“I have a spare magnetron with me, sir, so getting a magnetron out of depot is not the problem. It’s the labor time to clean the waveguide. And I don’t think we could clean the T-R tube. We could install new but I doubt there is another one in-country,” I continued in my most respectful tone, sure that a bit of supplication now would pay off later.
“We can’t have the mortar locator down for that long. Can we get another unit?”
“The only ones I know of that aren’t in service belong to the ARVNs in Saigon. Col. Suel pulled some strings to get them assigned as our training aids. But, I have a friend who deals in off-the-books requisitions and he knows a lot of people. There’s bound to be a junk one sitting around that we could requisition.”
“That’s a time honored military tradition. I hope you can pull it off,” said the Col.
All armies everywhere cannibalize. At the southern end of the Ho chi Minh trail was a junk yard of damaged trucks that the VC, crackerjack mechanics all, dismantled and loaded on empty trucks headed north. Those that didn’t make it that far were taken to pieces along the road and loaded on northbound trucks. Frames and other pieces that were too big to load were left to rust in the jungle. If the VC could do that with entire trucks I should be able to strip useful parts of scrap radars.
The next morning the Capt. walked me to the radio room and introduced me to the radioman. Like all radiomen he had the nickname “Sparky.” He could put through radio-telephone calls to almost anywhere. I had him patch me through to the 3rd Field Hospital which had a well known number. The operator there connected me through to DB. Sparky handed me a headphone, used so the conversation didn’t go all over the camp in case someone opened the Public Address mic. It had happened — One time when the previous commander was talking to his girlfriend in Saigon. That may not have been an accident.
“Hello DB. It’s Tom -over.” I had to tell Sparky when I was finished speaking so he could douse the transmitter and switch to receive mode. The transmitter circuit automatically shut off the receiver. because of that there could be no over-talking one another like a regular phone conversation. The convention was to say over, as in over-to-you. For some reason DB didn’t have to do that on his end.
“You don’t have to shout,” said Sparky. It’s not tin cans and a string.
“Tom, how are you. Surprise to hear from you.” DB’s voice sounded tinny, almost unrecognizable on the single-sideband transmission. Single sideband was used to conserve power and to cram more transmissions into a single frequency band. It was not conducive to socializing but we tried anyway.
“I heard you were headed up-country.”
“News travels fast- over.”
“Yeah, its the jungle drums. Listen, Halftrack wants to know if all his boxes got on. His boss told him you might put the plane overweight.”
“His boss? Who’s he working for this week- over?”
“You sure? They went on to Phnom Pen and then Rangoon. I heard them say they had to carry extra fuel to make the trip and that’s what made the weight critical. What’s Shackley got going in Rangoon? -over.”
“So, did all the boxes get on board? That’s what’s going to Rangoon. Shackley’s got some other drop-off in Phnom Pen. Mike didn’t say what.”
“Yeah so far as I know everything got on board. What’s Halftrack shipping? – over.”
“I can’t tell that you but I can tell you that we spent all our money.”