Ko Ban Nong Soong (ed: corrected on the authority of a Gentle Reader who was there. Memory ain’t what it used to be)
Goin' so fast
What'll I do
When the tasking came down the job seemed simple enough: take a team of four guys and minimal equipment, load up on a C-141, head out to an Army Security Agency monitoring site in northern Thailand via Clark AB in the Philippines, de-install an MSC-46 satellite uplink, pack it up, load it on a C-5, and ship it back to Japan. Nothing complex, just a lot of disassembly work, inventory all the components, pack, load, and get out of Dodge. No systems installation, alignments, testing, or certifications; just a lot of grunt work. A short-duration job and then back home—just the type of job we all liked.
I was the Team Chief. I had three other guys on the team, plus we were assured there would be Army augmentees from the MSC-46 maintenance organization to assist us with the de-installation. We had two weeks to complete the job. Piece of cake, really. The team consisted of my buddies Barry and Bill, plus a new guy to the shop, a young buck sergeant named James Johnson, who, of course, went by the name of JJ.
The load out at Yokota went according to plan. We flew into
Ramasun Station, near the town of Nong Soong, was an Army Security Agency monitoring site; its main system was the AN/FLR-9. The MSC-46 satellite terminal we were tasked to remove was the principal communications up and down link for the base. Ramasun Station was being deactivated because the Thai government had terminated the Status of Forces Agreement with the
I reported in to the Army captain in charge of satellite operations, was introduced to the maintenance superintendent, an Army Master Sergeant, got the team billeted, and we set to work. The major part of the job was disassembling the antenna, which was in a fixed configuration on a large concrete pad about 30 feet in diameter. The remainder of the system was in air-transportable vans, so the main effort there was securing all the equipment racks, performing an inventory, and affixing customs seals on the vans once they were ready for shipment. Taking down that antenna was a pure bitch, however.
The ambient temperature during the day was in the high 90s, as was the humidity. We were working on a blazingly hot white concrete pad, which acted as a hellish solar reflector, intensifying the heat and making working conditions all but unbearable. You literally couldn’t touch the metal pieces of that antenna without wearing gloves, it was that hot. We worked 20 minutes outside, then ten minutes inside the air conditioned shelter, then 20 minutes back outside again, eight hours a day. It took us an entire week to disassemble that damned antenna and pack it up. I must have sweated off ten pounds, and for a light-@$$ed guy like me, that’s a lot.
Our nights, though, were quite different. While it was hotter than blazes during the day, the nights were warm and balmy. The restaurants were quite good in the local area, and there were plenty of bar girls left in town who hadn’t flown the coop when the major part of the base’s population left, about two months prior to our arrival. The team and I partied-hardy, as the saying goes, spending our evenings in casual conversation with the ladies and each other in open-air watering holes. Quite pleasant, it was. Well, almost all of the team. All except for JJ, who had brought his girlfriend up to Nong Soong from
So, the work proceeded according to schedule and we got the job done. We had received a couple of messages while at Ramasun about a follow-on assignment requiring two radar guys in the
I felt bad the morning we left
We arrived in
It wasn’t a good evening. I didn’t have much of an appetite and picked at my dinner. I took more drugs and decided to ride the ferry across the harbor to
The following morning JJ and I met up in the hotel restaurant, had breakfast and headed out to the airport. JJ looked bad, really bad. I felt as bad as he looked. And I don’t remember much about the flight. I do remember landing at Haneda. The Second Mrs. Pennington (who was my intended, not my wife, at that point in time) met me at the airport.
When we got back to our place I told TSMP I felt really bad and just wanted to take more drugs and get into bed, alone. That got her attention, because we’d been separated for nearly three weeks and all I wanted to do was sleep. She insisted on taking my temperature and it was high, probably 101 or so. I took more drugs and went to bed. It was a bad night; I was up and down all night, violently ill, with a severe headache, and chills.
TSMP took my temperature again in the morning and it was 103. She got me dressed, went out to the phone box down the street, called a cab, put me in the back seat, and we were off to the base hospital at Yokota. I waited for about a half-hour to see a doctor, who examined me and told me he was going to admit me for “observation.” By that time I didn’t care, I just wanted someone or something to take away the chills and headache. I filled out the admissions paperwork, was put in a wheelchair and taken up to the ward and put in a private room, which was highly unusual. The doctor sent TSMP home, telling her he would “be in touch.”
About an hour later the door to my room opened and in walked a gaggle of medical personnel…the doctor who initially checked me out, another full-colonel doctor, still another doctor, and a couple of nurses. They all looked very grim. The colonel introduced himself as the flight surgeon and began asking me questions. After he determined I had been in Thailand, had returned the previous evening via Hong Kong, hadn’t taken any illegal drugs, and other assorted medical and non-medical questions, he asked “Do you know a Sergeant James Johnson?” “Uh, Yes, Sir.” I replied. “Why do you ask?” “We admitted Sergeant Johnson last night, he died early this morning, we don’t know what killed him, and we suspect you have what he had.”
I don’t remember much about the next 48 hours. I was in and out of consciousness, had an IV in each arm, and was poked, prodded, injected, and generally harassed every hour, on the hour. I do remember hearing TSMP screaming down the hall at the ward nurse, demanding to be let in to see me or she was going to call her congressman, and right now. I don’t think it worked; I didn’t see her again, or don’t remember seeing her again, until two days later when I was out of the woods. The military is pretty inflexible when it comes to rules, especially when one is sick with an unknown disease and is in isolation.
Eventually we convinced the flight surgeon, who was handling my case personally by now, that it was OK for TSMP to be allowed to visit me. She came every day, without fail, bringing me magazines and books, and smuggling in food fit for human consumption.
I think it happened on the fifth day I was in the hospital. TSMP was lying next to me on the bed, I was under the sheets, and I was definitely feeling better. And she could tell, too. She whispered something to the effect of “let’s get comfortable,” (but a helluva lot bawdier, and I loved her for that) but I stopped her, pointing toward the door. The door, while it was shut, had a rather large window with a full view of the room. This would never do. But…
I pushed her off the bed, hopped off the bed myself, grabbed my IV pole in one hand and her hand in the other, and led her to the attached private bathroom. The bathroom had a door, and once closed, no one could see in, period. She grinned.
It was good. Even while standing up, attached to an IV pole.
And that’s when I knew I was going to live, even though I spent a few more days in the hospital, just so the medical staff could “make sure.” That little experience also qualifies as the strangest place I ever “did it.”
And what did I have? The AF says it was extreme viral pneumonia. I think it was Legionnaire’s Disease, but I can’t prove it. But I’m alive to tell the tale, which is better than the alternative. I still feel bad for JJ, to this day, even though I didn’t know him that well. And I feel worse for his girlfriend; I have no idea if she was ever told of his death. How do you contact someone in
Updated on May 18, 2008. Corrected the name of the town near Ramasun Station and added a pic of the installation. (Image credit: the person or persons who run this site.)