years now.

I recall how when it rained the circuits went out because rats had chewed on the wires below the floor cabling causing shorts. I remember having to go to special alert when we had power failure. At the time there were no quarters at Phu Lam. We took the 2 1/2 ton truck from down town Saigon out to Phu Lam. We could not change shifts after dark. There was only two shifts Day and Night shifts. I think I can still find my Phu Lam security access badge.

There was a guy Sgt Schuab (sic) that I knew from Tokyo that came in the fall of 64. There was a guy I think SP4 called BILL DORSKY from someplace like Minnesota. I worked, as I said in the tape relay in the basement of MAAG building until it moved to Phu Lam. I said Dec 64 but you see in your history it was Nov 64. Sure could have been. In mid October 63 there was such a message backlog due to circuit outages because of the heat and bad propagation. I made a courier run from Saigon to Clark AB. I carried a carbine (I don't recall if I had ammo. I doubt it.) I had about 4 burn bags of tapes. I brought back about the same amount 3 days later.

I lived in a hotel I want to say Ambassador but not sure it was on the corner of Hai Ba Trung and the main drag, I forget the street now. I remember the poor quality of the Teletype equipment, it just did not like the 100 wpm. I recall we lost two guys to motor cycle accidents. One was a SGT BERK/Burch (MAYBE). We had a hand grenade thrown in the work bus one time. I was not on it because I took the earlier truck in. Most of the time I worked nights 6pm to 7am with maybe one day off a month. I remember the USO getting lunch there. I recall the navy mess on the top floors of some of the hotels that served a great breakfast for .50 cents. We only got paid 100 in U.S. dollars and the rest in money orders or something.

Another name just came to me I think it was a SSG JARVIS that relieved me in the M&R section. I worked for a while in the back room they called it the JP relay at that time where we only handled flash and TS messages. I recall well the first connections via satellite to Hawaii and HF connections to some air craft carriers off shore of Vietnam.

I recall in July 64 when Westmoreland took over he said he wanted everyone to work a 60 hour week we got a big laugh we would have been very happy to only work 60 hours a week. As I remember it we got one day off a month. I worked a lot of nights 1800-0700 as they only let us change shifts during daylight hours. I do not remember pulling any guard duty. The Phu Lam I worked in was not designed to handle the high volume of traffic that we did.

I remember another event. It was around OCT-NOV 64. A grenade was tossed into the window of the work bus. Daily there was a early 2 1/2 ton truck taking people to work then another bus that took the, I guess you would call ADMIN types HQ co type but we. I always took to early truck. The way I understand it some type of explosive which at that time they called a grenade was put in a window. About six purple hearts were given out for that. Even to some who got cut climbing out the bus windows to escape.

During that time the only way you got combat pay was to get under fire for five days in a month or get a purple heart. Right after that they put the mesh on the windows. 64 was also the year that everyone was changing from the old style fatigues to Jungle uniforms. Ralph Lanham, I went by the nickname Scratch a lot while in Vietnam.

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3. GENE VENZKE 9/64-9/65

I was OIC Plant at Phu Lam from Sep 64 to Sep 65. It was called "USA STRATCOM Facility, Phu Lam" in those days. When I first got there we wore the USARV patch, then switched to the USA STRATCOM patch (currently the ISC patch).

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4. JIM BRANUM 10/64-10/65 & 11/69-11/70

From 15 October 64 - 12 October 65, and from 2 November 69 - 1 November 70 are the dates I serve in Phu Lam.

In 64, I was a teletypewriter repairman, E-5 and they thought I was an E-6 but one Sgt. told the Sgt Maj that I was only an E-5 and that changed. I was on one shift and the E-6 that was over us didn't know his job and they replaced him with me and I serve out my tour being a E-6. I was only 1 block away when a car bomb was destroyed the Brinks Hotel on 24 December 64.

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5. JOE VINSON 3/64-3/65

When I arrived at Phu Lam in 1964 you came in on the dirt road to a small enclosed area through a guarded gate. To the left was guard station and ammo dump.... To the right was Arvin shack... straight ahead was control center, and around the corner of that was my xmittter building.

Another thing that's strange..are the movies with those vulnerable guard towers. As you know we had to pull guard duty from time to time in those things around Phu Lam. I remember being assigned several times to the one furthest out on the perimeter. Down in the back antennae field thru the back gate to the side of the xmitter building..a fare distance from the gate.

Always was like the Fourth of July at night towards the Mekong Delta...Lots of booms from artillery and mortar rounds...I guess all Vietnamese activity because We didn't have any combat forces at the time just various advisor team assignments. Got shot at one night while on top of that thing...someone cut loose with a machine gun going directly over my guard tower. The Arvin with me ducked and I got on the crank telephone to the guard shack...a Lt. Ferguson come running out to tower and told me just to keep a close watch..that was it.

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