10:21 | 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.
Keywords : Mac McCahan Vietnam DCA Defense Communications Agency Thailand combat tour communications Five Oceans Hotel engineering switchboard operator 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.
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.
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.
Artilleryman Sammy Davis was assigned down in the Mekong Delta, where it was just a lot of rain and water. This had spurred the innovation of a battery on pontoons that could be deployed on water. The locals were friendly and he considered them his friends. After all, they were the reason he was there.
Lt. Clebe McClary told his dad that running Recon patrols was a lot like hunting back home. It could be deadly, though, especially if you were the point man. He describes two of his men, one of whom he's still close to and one who was destined to save his life.
The Air Force rescue crews flying the big helicopters known as the Jolly Green Giants began to get respect among the pilots of other services because they excelled at retrieving downed airmen. Pilot Dave Oliver was on one such mission, which was going badly, when the commander asked if was he willing to go in without waiting for backup. The situation was dire for the men on the ground so the answer was affirmative. He would be awarded the Silver Star for this action.
Sammy Davis received a harmonica from his mom, which meant he had to learn how to play it. Since his guard duty was on an artillery battery, he could play it while keeping watch. This became an indispensable part of life in the unit.
When someone at work made a comment that America had lost the Vietnam War, Roye Wilson was shocked. Our soldiers never lost a battle there. The politicians decided they would leave and they did. To him, it was an honorable enterprise and the only right course at the time and it is his belief that it contributed to the fall of Soviet communism.
It could be tough getting resupplied in the field in Vietnam. Medic Marvin Cole nearly had a Chinook land on top of him in the fog. He and his medical platoon performed missions treating civilians in their villages and he relates a chilling story of a child used by the enemy to attack one of these operations.
The sergeant was only 27 years old, but he was a mean, old sergeant to Sammy Davis and the crew in the artillery battery. His mom had sent some fishing gear and he and his buddies caught fish in the Mekong and traded them in town for whatever young men go looking for in town.
Following a harrowing first day of combat, Tom Buchan was surprised to find hot food flown in and cots to sleep on. He managed to finally get himself on a tank crew through sheer will and intelligence. It was the day he helped out one of the APC crews, though, that earned him recognition.
Platoon leader Bill Pearson sent out a squad to set up a night ambush and when they made contact, it was with a much larger VC force. With the rest of the platoon, he set out to find them and bring them back. When he located the besieged squad, the battle became intense and they were in danger of being wiped out. In a desperation move, he called in artillery on his own position.
Sammy Davis had made a big impression in boot camp, so big that the drill instructor pulled him aside and told him he had a lot of potential. After artillery training, he was off to Vietnam, where he experienced a memorable first night.
While he was beginning his shift as the night duty officer, Lawson Magruder would marvel at the wrecked helicopters brought back to base. The brigade had moved and tactics had not been adjusted for the fact that there were anti-aircraft batteries up near the DMZ. He relates the story of LT Dick Anshus and a downed pilot who were captured.
It was the most intense action he saw during the war. Mike Morris describes the hour long battle with an NVA unit that made an unusual frontal assault. When daylight came, it was a grim scene, with hundreds of enemy dead.
His company command at the Cua Viet River was just the way Richard Jackson liked it. He was given free reign to take care of his area. He describes the tactics he used to fight the enemy and recalls one memorable fight in which his men and an NVA unit charged at each other in darkness.
After the column was devastated by an NVA ambush, wounded Americans were scattered in the darkness. After his captain heard one such group calling for help on the radio, Freddie Owens joined a patrol to find them, guided by a gunshot every few minutes. Once there, medic Daniel Torres volunteered to stay with those who couldn't move and protected them through the night with medicine and a machine gun.
One night, while Laurie was eating dinner, the USS Sanctuary got a call about a plane crash. She vividly remembers the patients coming aboard, and the aftermath of this incident, including one boy who was MIA. However, as difficult as this experience was, this was nothing compared to the Tet Offensive. They had new wounded coming in constantly, and trying to care for all of them at once was emotionally exhausting. (Interview conducted at, and with the assistance of, the Military Heritage Museum- https://freedomisntfree.org/.)
It was hard to find the enemy. Charlie would disappear into his holes and only come out once the Marines of Mike company had left. Richard Jackson's men tried probing the ground with sharp sticks, but they broke too easily. What they needed was steel. Thus was born the "Mike Spike." Part 1 of 2.
In a letter home, Tommy Clack expressed his worry that something bad was going to happen and it did when his unit engaged the NVA near the Cambodian border. He saw the enemy soldier stand and fire the RPG that changed his life forever.
As Marine Captain Ron Christmas fought to regain the city of Hue, he found the enemy adept at concealment and surprise. Every soldier in a spider hole was armed with a rifle and a RPG launcher. His action during this time earned him the Navy Cross.
The RPG that severed Joe McDonald’s foot didn’t kill him. The machine gun fire that hit him as he still tried to help others didn’t kill him. The grenade taped to his hand might have killed him if the VC had found his hiding place.
They were hunkered down after fierce fighting when the call came from "Ghost 4-6." It was a group of wounded men who had pulled themselves together after the ill fated march to LZ Albany and were lost in the dark. George Forrest sent a patrol to find them, and in an incredible act of bravery, medic Daniel Torres stayed through the night with them and saved many men. Captain Forrest still had to write a gut-wrenching letter to the mother of a missing soldier. Part 3 of 4.
It wasn't any ragtag Viet Cong, it was a battalion of NVA that was assaulting the artillery battery where Sammy Davis was stationed in the Mekong Delta. After an RPG hit his gun, he regained consciousness and found his position nearly overrun. After firing every round he had, he saw a wounded American on the other side of the river. He knew what he had to do and his actions brought him consideration for the nation's highest military honor.
Sammy Davis was recovering from serious wounds when a visiting General Westmoreland told him he had been put in for the Medal of Honor. He had rescued three wounded comrades during a furious NVA assault, but to him, he was just doing his job.
It was round after round of surgery for wounded Marine Clebe McClary after several hand grenades worked him over. He was a white lieutenant from rural South Carolina, and a black man from Charleston saved his life at the cost of his own. The blood is red and the uniform's green and the rest doesn't matter.
When the producers of the movie Forrest Gump decided to use film footage of Sammy Davis receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor, he became known as the real Forrest Gump. This was a great way to introduce himself to students as he traveled the country speaking at schools.
He didn't see a lot of snakes, but the wildlife was plentiful when Clebe McClary was in the field in Vietnam. The birds were beautiful, the monkeys were annoying and the water buffalo did not like Marines. As for the enemy, he could not be trusted at all and the truces were a joke.
Doc Edwards was the unit's medic and whenever there was a spare moment, he was training the men in the artillery battery on life saving techniques. This paid off when the position was nearly overrun and everyone in the unit was injured. Sammy Davis woke up in a hospital in Japan after saving three wounded comrades despite being seriously wounded himself.
There was plenty of hunting, fishing and sports for Clebe McClary growing up in South Carolina. He wanted to enlist in the Marines right away, but was persuaded to go to Clemson. After a time as a football coach, he saw an American flag burned and that was it. Straight to the recruiter he went and during basic training, he was selected for OCS.