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Installation of the TSQ-81 at Phou Pha Thi
Lima Site 85, Laos

Photos Courtesy of Lt/Col Douglas Farnsworth unless otherwise noted

Throughout this story you may click on any picture to enlarge

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Photos Courtesy ofCol. Gerald Clayton

 

In April of 1967 the Air Force issued a contract to The Reeves Instrument Corporation based in New York to develop a mobile, light weight, air transportable version of the MSQ-77 Radar Bombing Control System to be called the TSQ-81.  Within a few months the first unit was sent to a government airfield in Bryan Texas for testing/bug fixes and practice assembly/disassembly.  It was then shipped to NKP (Nakhon Phanom  RTAFB, Thailand) and became TSQ-81 code name "BROMO".

The second unit was sent to Bryan for evaluation. It passed testing and was designated TSQ-81 Serial Number 13. The equipment, housed in two 12x9x40 foot metal shelters, was disassembled and transported to Udorn RTAFB in Thailand.  This unit was destined to be installed at Lima Site 85, Laos, code name "COMMANDO CLUB".

 

Lt/Col Farnsworth comments: "Mid summer of 1967 I reported to Lt/Col Alan Randle at Barksdale and we immediately left for Austin, TX.  On the drive down I received the only briefing I ever received regarding this project.  Needless to say, the briefing was informal and lacking in detail.  On arrival at the Bryan air strip I inspected the site, familiarized myself as best I could and asked lots of questions.  The next morning Randle left for Barksdale after telling me to supervise the loading of the equipment and accompany it to Udorn. And to send the men home.  The men who were to install the site were already in place in Laos.  After arrival at Udorn I was given an Air America ID card.  All other identification was left behind.  The next day I was flown to the site by a Pony Express chopper." {Source: ltr Lt/Col Farnsworth to Dr. Timothy Castle 28 August 2000}

The installation started in August 1967.  The installation crew was from Headquarters and various detachments of the 1st Combat Evaluation Group (1st CEG).  There were 20 members in this select group.

 

Lt/Col Doug Farnsworth, Hq
CMSgt Andy Born, Hq
SSgt Charles W. Pearman, Det 3
SSgt George J. Dotson, Det 4
SSgt Billy V. Wheat, Det 9
SSgt Bill C. Boyd, Det 7
SSgt Ralph E. Barnhart, Det 6
SSgt John L. Redfearn, Det 4
SSgt Larry T. Bean, Hq
A1C Heinz A. Hardy, Det 4A1C Johnny A. McLaughlin, Det 9
A1C Billy D. O'Dell, Det 9
A1C Edward W. Harkins, Det 3
A1C Robert L. Wood, Det 9
A1C Keith W. Johnson, Det 13
A1C John W. Pritchett Jr., Hq
A1C Jon L. Ramsay, Ramey AFB, TDY
A2C Thomas J. Flaherty Jr., Det 3
A2C Charles W. Long, Det 8
A2C Richard J. Colgan, Det 9

 

Lt/Col Farnsworth comments: "Shortly after arrival I became concerned with the men's living conditions.  Too little attention had been given to the needs for water, rations and mail service.  Much to my surprise we had no radios, no direct communications with Udorn. All communications were to be relayed by written message delivered by helicopter.  In an emergency I could use a non-secure radio owned by Federal Electronics located in the TACAN maintenance shed.  Neither method of communications was adequate or reliable.  Even worse, there was absolutely no plan for evacuation in the event of hostile action or other emergency.  I relayed my concern to 7/13 AF and Randle.  In reply I was told, in so many words, not to worry.

 

Our rations improved substantially when we started buying much of our food and having it delivered, courtesy of the Pony Express chopper pilots.  Mail delivery was improved although it was screened.  Water always remained a problem, although it need not have been".

{Source: ltr Lt/Col Farnsworth to Dr. Timothy Castle 28 August 2000}

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Lt/Col Farnsworth comments: "The small silver object below my left arm is a Pilatus Porter.  An aircraft produced in Switzerland, designed for STOL (Short Takeoff and Landing).  It was landing on a dirt strip just below the site.  Lt./Col Farnsworth also points out,"the cliff behind us was a sheer dropoff, but climbable."small silver object below my left arm is a Pilatus Porter.  This is an important comment to keep in mind as you read the story of the loss of the site.

{Source: email Lt/Col Farnsworth to Ron Haden, 28 August 2000}

CMSgt Andy Born (L) and Lt/Col Doug Farnsworth (R)

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(Left to Right) George Dotson, Tom Flaherty, Bill Boyd, Johnny McLaughlin, Billy O'Dell

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(Left to Right) George Dotson, Johnny McLaughlin, Heinz Hardy 

(Heinz reports that he gave his necklace to his youngest daughter in 2001.)
 

BREAK TIME

BREAK TIME

Tom Flaherty (looking back), John McLaughlin, Billy O'Dell, George Dotson, Bill Boyd, Lt/Col Farnsworth, (Local)

Lt/Col Farnsworth comments: "This pic was taken on the way back from the range marker.  The marker was a several mile walk through some rather tough terrain.  Especially tough since we all carried tools and various dds and ends we might need.  We carefully followed the local and did not step off what passed for a trail.  I questioned the local, who spoke very basic English, and he advised me that the area contained numerous landmines.  I asked whos mines and he replied, many, many peoples; Japanese, Chinese, American, NVA, and Pathet Lao.  Which is logical when you recall that this area has been fought over many times.  As I best remember we had stopped for a break on the way back from the marker at the locals insistence.  His shack was a ways off the trail we had been using but he wanted us to see it and promised us a treat.  I was somewhat apprehensive about the treat but it turned out to be a very old, rusty can of blueberries.  I don't remember if he ever opened the can but I do remember we gave him cigarettes.   We made several trips back to the range marker but this first time was the only time we employed the local.  Born and I had agreed that we wanted to minimize as much as possible all contacts with the locals.  We had been visited by several monks in their saffron robes but they did not impress us as being monks.  However, we had to play it cool as we definitely did not wish to attract more attention by some unintended insult or affront to a religious entity." 

Ron Haden comments: I recall that when I first went to Lima Site 85 (late September '67) some of the trail from the chopper pad to the site was lined with yellow rope. We were cautioned not to venture beyond the rope for this same reason. It was also rumored that the Poppy fields were mined.  I wasn't interested in Poppies anyway.   

{Source: ltr Lt/Col Farnsworth to Ron Haden 25 Jul 2002}

Container arrivals at Phou Pha Thi Landing Zone

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Tom Flaherty standing on container 
unhooking it from the Chinook

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Container arrivals at Phou Pha Thi Landing Zone

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Keith Johnson Comments on these pictures: "The downdrafts were the most dangerous. I was unhooking a box once on top, the chopper came down on a downdraft and I was talking to the crew inside, then it lifted.  Tom Flaherty almost got it hooking up a box on the strip below.  Again a downdraft and he was trapped on top of the box.  Luckily the Chinook just brushed him against the box.  We only lost one box and that as it was coming in, and just fell the last few feet.  Andy had insisted we use two cable clamps as we rigged them but someone had talked him into using one for awhile.  Needless to say, we went back to two clamps.  Once we were guiding a box in, one of us on each corner, and we got an updraft, Heinz Hardy was holding on and went right back up with the box.  His legs swung under the box but being taller I didn't get pulled off my feet.  I remember reaching over and grabbing Heinz by the belt and pulling him back as the box came back down." 

{Source: e-mail Keith Johnson to Ron Haden 7 Jul 2002}

Smaller items were transported by mule up to the installation site

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(top to bottom) Billy O'Dell, Andy Born,  Johnny McLaughlin

(top to bottom) Billy O'Dell, Andy Born,  Johnny McLaughlin

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Bob Destatte comments: "When I visited the site in December 1994 and July-August 1998, this area looked much the same as it did in 1967".
[Source: e-mail Bob Destatte to Ron Haden 4 January 2003]

Lt/Col Farnsworth comments: "On days weather precluded chopper arrival, and there were many such days, the men carried the building materials to the site brick by brick, item by item on a long, uphill, difficult trail".

{Source: ltr Lt/Col Farnsworth to Dr. Timothy Castle 28 August 2000}

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Everything had to be perfectly level.

The base and pedestal for the Radar Dish weighed 2000 Lbs.

Billy O'Dell (L), Keith Johnson (R)

(photographer facing northeast)

Bob Destatte comments: "Twisted remnants of the steel girders for the ops van remained at the site when I visited the site in 1994 and 1998".  

[Source: e-mail Bob Destatte to Ron Haden 4 January  2003]

Billy O'Dell (L), Keith Johnson (R)

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(photographer facing south)

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Keith Johnson, Bill Boyd, Andy Born, Billy O'Dell

(photographer facing south)

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Robert Wood, Keith Johnson, Bill Boyd,

Billy O'Dell, Andy Born

(photographer facing south)

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

(note the spectators in the background

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John Pritchett, Billy O'Dell, Andy Born (kneeling), Keith Johnson, Tom Flaherty, Bill Boyd.

(photographer facing west)

Lt/Col Farnsworth comments on this picture: "This picture is most revealing.  Revealing in the fact that we could not keep any of the native population away from the area.  Look at the picture and ask yourself the obvious.  How many of the spectators were infiltrators?  My personal belief is that we were continually under observation and a summary of our progress was provided Hanoi on a daily basis.  Security was non existent." {Source: e-mail Lt/Col Farnsworth to Ron Haden 24 Jul 2002}  

Lt/Col Farnsworth comments:  "As to emergency evacuation, I took several helicopter rides about the area talking with the pilots about an alternate pick up point in the event our site was overrun and we managed to escape.  We found an area in the vicinity of the range marker but it still appeared that pickup would always be chancy.  Remember, we had no weapons and these men had no training in E&E (Evasion and Escape).  As a crew member I had undergone extensive E&E training, knew the odds but felt an alternate pick up point would increase our chances.  I continued to voice my concerns about this and numerous other matters but they were ignored.  All of them! ". 
{Source: ltr Lt/Col Farnsworth to Dr. Timothy Castle 28 August 2000}

Assembling the Operations metal shelter

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Andy Born

(photographer facing south)

and the Maintenance and Communications shelter

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Tom Flaherty, Billy O'Dell, Andy Born

(photographer facing north-northeast)

Power Generators and Fuel Tanks

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(photographer facing west)

Jon Ramsay

Bob Destatte Comments: ""Members of the team that inspected the area at the base of the cliff below the TACAN/TSQ site in early 1994 told me that they found remnants of the antenna and its mount at the base of the cliff".

[Source: e-mail Bob Destatte to Ron Haden 4 January 2003]

Preparing scaffolding for Camouflage and then installation of the Radar Dish

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Andy Born

(photographer facing northeast)

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The completed TSQ-81 (Radar Dish Camouflaged)

Frequency Converters are to the left, Sleeping Quarters at the bottom. (no air conditioning)

(Heinz Hardy finally got his drill plugged-in and is still installing the skirting)

(photographer facing northwest)

Radar Dish from another angle

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(photographer facing northeast)

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IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe),

UHF (Ultra High Frequency),

VHF (Very High Frequency)
Antennas and Weather Station

(photographer facing east)

Our Comfort Station

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(photographer facing south)

A Downed Pony

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Lt/Col Farnsworth comments on this picture: "I recall that while circling the spot and taking this pic one of the chopper pilots told me that he thought it had been brought down by enemy fire and was resting in a heavily mined area. The mines being the reason it was never recovered and the locals never attempted to cannibalize it."

{Source: e-mail Lt/Col Farnsworth to Ron Haden 12 August 2002}

The construction of buildings and installation of equipment was complete toward the end of September 67.  Lt/Col Farnsworth went to Clark AB, PI to brief the 13th AF Commander, B/G Benjamin O. Davis, on the status of the site. After attending several meetings with personnel from 7/13, 7th AF and various fighter wings he reported for duty at OL-24, Hue Phu Bai, South Vietnam. Most of the rest of the installation team had left the mountain. The few that remained were to insure it was operational before the day to day operation teams arrived.  Col Gerald Clayton was currently hand selecting his teams from 1st CEG resources.  The teams had to be briefed, discharged from the USAF and hired by Lockheed Aircraft Corporation in accordance with a pre-arranged agreement between the US Government and Lockheed AC.  The Teams would have Lockheed identification as a cover story and all records would indicate they were employees. Upon completion of the assignment they would be reinstated as USAF personnel with no loss of time or benefits.  It was additionally agreed that if an individual were lost at Lima Site 85 they would be reinstated into the USAF with all benefits for their families.  During this briefing and paper work intensive period, Site 85 would be brought up to operational status so they could just step in and start doing the job they were trained for.  Lt/Col Alan Randle was in charge of this operational testing period.  However, a few more personnel were needed to fill critical positions.  Col Harry Urban, Commander of 1st Mobile Communications Group (AACS) at Clark AB and his Chief of Maintenance, Major Samuel Leibovitz, selected the following personnel, from 1st MOB resources, to fill the needed slots.

TSgt Ronald H. Haden, 30670
TSgt Roger H. Smith, 30670
SSgt Marion R. Carter, 36370
SSgt Ellis T. Charlton, 36370

A 30670 was a Electronic Communications and Cryptographic Equipment Systems Technician and 36370 was a Communications and Relay Center Equipment Technician. The four 1st MOB technicians were sent TDY (Temporary Duty) to the 1973rd Communications Squadron at Udorn RTAFB, Thailand.  During the TDY period they were in "Sanitized" condition, which means; civilian clothes, no Military ID and no weapons. The traditional "Black Hats" of the 1st Mobile were also a no-no (More on the "Black Hats" later). An additional instruction was "no cameras". After the signing in procedures they were taken to the Air America Complex and issued Air America ID cards, then off base to find lodging. They were not allowed to live on base and mingle with uniformed personnel. The next day they were transported to Lima Site 85 via the 20th SOS "Pony Express".  After taking a few days to check out and finalize the installation of their respective equipments, the operational testing phase commenced.  They broke up into two teams for weekly rotation.   The fly-in testing was successfully completed, with very few problems. Col Clayton and his teams arrived the first week in November 1967. The remaining members of the installation crew and 1st Mobile personnel returned to their home bases or next assignment.