At the elevation of the Vietnam War, up-and-coming commo men who wanted to find out the art of radio operation would walk right into a classroom and also see a huge number five written top top the chalkboard.

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Inevitably, someone’s curiosity would win out and also they’d asking what the huge number meant. The instructor would certainly then calmly tell them, “That’s her life expectancy, in seconds, in a firefight. So, hear up and you can learn something that’ll store you alive.”

That number wasn’t some outrageous fear tactic. During the Vietnam War, the odds were significantly stacked versus radio operations — and that 5-second life span was, because that some, a grim reality.


(USMC historical Archives)

To do matters worse, friend can’t really manage the volume ~ above those radios because the dial was on the wearer’s back. Radio chatter could give your place away, too.

In every fairness, that number to be on the much more extreme next of estimates. The life span of a radio operator in the Vietnam battle ranged between five come six secs all the means up to a slightly-more-optimistic thirty seconds, depending upon your source. If friend look at every one of the things the radio operators were tasked with, it becomes abundantly clear why commo men weren’t meant to last long.

The very first and most noticeable tally in the “you’re screwed” pillar was the in its entirety weight the the gear radio operators were expected to bring into battle. The PRC-77 radio device weighed 13.5 lbs without batteries. Toss in batteries, some spare batteries, and the unsightly, large encryption an equipment called the NESTOR and also you’re spring at delivering 54lbs on your back at every times. Now add your weapon mechanism onto the and try to store up as you hit alongside your unencumbered brethren. It take it a lot of gaining used to — yet they managed.

If the load wasn’t trouble enough, next comes the antennae. They weren’t all too heavy, yet they were exceptionally uncomfortable come use and would often give your position away come the enemy. The three-foot variation was less complicated on the radio operator, yet it wouldn’t work-related in thick jungles. For that environment, the radio operator needed a ten-foot whip antenna come stick the end of their back, which was a an excellent way to draw unwanted attention.

The Viet Cong knew what it expected to take the end a man with a giant, ten-foot antenna sticking out of their ago — you might too have painted a bullseye on them. You take the end the radio operator and you effectively avoid taking care of air support. Additionally, it was renowned that a radio operator’s place in the marching order was at the heels the the officer-in-charge — two high-priority targets in one spot.

And it wasn’t just the bullets that radio operators had actually to watch the end for. The huge antenna additionally acted together a targeting point for mortars and other explosives. Every they had to carry out was aim because that the antenna and they can wipe the end anyone near the radio operator. As terrible as the sounds, this supposed that the radio operator would sometimes move in isolation, far from the rest of the squad.

It’s unclear exactly how numerous radio operators lost their lives during the Vietnam War. While many radio operators were fulfilling their MOS, rather just had actually a radio strapped come them in time of need. One thing is for certain, though: being a radio operator earlier in the Vietnam battle puts you among the most badass troops the military has to offer.

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To hear one of these badasses describe what life was choose in his very own words, check out the video clip below.