596 Signal Company History 2

 

 

The 596th was mentioned in the book "Viet Name Studies: Communications Electronics 1962 - 1970"

 By 26 January a requirement was placed on the 1st Signal Brigade to provide communications support for the U.S. Joint Forward Command Post to be located at Phu Bai. A tailored battalion of 608 officers and men had to be drawn from the existing resources of the 1st Signal Brigade, General Van Harlingen decided that the headquarters staff of the 459th Signal Battalion, then stationed at Nha Trang, would deploy to provide the battalion control element, while the remainder of the battalion would be formed from brigade resources drawn from over forty locations in South Vietnam. The first elements of the battalion arrived at Phu Bai on 28 January 1968. By 5 February the major communications services were operational at this new headquarters, while the last elements of the tailored battalion had closed by 6 February. Thus, communications support by the 459th Signal Battalion was hastily organized during the height of the Tet offensive.

Communications facilities for General Westmoreland's forward command post, including the existing Phu Bai dial telephone ex­change, were bunkered in, or revetted, and cables were placed underground. Work continued at a fast pace despite an around-the­clock enemy rocket attack on Phu Bai during the first three days of February. Though numerous rounds landed near the sites and the revetments were hit by many shell fragments, the equipment remained undamaged.

In the midst of the battle that raged in Hue, the 459th Signal Battalion was ordered to provide secure teletypewriter message service to the fire support coordinator located with the Vietnamese 1st Infantry Division command post at an old fortress, the Citadel, in Hue. The only means of reaching the Citadel was by U.S. Navy landing craft, which had to traverse the Perfume River in order to reach the canal that circles the fortress. A four-man team led by 1st Lieutenant John E. Hamon was organized to move and operate the equipment. During the trip to the Citadel the landing craft came under heavy mortar attack and two of the enlisted men and the lieutenant were wounded. Lieutenant Hamon, despite his wound, and the one uninjured enlisted man put the equipment in operation and provided the critical communications support for over twenty-four hours until help arrived.

The 459th continued to provide support to the joint forward headquarters in Phu Bai until the newly arrived 63d Signal Battalion headquarters, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Elmer H. Graham, took over the mission of the provisional organization in March of 1968.

Additional Free World Military Assistance Forces were deployed into the northern I Corps Tactical Zone during February while heavy fighting was taking place at Hue and Khe Sanh. General Van Harlingen had to further draw down from 1st Signal Brigade's resources to provide the required communications support. A signal support company, organized from his brigade's assets, had been airlifted into the area of heavy fighting in the northern provinces by the end of February. This last drain on brigade resources left little in the way of contingency assets. It was in fact necessary to deactivate twenty-one less essential radio-relay links in order to provide the required resources. A few days later, however, the 596th Signal Support Company, which had just arrived in Vietnam, was assigned to the 459th, and made a significant contribution to the battalion's communications capability.

These "draw-downs" by bits and pieces to provide the resources required in the north had placed a heavy burden on the brigade. As General Van Harlingen explained in his debriefing report: "The 1st Signal Brigade was thrown into the midst of an administrative maelstrom, with personnel and equipment attachments and all the accompanying paper storm."

U.S. Army Signalmen and Tet

The story of the 459th Signal Battalion, as it was provisionally organized and deployed, is unique since the deployment occurred as the Tet offensive took place. The hastily organized battalion had to respond quickly and install and operate the vital communications needed, even though it was under fire. Being under fire, however, was not new to the men of the 459th; many of them had come from other locations in Vietnam that were also under attack. At this time all the signal troops of the divisions, field forces, and 1st Signal Brigade deployed throughout South Vietnam were simultaneously installing communications in support of the combat forces and defending their positions. They were handling increased communications traffic loads that resulted from the fighting and were repairing and restoring disrupted communications services. It was commonplace that in many places signalmen had to fight and at the same time provide communications support. One element of the 1st Signal Brigade, the communications control center with its communications status-reporting system used to control and manage communications passing through more than 220 locations in Vietnam, found itself in a unique position. The reporting system was capable and did provide battle information in considerable detail concerning enemy activity to the Military Assistance Command and U.S. Army, Vietnam, operations centers.

 

 

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