Joe Stephens  SP4, USA  AFRS Part-time  1963-64

178th Signal Company, 39th Signal Battalion

        While serving time at Headquarters &  Headquarters Company of the 39th Signal Battalion, I met PFC Jack Dobbs, USA, San Diego, CA., and later, SP4 - SGT - then SSGT who was working a communications van at the edge of the 39th compound near the airhead [Tan Son Nhut Air Base?] just outside Saigon.  He was doing tape to tape transfer for General Stillwell and others.  That's why he got from PFC to SSGT in just a little over eighteen months.  Well, Jack would record lots of the off-air broadcasts for the folks, who would then send them home.  I have one for June 14, 1964--[featuring] SP4 Brian Faulkner on his last day on the air.  He was to return to the U.S. that following week and command allowed on-air personnel seven days to "redeploy."

        August 1964 was my time to "redeply" to Tobyhanna Army Depot, Tobyhanna, PA.  Anyway, CPT John Carr, USA, was with Signal Supply at the time, he had just got there.  General Westmoreland got word of the Captain who in private live had, owned and managed, a radio station in Tennessee and appointed him to head ARFS-Saigon.  About six months before that I was in Hue (the old capitol of Vietnam), and AFRS could not be received there.  In-country repeaters were used and Hue, being in and on the other side of the mountains. was not a good place to get AFRS.

        I got moved down to the Saigon area and worked as an editor in Signal Supply (later Chief Editor for the Consolidated Supply Depot) and would go over to the Brink Hotel where the studios were housed.  There CPT Carr would allow me to look at and edit--part time, mostly weekends--the news from "home" and around the world.  No news about Vietnam or the area was not allowed on the air.  Senior command personnel had their families with them so on air announcments would be made to have the family pet taken to get its shots, etc.  Schools had been set up for the American dependants on base so on-air announcments were made about up coming dances, school events, etc.   The reason for this was that life was to go on as if we were all back in the States.

        Former General Paul D. Harkins, Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) to which I was a part, allowed the command staff of AFRS to run it as if it was "on base."  So the uniform of the day was Class-A for on air staff, and "management" and fatigues for everyone else.  Anyway Westmoreland let CPT Carr set a causal dress code.  But, General Joseph Stillwell Jr. just raised hell about the AFRS the "uniform" (nave blue sharkskin trousers with silk white shirts and a blue embroidered (RCA44) microphone (RCA) with "AFRS" over it on the pocket.  These were designed and purchased by the AFRS staff .  Stillwell said "Damn people are soldiers,  not civilians."  The broadcast format also changed under CPT Carr--he allowed the playing of more rock and roll, but it had to come from the AFRS platters.  No personal music or anything else that did not come from AFRS-CONUS was permitted.  Jack Dobb, while he did receive material from RCA, Decca, ABC, etc., mostly on 7" reel with a few 10" reels tapes, was not permitted to cut copies to AFRS-Saigon.  But he did cut them for the "troops" and that included lots for the guys at AFRS who wanted to keep up on what else was going on.

        While a lot may be said about things in Vietnam, in the early 1960s those in the Saigon area worked 9-5 with weekends off while those in the field worked 24/7 just to stay alive.  $600.00 was the normal fee for a head (our heads)  and more for the Special Forces.  While I was in the Army there were 800 [Special Forces?] in Saigon alone with another 400 serving in the field. The Navy had leased most of the hotels in Saigon for their personnel, the Air Force had permanent quarters at the Airhead while those of us at the 39th lived in tents even though we gotten "in country" some two years before the AF got there.  Seven Marines worked the Embassy and RVN soldiers worked compound security.  Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. was the Ambassador, he and his wife would take walks around Saigon, WITHOUT an armed escort and even used a Vietnamsse driver when their American driver was off duty--mostly on weekends.  I'll see if I can find the tapes and cut you some copies if you wish.

         Joe Stephens

[NB:  The above has been partially edited by the Webmaster.]

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