The Detachment C-1 communications section...

"Single Squab"

Da Nang was more than just a 'retreat'. For the 'commo' guys, it was a working Special Forces unit. As the focal point for a dozen or so A-Teams the message volume was large. Should enemy activity increase, the message volume ('traffic') would increase exponentially.

When the experienced operators were on duty, our CW (Morse code) net would operate at around thirty words per minute -- 30 WPM. By some standards that does not seem overly fast. However, a Special Forces radio operator was trained to receive code by hand. That is, we printed the received letters on a tablet. Have you ever tried to print thirty words per minute?

It is no easy task. When one of the FNCG was on the radio, our network speed decreased. When the 'hot shot' CW operators wanted to show off, they would see how many times they could circle each received letter on the pad and still keep up to the sender.

All CW transmissions were encrypted using Diana one-time pads. The Diana one-time pads were tablets which contained preprinted five-letter groups. The letters we received via Morse Code were encrypted -- that is, the letters that resulted from the encryption process. [An example of the Diana one-time pad and its use is included on the Commo Security.]


What does THAT mean? Well, to a commo guy, the INT (three letters run together) puts the next word or phrase in the interrogative sense. It makes a question out of it!

The BTO was an acronym coined, I believe, by Dan Meehan -- a radio operator based in Nha Trang. When the CW 'hot shots' would check in with Nha Trang on our required weekly radio checks, some of us would send at speeds far higher than these men could copy. (This was as close as we could come to 'squeeling the tires'.)

After several successive requests from headquarters to slow down (QRS), we would actually make two-way contact. It didn't take Dan long to learn who these hot dogs were. Finally, on one commo check, he stopped us cold. He sent: INT BTO. What the hell did THAT mean?? One night, I asked him.

He was asking: Are you a Big Time Operator?

It was a total transformation for me: from Hot Shot to... Hot Dork! From then on, when I checked in, I would send his signal report at 35 WPM -- no callsign, nothing else.

Dan's response: INT BTO.
My reply: R R (Roger! Roger!)
He knew exactly who it was!

I think of ya often, buddy! INT BTO

We got so good that we knew who was sending traffic just by the sound of their 'fist'. Just as in speech, people develop traits or mannerisms when sending CW. We call this their 'fist'. The ASA (Army Security Agency) would 'write us up' for not using callsigns. From our perspective anyone could send a callsign; a 'fist' was impossible to imitate. We never had an incident wherein our use of 'fist recognition' proved incorrect. An 'outsider' just couldn't understand this.