Radio callsigns bring back lots of Memories to military folks. Sometimes I think of my Air force career as a series of callsigns. In Vietnam I wrote a little poem titled “CALLSIGNS,” that sums up “callsigns” for me.
“My job is very pleasant
I serve my tour
And ask no questions.
For me it’s nothing personal,
Just blips of light
And distant voices on the radio.
Men don’t die in y war
(though I lose a lot of callsigns). “
My first radar site was JITNEY Control at Cape Charles Air Force Station, Virginia. My first computerized radar (SAGE: Semi-automatic Ground Environment) control site was BETWEEN Control at Norton AFB, California. During 1964-65 I served as Operations Officer and Second-in-Command at the Kotzebue, Alaska Aircraft Control & Warning Squadron – and became GRIDIRON 2. Then came SIDEWALK Control at Malmstrom AFB, Montana (1965-1967).
In 1972, someone at Military Personnel found out I knew how to control airplanes, and sent me to the Monkey Mountain radar site, near DaNang, Vietnam: callsign PANAMA Control. Later in Vietnam I was sent as commander to the radar detachment at Pleiku in the central highlands: as PEACOCK 1 (1 meaning commander).
After Vietnam, came a transfer to the Udorn Royal Thai Air Base Thailand, at MOTEL ALPHA Control as Battle Commander. Finally at Sembach Air Base, Germany, I was Operations Officer the MAROON Control mobile (rubber ducky) radar site.
The following are some excepts from my Vietnam Journal (“My Only War”) that illustrate how personal “callsigns” can be.
15 SEP 72: BEN 5 and BEN 12 have a near mid-air collision while POPEYE. The “Bens” were B-52 bombers on a bombing mission to Hanoi. POPEYE means zero visibility in the clouds. Another word for a B-52s was “BUF” (which I shan’t translate on Facebook).
17 Sept 72: CACTUS 03 gets smoke and fire in his cockpit and crashes. I phone BLUE CHIP (7th Air Force in Saigon) and JACK Control the Rescue Coordinator. JACK sends KING 25 to the crash site in North Vietnam. DISCO, a C121 (a “CONNIE” airborne radar “Bird”) sees CACTUS. Pilots are rescued.
17 Sept 72 (Same day): NAIL 60 (a forward air control light plane) enroute from Thailand to DaNang loses an engine and goes down. NAIL 34, in trail of NAIL 60, radios us at PANAMA Control. KING 25 rushes to rescue, and JACK tells us all is A-OK.
24 Oct. 72: An aircraft landed on SCHOOLBOY (the USS Midway aircraft carrier) and its wheel came off. The resulting crash killed 4, with 8 missing, and injured 31. We sent JOLLY GREEN 65 and 71 to help.
7 Nov72: COACHMAN 121, a helicopter, is shot down in the jungle 40 miles south of us at PANAMA Control. VANGUARD 159, a U21 search plane, takes off on a search mission. KING 27 is scrambled from Thailand. JOLLY GREEN from DaNang helps. Crew is rescued at 10:30AM
22 Nov. 72 WAGONTRAINS B-52 BUFs fly up to North Vietnam on a bombing mission. FANG 72 becomes the first B52 of the war to be shot down by the NOVEMBER ZIPS (North Vietnamese). Aircraft was controlled by INVERT, a neighboring radar site. PANAMA control was an observer.
Some fighter escort planes (“birds”) had callsigns named after cars, i.e. BUICK, CHEVY, etc.
I thought it’d be nice for people to have some understanding of how personal callsigns can be. I suppose that nowadays my work callsign is REPRESENTATIVE. Whatever, the callsign I like best is when my wife Marlene calls me “HONEY,” except when it's “HONEY, did you take out the trash”?