So many times I wondered what it would be like to visit the site of the Armed Forces Radio and Television station location I served at in Quang Tri (1968-69) This trip back to Vietnam is serving two masters. I was stationed with CBMU 301 in Quang Tri and Dong Ha, but I was transferred to AFVN to help build the station. The station was located just East of Highway 1 in Quang Tri on a hill called Red Devil. In anticipation of this trip I mapped out what I believed was the location, the goal was to find that location again.
With the help of a local guide and translator we headed down the dusty, not all paved road. We came to a bridge that possibly would not hold the vehicle we were in, but we crossed anyway. The station was located on a very sharp bend for the left, we found that. Now the story really begins, the location looked familiar, of course nothing is left of Camp Red Devil, the Army Replacement Company, but with help from guys on the 5th Infantry Division Veterans organization, I had better locators.
The road is still there and it follows the contour of the land as I remember it. There was a lady working in a garden/field nearby in that I believed was the radio and television station location. Thru my interpreter, Mr. Cong, we asked her how long she had been living here, only since 1998, but had lived close by and remembers a military camp. Great news, and she also remembered a set of radio towers. Jackpot!
She motioned for up to go to the house and talk to the Papa Son, he was in his 90s but built the house. We introduced ourselves and asked the question, his reply? Yes there was a set of towers here, they have been since sold for scrap. But to confirm the location I asked if they had come across a cement base. He said yes, I just about started to cry, he said they tried to dig it up but could not. That is because when we built the tower, we made the base really big. At least 20 x 20 by 20 feet deep. He told me they built the house over that object, confirmed, this was the site of AFVN Detachment 5.
I asked him to take me to the spot, and we went around back. He pointed to the spot and said this is where it was. I stood in place for what probably was not a long time, but it felt that way. I was so amazed we found the spot and had it verified. Many of the places we have been to are now habited and there are no signs that bases ever existed at those sites. This was the site of AFVN, Detachment 5, Quang Tri.
I took a soil sample, said a small prayer for all who served at Detachment 5 and gave the Papa Son a $5 American bill. He looked at it and asked if it was real. I said yes, he told me that was the first American bill he had seen since he served as a ARVN soldier in the war. I thanked him for the information, and expressed a hope that his crops would always be strong, his family healthy and prosperity for his family. All of the guys on this trip we so excited to witness this search and location confirmation, I spread some of the red dirt on my hat.
Detachment-5 is the only AFVN unit which built their own station, starting with a 50-watt transmitter in September 1968. Located at Camp Red Devil (1st Infantry, Fifth Division, U.S. Army, Mechanized) Detachment 5 member’s Included 1 Seabee (Dennis Woytek, several Marines and Army personnel.
In December 1968, using a l000-watt transmitter, the detachment was reaching all Allied units in the northernmost area of I Corps. That same month, using a 30 foot tower, TV went out to a limited area. Station personnel began construction their own 300-foot tower. My Seabees poured cement for the TV van, constructed a shower, built bunkers and repaired station equipment.
Detachment 5 provided 24 hours of radio; 21 hours from Saigon and three from the Quang Tri station. One country and western show, the Quang Tri Morning Request Show with Dennis Woytek (could we take requests? not really) and the Million Dollar Golden Records are local broadcasts. Television was provided by the detachment seven days a week from noon to 1am, and the programs reach from the Demilitarized Zone to Camp Evens, about five miles north of Hue.
Television was aired from the mobile van which, at one time, was also “home” for a family of snakes.