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War Stories
copyright 2001 by H. Paul Shuch
Excerpted from Tune In The Universe! (ARRL)

Tune In The Universe!

Fire Engine Red

Mike on a mission (circa 1968)
Mike on a Mission
Mike was a forward air controller, arguably the most dangerous job in the Air Force. His missions involved parachuting behind enemy lines with a pack full of radios, setting up a station, and calling in air strikes over his head. Call it the Field Day from hell. It's a miracle he didn't end up on The Wall. We were stationed together at Maxwell, and later in Korea. It was at the former assignment that Mike got friendly with one of the base telephone operators. I was best man at their wedding, and best friend at their divorce.

Things weren't as bad as that might sound. It was a typical arrangement that dates back to the ancient warriors. Mike was unattached, and about to go off into battle. He knew the risks were high. He wanted his death benefits to go to someone who could use them, should the worst happen. When he came back whole from the Nam, they parted amicably.

Our mission together in Korea fell into the category of grand adventure; rather like a DX-pedition, but without a QSL manager. This was a shadow war, in stark contrast to the fiercer battles raging in lands far South. But every now and then, each side had to provoke the other. It was an act of provocation that found us in a helicopter heading for the DMZ. I snapped this picture by the famous sign: "Here is 38 Parallel -- Let's Dash North." Mike is sitting in the borrowed jeep, just over the line. Notice that HF whip extending above the jeep? Unfortunately, we never got to claim the contacts!

Korean Demilitarized Zone

DXing at the DMZ

Home base for the Fifth Mobile Communications Group was Clark AFB in the Philippines. From here, Mike embarked on his grandest adventure ever: the battle of the fire engine.

The town of Angeles, just outside the gates of Clark AFB, was as impoverished as any base town could be. They had no fire department, and the shacks that passed for homes would burn down with all-too-frequent regularity. So it was standard practice for the base fire engine to roar through the gates, flagged on by the Air Police on duty, and lend aid to the local populace. Only, one day, as the lights flashed and the sirens wailed, the engine wheeled through town, off onto what constituted a highway in those parts, and just kept on going.

It showed up a few days later, parked on the tarmac at the Manila International Airport, sporting a shiny coat of bright green paint. When the Base Commander got wind of that, he protested to all the proper authorities. "You lost a fire engine?" asked our gracious hosts. "So sorry to hear that. What color was your engine, anyway?"

"Fire engine red, of course," replied the commander.

"Ah, but this can't be your fire engine," he was told politely. "This one is green."

What could we do, but launch a mission to steal it back? And who better to organize such a mission than the Forward Air Controllers of the Fifth Mob? And so it was that Mike found himself driving a green fire engine back through the main gate, lights flashing and sirens wailing and the whole base cheering him on.

But now the battle lines were drawn. Like a football trophy coveted by two competing college teams, that old fire engine made the trip back and forth about once a year, getting a new coat of paint with each iteration.

I hear they finally closed the Air Force base. Mike and I are the ancient warriors now, and beyond caring. But I can't help wondering if that old fire engine is still at the airport in Manila, and what color she is these days.


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this page last updated 14 June 2007
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