6:00 | His expertise in satellite communications landed Mac McCahan a position at the headquarters of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington. That expertise was put to good use on an ill fated mission during the Iran Hostage Crisis.
Keywords : Mac McCahan Joint Chiefs of Staff satellite communications map coverage Iran Hostage Crisis rescue briefing terminal Ft. Monmouth New Jersey MSC-46 Washington DC DCA Defense Communications Agency
When communications engineer Mac McCahan arrived in Vietnam, he had to straighten out an Air Force Colonel who was trying to send him to Thailand, where he wouldn't get credit for a combat tour. Then he settled down to improving voice communications and found out that it was so stressful on the switchboards, operators were committing suicide.
"We don't want your equipment!" Communications engineer Mac McCahan was trying to improve military telephone service in Vietnam and he had to repeatedly reassure units that he wasn't tying to take over, just trying to make the system work better.
They wouldn't tell Mac McCahan who the visitor was, but they told him how many voice circuits were required and that the restoration priority on those lines was "1b." That got his attention because that was the code for President of the United States.
Mac McCahan lost two cousins in Vietnam, Lee and Gene McCahan. If that wasn't bad enough, his brother George McCahan died from leukemia due to contact with Agent Orange. His own luck stayed with him, though, and he kept missing enemy ambushes by thirty minutes.
Mac McCahan never cared for the rule that he had to store his weapon in the safe in his office. When the Tet offensive happened, he had to hunker down, unarmed, in his quarters. When he returned to the States, he was armed only with his dignity as he faced rabid protestors.
Mac McCahan felt like he was doing something great on his second tour in Vietnam. As he transferred control of facilities to the Vietnamese, each one meant that soldiers were going home. Then he stopped at the dispensary to find out why he was suddenly soaked in sweat. Part 1 of 3.
While the doctors tried to find out whether he'd had a heart attack or not, alarming telegrams began to go out to Mac McCahan's family, despite the fact that he'd signed a document directing the Army to send such messages only in the event of death. Part 2 of 3.
The doctors still didn't know if he'd had a heart attack or not, but they sent Mac McCahan home from Vietnam, regardless. Then they told him he was on his way out of the Army. "No. I'm not," came the reply. Part 3 of 3.
Mac McCahan knew he wanted a military career. He had a taste of military life as an Air Force dependent and he secured a congressional appointment to the Air Force Academy, but a run in with an eye chart derailed that. He settled in at Clemson with Army ROTC but a freak accident cost him a year.
Mac McCahan's first assignment in the Signal Corps was in Germany, which was just what he wanted. His wife could experience some of what he enjoyed as a military dependent stationed there. When the Berlin Wall crisis came up, it turns out he had the only American cable splicer in Europe.
In the post-Trujillo chaos of the Dominican Republic, Signal Corps officer Mac McCahan began a long run of finding solutions to communications problems. After restoring phone service by adapting old exchanges, he was able to communicate with Washington by whistling the appropriate tones to establish a connection.
As if restoring communications in the restive Dominican Republic wasn't enough to keep him busy, Mac McCahan had to deal with constantly shuttling back to Ft. Bragg for briefings and an acting Signal Officer who wrote him up for spite. Not to mention lacking the counter sign at a crucial time.
After his tour in the Dominican Republic Mac McCahan began the Training With Industry program. He worked with the New York phone company learning the network and installing phones in the field, then applied that knowledge to military telecommunications.
Communications engineer Mac McCahan caught the eye of the White House when he successfully managed two projects for the White House Communications Agency. The first was extending coverage of the first moon landing to Alaska and the second was managing the satellite link for a presidential trip to Asia.
"This is all classified. I recommend it not be broadcast." That's what Mac McCahan had to say about a script for an upcoming CBS news program. Three weeks later, what did he see when he turned on the television?
The signal battalion was ecstatic when they got in any new gear following the Vietnam war, remembers Mac McCahan. Nearly everything had been left there. In order to jump with communications capability at hand, he crammed a Command Post's worth of radio gear onto an Army Mule cargo vehicle. And what do you call a Mule full of radios?
Assigned a command position that was usually occupied by a Lt. Colonel, Major Mac McCahan sought assurances that he would get no interference because of his rank. He got that assurance and soon, the promotion to Lt. Colonel as well. Then he wound up with a distinctive blue beret thanks to the new Air Assault movement.
Reorganization was swirling around Mac McCahan at the 101st Airborne and he was nearly made battalion commander. After a European exercise where he met two Medal of Honor recipients, he found out that a communications plan for a hospital he'd drawn up had achieved some distinction.
Mac McCahan relates the story of a Chinook that mistakenly strayed into the Korean DMZ and was shot down. Closer to home, as North Korean armor was massing across the border, he tells why his wife became suddenly upset and convinced that another war was imminent. It turned out to be a case of Loose Lips.
Leaving Korea with his family and adopted daughter was a struggle. Striking airlines and visas gave him fits but they made it home and he eventually became an advocate for Amerasian adoption, appearing before Congress to support the cause.
Back in the States and commanding a Signal Battalion, engineer Mac McCahan wrote an article on nodal communications systems that was groundbreaking. He used off the shelf gear and existing installations and improved service for all users.
There was no doubt Mac McCahan was a problem solver. He developed a scheme for bit stuffing that made incompatible gear work together. Should have been a patent right there. Then he encountered a problem that was projected to cost one million dollars and take a year to fix. Would he do it in half the time for half the money? Think again.
The Generals kept asking, why do we lose our satellite link during the heavy tropical rain in the Philippines? The answer, according to communications engineer Mac McCahan, is in the true shape of a raindrop, a shape which is not what you might think.
Mac McCahan has a message for all who served in a support role instead of a combat unit. First, consider yourself lucky, and second, your service was just as necessary and contributed just as much as anyone's.
Justice details a too-close-for-comfort interaction with a vehicle-borne IED. The IED came as a complete surprise and the entire F.O.B. fell into what Justice could only describe as “chaos” immediately following the explosion. She suffered several injuries and had to work with the nurses back in Bagram and depend on the friendship of comrade Colonel Ellison to come back from the injuries.
Galen Hoover and all but one of his brothers joined the Navy as they came of age in the Sixties. He was assigned to the USS Escape, a rescue and salvage ship. He saw 17 countries, including the entire Mediterranean, where the ship's divers assisted the local sponge divers with safety training.
After the big war, Army Air Corps veteran Harold Dudley was active in ROTC at college and participated in extensive MP training. His expertise was tested when he was serving at Fort Benning and given orders to clean up the cesspool at nearby Phenix City, Alabama. (This interview made possible with the support of CHESTER RUST.)
Here Bob Newton talks about many more experiences he had, including an embarrassing close call from Vietnam where his chopper was shot down, then coming back to the states in 1965 and being assigned as Chief Executive Officer of the 82nd Airborne Division. He also helped test a new kind of quick release parachute, and went to Panama's jungle operations school to teach young Latin American kids how to live in the jungle. Finally, he became the director for the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. (This interview made possible with the support of ALBERT SMALL.)
He had joined because of it, but the Korean War ended while Carter Tucker was in submarine school. Without a shooting war, the vessels were used for intelligence gathering and this nearly led to an icy disaster for him on his first patrol off the coast of Russia.
After two tours in Vietnam, Army chaplain Carter Tucker served in Germany and at Fort Benning. In Germany, he was also chaplain to a large civilian population of dependents, who could have it rough in a strange country. Even with all his time as a chaplain, and with his previous service in the Navy, he wonders if he'd done enough.
After responding to the Mayaguez Incident, the USS Coral Sea finished its visit to Australia for a commemoration of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Dan Spahn fondly recalls that visit and, when he returned stateside, he managed to secure shore duty for the remainder of his enlistment. His electronics training served him well in his post-military career.
After the Japanese surrendered, Gilbert Howland was transferred to an MP unit for a while, then discharged. He reenlisted after a year and left for a tour in Italy, guarding Trieste against Yugoslav incursion. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
The Korean War had started when he graduated high school, and though he had started college, Carter Tucker felt the call to join the Navy. At first he was with the Seabee school but he wanted to go further than California so he volunteered for the unique world of submarine duty.
Walter Boomer talks about his promotions up the ranks of the Marines and what it was like to be a leading General. As he's driving to California, the news breaks out about Iraq invading Kuwait, and this completely changes the course for him and his family.
While on Cold War duty in Italy, Gilbert Howland found the time for golf, a little cognac and entertainment in a Trieste nightclub. One of the entertainers became very special to him. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
General Buck Kernan's biggest heroes are the troops and NCO's that helped develop him into an effective leader. He feels privileged to have served with the Rangers. They are still the role models for the rest of the Army and that is why they lead the way.
Tricky situations are nothing new to Walter Boomer. In this clip, he talks about one time in particular that he was caught in the middle of Iraqi territory, with only his other men to count on. To follow up, he also discusses which position he prefers to hold and the debate between soldiers "then and now."
When he was serving outside the Ranger Regiment, General Buck Kernan thought mostly about getting back. When he did return, he began planning the operation in Panama that became known as Just Cause. After an unusual jump with the softest landing he ever experienced, he witnessed the courage and good judgment of two young Rangers.
LTG Ken Keen reflects on the importance of mentors in his career, beginning with the ROTC instructor who talked him into going to Ranger school while still in college. When he retired from the Army, he found a way to carry this forward at Emory University.
Jon Keen was back in Italy training with his Airborne unit when he got two pieces of news. One was that deployments would be extended to fifteen months and the other was that they would be returning to Afghanistan instead of going to Iraq. This time it would be the Korangal Valley which challenged the men and the action began the very first day.
When peace came to Korea, Gilbert Howland's first job was to disburse a giant supply of lumber for the construction of new fortifications. Then it was back to Fort Dix and the training regiment, but it was his next post that he describes as a Christmas present; Hawaii. (This interview made possible with the support of DAVID W. MARQUEZ.)
There was a concern that Saddam Hussein's Scud missiles could be fired against Israel, so a Ranger detachment was one of the units inserted into Iraq to make sure that did not happen. As part of this operation, LTG Ken Keen was helped by the close camaraderie among Rangers, men that he already knew and men that he just met and could trust.
There was one last big action just before his tour was over and then Jon Keen could look forward to returning home. The replacement unit that moved into his position in Afghanistan began taking casualties right away, so nothing had changed. He reflects on the challenges he faced there and how the attack on September 11, 2001 shaped his life.