1st AACS Mobile Communications Group
Team 72-66

TRN-17 TACAN installation

Lima Site 85, Phou Pha Thi, Laos

Story by Richard Grimes and William "Gary" Boros
TACAN installation photos courtesy of Richard Grimes
unless otherwise noted

Richard and Gary, 2002 TLCB Reunion, Washington, DC

Team members:  1st Lt. William G. Boros, OIC TACAN installation
                               SSgt Richard G. Grimes, NCOIC Power Production
                               SSgt O. J. Wallace, NCOIC TACAN Maintenance
                               A/1C Lawrence J. Simolin, Power Production
                               A/1C Robert L. Stradling, TACAN Maintenance
                               A/1C Richard Westlund, TACAN Maintenance

The 1st MOB, located at Clark AB, Republic of the Philippines, supported many communication projects in SEA, including bare base operations in Vietnam and Thailand.  They also supported the Apollo shots on a site in Perth, Australia.  I (SSgt Grimes) personally had been selected for deployment to Perth.  However, I got invited into the Group Commanders office (Col. Bertie) one day and he informed me I was recommended for deployment to a classified location in SEA.  The team would work in civilian clothes, all equipment would be unmarked and camouflaged.  We would be armed and provided with a cover story, in case we were captured.  Lt. Boros, who had also received a call while attending the "Jungle Survival" school at Clark AB, would head up the team and I would be the ranking NCO.  He said the mission was very essential to aerial operations in SEA, but no other details were provided.  I was given a couple of days to think it over.  No pressure, but this was a much more important mission than Apollo follow-ups.  The Colonel recommended reading a book, "Reported To Be Alive", by Grant Wolfkill.  The book is about a news correspondent who was shot down over Laos, captured and held captive until his escape, a couple of years later.  Got some of the book read, before the decision was made.

In July, 1966, Lt. Gary Boros and SSgt O. J. "Wally" Wallace were deployed to the LS85 location for a site survey.  They landed at an Air America strip down the mountain from where our "permanent" location was to be.

Air America STOL (Short Take Off Landing) strip at "Phou Pha Thi"

Photo courtesy of Lt/Col Douglas Farnsworth

Bob Destatte comments: "Traces of what I believe is the airstrip depicted in this photo were clearly visible when I visited the site in 1994 and 1998.  This particular airstrip is located on the west side of the mountain, below the TACAN/TSQ site, on a ridge that runs from UTM coordinates UH 650 610 to UH 645 609.  High grass, brush, and trees have reclaimed much of the landing zone and surrounding area".

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

Hmong tribesmen from the village met them and took them to the village and then to "The Site".  In order to get up from the village level of the mountain, they had to ascend a rope ladder.  They were on the site long enough to determine locations for the TACAN (TACtical Air Navigation) and our base camp.  And to make arrangements with the local Hmong to assist in land clearing and moving heavy equipment into place.

In August, 1966, we deployed from Clark AB in a C130 with a TACAN, MB5 generator sets along with our equipment to Udorn RTAFB, Thailand where we met Lt. Boros and SSgt Wallace for subsequent movement to LS85.  We were finally told of our ultimate destination.  The location should be secure as it is on a mountain top with drop offs of a couple of thousand feet.  Everything is CLASSIFIED.  Next of kin cannot be told anything about the mission, or location.

Upon arrival at Udorn, we rented a house off base.  Because of our mission sensitivity we were not to reside on base.  We had our own vehicle, a black, unmarked, pickup truck.  We used it as our own vehicle to and from the military side of the base and Air America side.  We spent about a week at Udorn going through a mini weather school.  They taught us how to use a couple of instruments and estimate ceilings, etc. We were to call in weather reports every morning and any other times as requested.  After completing the weather school, we were ready to roll.  However, a change in the weather prevented us from leaving Udorn.  By the time we completed the mini school Army CH46 Chinooks had arrived from the Republic of Vietnam.  They were on loan from the Army at Long Bien to transport us and our equipment to our destination.  

The weather that delayed our departure also raised havoc along the Mekong

Many areas were flood ravaged

Gary had volunteered us, and received permission to use the Chinooks to aid in dropping supplies and rice to flooded areas along the Mekong.  During this period we were advised that unfriendlies had populated the LS85 area and there would be a delay until the area was made safe for us.  Finally, the BIG day arrived.  The TACAN was loaded onto a C-123, heading for Lima 20 (Sam Thong).  We loaded ourselves, personal gear and all the rest of the equipment into the two Chinooks and directed the 123 to Lima 20.  We headed North of the Mekong.  

We had machine guns in each window and an army gunner.  Boy what have I got myself into?

Lima Site 20
Sam Thong

(Photo courtesy of Bryon Hukee)

At Lima 20, the TACAN was off-loaded from the 123 and slung underneath one of the Chinooks.

Departing Lima 20

Next stop was Lima Site 36 (Na Khang) for fuel.  What a place, a couple of small buildings on a small hill off the runway.  One American in site and a lot of radio equipment.  Don't ask questions.  As I recall, his name was John.  We fueled up and ready to roll...Next stop...Lima Site 85.

Copyright 2002