Control and Reporting Post (CRP)
Detachment 11, 619th TCS
Hon Tre Island, RVN
(To see more pictures of Hon Tre Island and Portcall
Control, click on the picture above.)
The following section was taken almost verbatim from the 619th TCS Training
Manual found at the Air University Library, Maxwell AFB, Alabama.
For more text click on Training Manual.
Detachment 11, 619th Tactical Control Squadron (Call a USAF radar
site located approximately two (2) miles off the on the Island of Hon Tre,
Republic of Vietnam. This detachment unlike all their others, is not
located upon a host military installation and is therefore
self-sufficient. It is dependent upon inter-service support agreements
with neighboring bases/installations. Except for a US Army signal unit and
a training detachment of the 5th Special Forces (Green Beret), it is the
only military installation on the island. Surface transportation is
provided by the US Army by means of LGU coastal vessel operating
from the mainland of Nha Trang. Several trips daily are made from the
mainland to the island between 0700 and 1800 hours.
Detachment 11 is a split level site. The radar operations is located
.on a mountain top (approximately 1500 feet high), two miles from the
lower area. Roads are maintained by support agreement and water must be by
site personnel. The site uses approximately 12,000 gallons of water daily
a-.id a capability of transporting 15,000 gallons exists; thus water
conservation is essential to their welfare. The top site consists of an
operations building, radio shelter, radar building, power production
plant, search -and height radar towers and an Army communications team.
The lower site provides all living, dining and recreational facilities.
These facilities include a small dispensary, orderly room and dining hall
(food for the .noon meal is transported to the top site daily). The site
hosts a outstanding Base Exchange where radios, watches, cameras,
television sets, tape recorders, small refrigerators along with all
essential items and snacks. There are free movies nightly and an Officers
Club and NCO/airmen Open Mess which feature occasional floor -shows from
the mainland. Billets for officers are individual rooms in single story
structures with open louvered screen sides. Senior NCOs enjoy individual
cube rooms in billets of the same structure as the officers billets.
Airmen live in this type structure with two men to a cubicle. Maid service
is available for all ranks. Dry cleaning service is available at Nha
Trang. The operations staff consists of an Operations Officer, Operations
NCOIC, Standardization Evaluation/Training Officer and NCOIC and
Operations Clerk. The operations staff determines policies and coordinates
with associated and adjacent units, monitors the academic and proficiency
training and provides over-all supervision to the three operations crews.
An element of the CFCP is the Air Traffic Regulation Center. The Chief
Controller of the ATRC is responsible to Operations Officers and
responsive to the Senior Director on duty.
Each crew is comprised of a Senior Director, two Weapons Controllers
and a crew chief to supervise the control and surveillance sections. The
KTRC crew is under the supervision of the Watch Supervisor who is in turn
responsible to the Chief Controller. The normal crew work schedule is two
day shifts (07001700), two night shifts (1700-0700) and two day breaks.
Approximately nineteen per crew (excluding ATRC personnel) is the normal
Newly assigned personnel will arrive in country at Cam Ranh Bay.
They will be processed through the CEPO at Cam Ranh Bay. Normally
two (2) days is necessary to complete processing and travel to
Detachment 11. Personnel reporting to Detachment 11 should call the
Detachment 11 orderly room upon completion Of processing at the Cam
Ranh Bay CBPO. CBPO personnel will assist you in calling and
arranging for further transportation to the radar site. All newly
assigned personnel are encouraged to utilize banking facilities at
Cam Ranh Bay and have their checks mailed to the bank.
Nha Trang is a huge Vietnamese resort area. The city is built
on the ocean front and boasts of several miles of beautiful sandy
beach. It has many shops, bars and restaurants, and hotels. All are
very expensive. All personnel are cautioned to frequent only
authorized establishments. Do not eat or drink in unauthorized
establishments. This area has a high Hepatitis rate.
The climate at Hon Tre enjoys warm days during the dry season
and evenings are always cool with a gentle breeze., During the rainy
season field jackets will prove to be comfortable. Rain gear will
also add to your comfort during rainy seasons.
Description of a Tour of Duty at Hon Tre
story is about my time at Hon Tre Island from Nov 67 to Feb 69. It was written
specifically for the 505 TCG web page. The additional stories to which I refer
can be read at a place called the dusty attic of a story writing group called Nerdnosh. The first of these stories can be read through the following hot link. http://www.nerdnosh.org/attic/agn.cgi?v004n100.004. Other stories by Lee Dixon
can be accessed through the author search tool at the end of the story.
Det 11, 619th
Tactical Control Squadron was activated on 21 Dec 65 by PACAF Special Order G-236. It was
initially located at Cam Rhan Bay until some time in late '66 or early '67 when it was
moved to an island located in the South China Sea off of the coast from Nha Trang, RVN.
It was a split site with the cantonment area at the bottom near
the water and the radar facility located at the top. All
supplies to the island came by way of landing craft (I think it
was LCU operated by the Army Corps of Engineers) that loaded on
the beach at Nha Trang and off-loaded on the Nha Trang side of
the island. I mention which side of the island because it was
once said that 5th Tac initially planned to put the cantonment
area on the other side of the island away from Nha Trang and even
had some equipment or supplies offloaded before changing their
minds and going to the other side and the supplies were left
behind rather than moved.
When I say that all supplies came by boat that includes water
because there was no running water on the island. It all came
over in square steel tanks on the back of deuce and a halfs. For
showers the water was warmed by solar energy. The tank at the
shower was painted black and absorbed the sun's rays. Which was
fine but there was many an evening after a dreary day that you
made a trip to visit "the hawk" and it wasn't a pleasant
experience. But the conditioning must have stuck because to this
day I have no trouble taking an outdoor cold shower down at our
summer cottage on the Chesapeake Bay.
The call sign of the tactical radar unit was called PORTCALL.
Half the way to the top of the mountain was another facility
which was the Armed Forces Radio and Television Network for the
central coast of RVN.
I arrived from the 727th TCS at Duke Field, Eglin AFB as a 2/Lt.
in Nov 67. (For more about my arrival see my story "Vietnam
First Impressions".) I was the first 2/Lt. to arrive in
operations and I may have been the first to set foot on the
island. When I arrived the unit had recently moved out of tents
into SEA huts which housed all of the living facilities in the
cantonment area. They had recently survived a near miss on a
typhoon and all of the roofs were scattered with sand bags. All
of the buildings were surrounded with sandbags to waist-high and
back from the buildings to the edge of the concrete walks. In
addition to barracks there were clubs for officers and enlisted
personnel as well as mess hall and command building.
Because the island was mostly a rock formation there was no
sewage system and therefore all the latrines were the 6 or 8
holers into half of a 55 gallon drum. A couple of times a week
all of the drum halves were put in the back of a deuce and a half
and moved to one location where diesel fuel was poured on top and
set on fire. Part of the time a local Vietnamese was hired to do
this task with pay that included a carton of cigarettes. Other
times this rotating duty was pulled by enlisted personnel the
same as KP in the mess hall and guard duty on the perimeter.
The officers barracks had two people to a room and personnel
separated by crews as much as possible so everyone in a room
would be up at the same time or asleep at the same time.
Enlisted barracks were open but metal wall lockers and makeshift
partitions were common. They also were organized by crews.
There were three crews for most of the time that I was there.
The work schedule was 3 fourteen hour nights, three ten hour
days, and three days off with you going back to work the
afternoon of the third day. The work load was much heavier
during the day and even on the night shift it was usually
possible to crawl up into an attic at the back of the S-80
shelter behind the weapons dais and sleep for a couple of hours
between midnight and six in the morning.
The crews assembled near the deuce and a
half's after an early
dinner for the ride to the top. The standard garb for all
personnel for the trip to the top was flak vest and M-16s. All
officers carried M-16's with multiple clips as well as .38
caliber sidearms. The NCO crew chief or his designated
representative usually drove the truck and the Senior Director
rode shotgun. Everyone else rode in the back either sitting on
the fold down seats or standing near the front looking over the
front hood. I usually tried to stand near the front looking our
over some of the most beautiful terrain in the world as the truck
labored it's way back and forth up the switchbacks to climb
several thousand feet to the top of the mountain. For years I
had a set of photographs that I took of the sun breaking through
cloud covers out over the South China Sea in a manner that it
would be hard not to expect the Lord himself to come down through
the sun rays. During the Winter months the truck would depart before daybreak and the sunrise would occur during the trip to
If it was raining we would either have a covered vehicle or
everyone would wear their parkas over everything. At the top
everyone would assemble in a break room for a briefing from the
Senior Director about anything that was different or expected
When I arrived at PORTCALL for the first time I couldn't believe
the volume of traffic that everyone was keeping track of. Later
when I was there Air Route Traffic Controllers were assigned to
the site but when I first arrived the work was broken down into
control by Weapons Controllers of the fighters and flights with
Code 6 (Colonel) or higher and flight following by senior and
more experienced Weapons Technicians (WTs). My first day in the
darkroom I watched the WTs sitting behind a scope and keeping a
log of all the cargo birds (affectionately called Trash Haulers)
and I couldn't believe the volume of traffic he had. He wasn't
watching any traffic on the scope but he must have had over a
hundred birds on frequency at one time. (For more about darkroom
operations read my story "Otis Surret -- A Calming Influence".)
Then I watched the WCs and my heart sank. I honestly didn't
think I would ever by able to keep track of that amount of
traffic. We did no tanker rendezvous at PORTCALL. It was all
flight following of fighters from four main bases. The fighters
and the bases were the F-100s from Phu Cat that came South. All
the F-100s from Tuy Hoa. The F-4s from Cam Rhan Bay and the F-100s and B-57s from Phan Rang. We'd also work F-100s and
occasional A-37s from Bien Hoa that came North. The tactical
birds from Nha Trang that we worked were the AC-47
Spooky gunships. Many times at night you could go out for a break and
see the red tracer lines of Spooky waving back and forth as he
tore up the jungle in protection of special forces camps around
When I first got there the duty at Phan Rang by American B-57s
were still rotating between the Redbirds and the Yellowbirds.
Those were the call sign for the 8th and 13th Bomber Squadrons.
One squadron would be in country and the other would be back in
the Philippines and then ever so often they would switch. These
units had really moved around in the war. By the time they got
to Phan Rang in '67 they had been at Bien Hoa (where several of
them were destroyed on the ramp by the VC) and also at Da Nang.
This a very old book called "The Doom Pussy" about these units.
They had a stuffed cat with a diamond necklace that was in a
glass case. It sat behind the bar in their squadron building.
They turned the cat's back to the bar when the first aircraft
took off at night and stayed that way until the last one
recovered safely in the morning. The Doom comes from when they
were stationed at Da Nang and a reporter filed a new story back
to the States that said the morale was so low that there was a
sign in front of the O'club that said D O O M. The reporter
never thought to check that maybe it meant Da Nang Officer Open
Mess. Anyhow sometimes on our days off we'd check a flight down
to Phan Rang and party with the Redbirds and Yellowbirds. But
there was another unit of B-57s there also. That was the Magpies
from the Royal Australian Air Force and boy could they drink some
Fosters beer. They must have brought it into the country by the
I don't remember all the
call signs of the fighters but some I do
remember include Taco from Tuy Hoa which was the New Mexico Air
National Guard and Hammers,
Sharkbait, and Phantom were all F-4's
from Cam Rhan Bay. I don't remember many of the FAC call signs
but one I'll never forget was Ragged
Scooper. What made that
call sign unique was that it was almost impossible for Americans
to say much less the Vietnamese that might be trying to come up
on our frequency. And don't doubt that it didn't happen as
you'll notice in my story "The Phantom Passenger".
As with all of the sites when the weather got bad we worked extra
hard. The F-4s coming back into Cam Rhan would ask for
individual GCI/GCA. As I recall it began by asking each of the
fighters in a flight of four to start squawking a mode 3 code and
then we'd give them all an in place 45 degree turn for about
three or four sweeps and then another in-place 45 degree turn
back to the original heading. This provided individual
separation as they approached the handoff point for the GCA
recovery. Then we usually just had to have the flight lead
squawk flash and GCA would take a radar handoff for the entire
flight. Which wasn't too bad until you were trying to do this at
multiple bases and while other flights were taking off.
When the weather was bad the F-100s required extra help. This
was because they didn't have any radar. Sometimes they'd be
trying to get home in the afternoon when the "thunderbumpers"
would really be building. We'd give them a vector around the
mess based upon what we could see on our scopes. That old MPS-11
with raw radar would sure allow you to see the cloud banks and it
was invaluable to the Huns. Sometimes they'd ask again if it
really looked clear when we sent them down a long alley before
making a turn through an opening. When they finally broke out
there was always a warm thanks from the aircrew.
Almost always. I still remember a night shift when the weather
was like pea soup. I was passing the time reading a week old
"Stars and Stripes" for the tenth time next to the fellow that
was working a flight of two Huns. I don't recall whether they
were outbound or RTB but they entered some clouds. They were out
over the South China Sea off of Phan Rang and flying in-trail.
One moment they were there and the next gone. There was only one
very short transmission just a minute or so before they
disappeared. As far as I know they never did find those two
airplanes or pilots. When they analyzed the transmission very
carefully it sounded like one of them had said, "I can't hack it
back here in trail." What they think happened was after that
call the trailing fighter tried to do a join up on the lead and
they must have collided. That was the first time I saw a blip
disappear with people in it. The second was years later at Luke
AFB when I was working with the Aggressors from Nellis and an F-4
ran over the top of a T-38 on a Dissimilar Aerial Combat Tactic
(DACT) mission. I had recently become good friends with the T-38
pilot named Nick Hobbie and you can read more about that in my
story "Nick Hobbie -- A Friend".
I know that many of the sites in-country were jointly manned with
U.S. and VNAF personnel. PORTCALL was not one of them. In fact
our surveillance personnel that were cross-telling unknown
traffic to other sites would sometimes have trouble understanding
the VNAF and would say, "Put a G.I. on!" That was fine until the
day one of the folks on the Senior Directors dais said that to a man he couldn't understand down at PARIS control. If the man at
PARIS was mad before he really got mad after that comment and it
was realized that the man was a U.S. Army Colonel that had been
born in Puerto Rico.
Army personnel were an important part of our operation. When I
first arrived the top of the mountain was covered with Homing All
the Way Killer Missiles or HAWKs. They stayed on alert and react
to all unknown air traffic in the area for about six months while
I was there. Then they decided to send them back to the CONUS.
But not the missiles. They brought in Ryan Firebees and flew
them off of the mountain and the HAWKs fired at them. I don't
remember the final score but I do recall that it was a draw.
They had as many misses and blowdowns (where the missile never
leaves the rail) as they did near hits. I always wanted to see
one of the missiles go off but didn't because all of us
controllers were assholes and elbows during that time inside the
darkroom trying not to get a friendly flight that was on a
mission from being destroyed.
But the Army personnel pulled another duty in the darkroom that
was even more critical than air defense. They kept track of the
artillery and posted the artillery board. Just as you had to
keep a close eye on the weather board you also had to make sure
that you took the artillery firing information and posted it to
your scope showing the hot areas for particular times. This was
done by posting hot areas between two TACAN radials and two
ranges. You would draw this on your scope with grease pencil and
then put the maximum height inside. Many people thought you
could ignore the artillery and we even had pilots say that they
would just fly underneath it. That's when we'd explain that what
went up also came down. And nowhere was this more graphically
shown then at the end of the runway near Phan Rang or Vung Tau
when a C-7A Caribou was destroy with all on board by friendly
artillery fire. After that artillery became much more respected
as a possible showstopper. I did talk with a FAC pilot once that
had seen a mortar round in the air. He'd just happened to be
looking out and saw the round reach its apex and then disappear again as it fell
When the HAWKs went home they were replaced with a training
school for U.S. Army Special Forces. They humped their rucksacks over much of the island in a combination of physical
training and initial in-country instruction. After I left I was
told that they did find some VC on the island which we figured
because several nights we took incoming fire from mortars. Then
sometime later a group of Navy Seals attacked a VC encampment on
the island. One of the officers on that raid was Lt./JG Joseph
Kerrey. He was wounded but pressed the attack to save his men
and in so doing earned the Medal of Honor and years later go on
to be a Senator for Nebraska.
The SF were a little more rowdy down at the NCO club but things
continued about the same at the O'Club. We had a bar with a
couple of slot machines and we ran the bar ourselves by setting
up a roster and taking turns as the bartender. We bought all of
the beverages and resold them to ourselves at a slight profit to
keep the place going. We had an electric stove that got used a
lot for pizzas that we made from mixes shipped to us by family in
CONUS and also open faced toasted cheese sandwiches. We had a
salt water aquarium that we made from fish that we captured
snorkeling in the South China Sea. And eventually we dug a small
drain field for a septic system and installed an old fashion
toilet with the tank at the top. The purpose of the toilet was
for women that might occasionally visit. We did not use it but
continued to step outside or travel to the latrine as needed.
The club was where all of the parties were held for those
officers going home. Next to the front door was a thin piece of
plywood. Each of the departees had signed that plywood. It sure
would be interesting to see the names on that plywood now and
find out where they are. (For more about the bar see my story
about Bar Games).
Someone had put their reel-to-reel tape recorder in the club and
when I first got there we had one tape. It was Petula Clark with
the album that included "England Swings" and "Downtown" and the
tape was played over and over and over. Months later someone
must have got other tapes but by that time the only songs that
people wanted to hear was that tape. What helped to sway the
vote was that a group of controllers had gone to Bangkok on a TDY
and had seen a young Thai lady singing all of these songs at a
club full of GIs. What was most amazing was that she could sing
all of the songs but couldn't speak a word of English.
Another part of the job for Weapons Controllers was flight
following of Code-6's and above. Because the Corps headquarters
was at Nha Trang there was an army aviation unit assigned in
support. They flew C-12s, U-21s, and Hueys as the need required.
Their call sign was Baron and we got to know them very well. In
fact they would come out to the island on some weekend nights and
party with us at the club and other times we were invited to
their club. I recall at least one time that we had a party on
the island and the Barons brought the steaks to cook on the
grill. They said the steaks had come from a forward unit's mess hall that had more than they needed. We almost never got
steak and I often wondered if the origin of those steaks was
accurate. Or was there some unit somewhere hunkered down for the
night eating c-rats while we had steaks at the club. I do
remember that the fire for the grill was fueled with tent pegs.
I asked why they burned tent pegs and learned that hickory made
the perfect fire.
We often were offered rides throughout the Corps by the Barons.
One day I took a nice Huey ride over to Dalat and then we visited
a little piece of nowhere in the Central Highlands called Gia
Nhia. The cadre on the ground there were very happy to see us
and said that about the only support they got was a C-7A that
would come in every couple of days with food, ammo, and mail.
I was working the night the Tet Offensive started. You could
look on the plotting board and see all of the airbases go to red alert. We went outside and looked across to Nha Trang and also
down to the runway at Cam Rhan. It was like the sun had come
back out with all of the flares going off and Spooky working the
perimeter of the Nha Trang Air Base and Special Forces Camp.
This area was guarded by Army Forces from the Republic of Korea
and when the Tet battle was over I heard that all of the senior
leaders of those forces shaved their head in embarrassment of the
attack being as successful as it was. I do have pictures taken a
few weeks after the battle of some houses in downtown Nha Trang
showing extensive damage to the outside by ROK forces attacking the VC inside.
After I left in '69 improvements continued on the infrastructure.
A new radar operations building recessed into the mountain top
was under construction when I left. However, I believe that
later in the war the entire unit left the island and returned to
Cam Rhan Bay where it remained until being deactivated as U.S.
involvement in the war ended.
Going back and forth to the island was a very enjoyable time.
The landing craft was so big that all of the passengers crawled
up on the deck behind the bridge and then we watched the fellows
back the deuce and a half's, the one ton weapons carriers, and the
jeeps across the sand and onto the boat. It was very tight but
they'd put them three wide across and often had to nearly climb
out the window to get out. I always marveled at how young some
of those guys were driving those rigs and how they'd learned to
accomplish that challenging task so quickly. But when you think
about it that probably held for most of us that were over there.
Thanks for reading these memories and hope it brings back some
good ones of your own.