Sidney author publishes book on Vietnam history


By Shannon Bohle - sbohle@aimmediamidwest.com



A view of the clouds from Pr’Line Mountain.


Courtesy photo

Taking down a parabolic dish at Pr’Line Station.


Courtesy photo

Tropospheric Scatter Microwave Communication equipment.


Courtesy photo

Vietnamese women wearing cone-shaped hats while washing laundry in the river


Courtesy photo

Menz with pet monkey, “Mai.”


Courtesy photo

SIDNEY — Pr’Line (pronounced pray-leen) is a jungle-filled peak that emerges in the mornings above the clouds in the central highlands of South Vietnam. Located near the city of Dalat, the Pr’Line Mountain Station was built by the U.S. in the late 1960s to serve as a communications base. For those entrenched there, it provided picturesque vistas that were closer to the open sky than the sniper-filled treeline a mile below.

The military made use of both Pr’Line’s height to send tropospheric scatter microwave communications — microwaves that bounced off the atmosphere and then back down to the ground — as well as its strategic geographic location, which placed it at the center of networked Tropo sites (in the cities of Saigon, Nha Trang, Pleiku, and Lang Biang Mountain). Each site could send critical, coded “Top Secret” messages to U.S. forces at any other Tropo site within that triangle without having to rely on line-of-sight transmission.

The equipment (rather than people) encoded and decoded the messages, transmitting and then receiving them using parabolic dishes. This prevented anyone who might try to intercept the message as it traveled between sites (what today we call a “man-in-the middle attack”) from deciphering it.

Robert L. Menz served on Pr’Line Mountain alongside 34 other U.S. Army Signal Corpsmen who made up STRATCOM’s 362nd Signal Company in the 73rd Signal Battalion within the 21st Signal Group of First Signal Brigade. His latest book, “In the Clouds: Voice of Pr’Line Mountain, Vietnam,” was published by Hellgate Press in September 2021.

The first 30 pages of “In the Clouds” are available to read for free at https://www.hellgatepress.com/product/in-the-clouds-robert-l-menz/. (You can finish reading it for $10.95). In them, Menz describes his initiation into military life and work as a signals operator at Pr’Line.

After he was drafted, Menz credits how his father’s work as an electrician rubbed off on him and paid off. His test scores in electronics enabled him to study at the United States Army Signal School at Fort Monmouth in Oceanport, New Jersey, for advanced training in the “installation, maintenance, operations, and repair of complex communications and cryptographic equipment,” the kind he would later encounter in Vietnam.

Straight off the plane, he set foot in Cam Ranh Bay, where he noticed the women wore stove-legged slacks and large, cone-shaped hats. After a week, he began the trek up Pr’Line Mountain along a narrow road consisting of hairpin twists and turns. When he arrived, he noticed the faces of the men around him were tanned, and their fatigues were faded and in tatters, in stark contrast to military protocol. He was assigned a “hooch” (a personal living space), but he was warned that living in the middle of a jungle, it would be filled with bugs and snakes. Two particularly deadly snakes on the mountain were the cobras and the “three steppers,” which earned that nickname because when bitten most people die before taking three steps. Living in the jungle, Menz realised, things were going to be different.

In November 2019, Menz and some of his fellow Tropos corpsmen held a reunion in Indian Lake, Ohio.

“During the reunion, as we shared stories, that spawned my desire to write the book. It covers not only the events that happened in the early 1970s, but some of our reactions to the experience that linger to this day,” Menz said.

“There are actually seven contributors. To separate my narrative from the others, when they added to the story, I included their name and their contribution in italics. The last Sunday of every month for the two years while preparing the book, there were about 16 of us who would meet through Zoom. We recounted a few stories from Pr’Line, we talked about how we were doing, our families, and grand kids. While I did not experience problems when returning to the U.S., there’s a chapter called ‘Stigma,’ and as an author, I drew on some of the stories that they shared about how they were attacked after returning from Viet Nam.” Menz said.

Menz says in his book that the process of talking years later is a healing one. “When we left Vietnam, we became disengaged, divided by circumstances and dismembered. Now after we have reconnected, we are engaged, united in spirit and remembered!”

Other than collecting their oral histories, Menz did additional research. He looked into companies serving on Pr’Line Mountain, other than his own, as well as the history of Pr’Line, to help ensure his book’s historical accuracy.

“Whenever the inspiration struck, I sat down to write using paper and pencil. When I would recall a story from that time, I would write. But the stories were all there, because I had told these same stories over and over again to my children and grandchildren. For that reason, it was the easiest book I’ve ever written because by that time the story basically wrote itself.”

After the draft of the manuscript was finished, Menz then had to select a publisher. But why Hellgate Press?

“There is a very famous canyon in Oregon called ‘Hellgate,’ and the publishing company is located on the canyon so they maintain the regional title. When I was trying to find a publisher, Hellgate Press has the reputation for being the premiere publisher for all things military, so I felt they had the experience marketing military books that I needed.”

The publisher has provided free bookmarks for marketing purposes, and Menz is currently planing a schedule to travel for author signings and talks to market his book.

Menz holds a bachelor of science in “education and science” from Southeast Missouri University, a master of divinity from Midwestern Baptist Seminary, and a doctorate of ministry in counseling from Southern Baptist Seminary. Menz is a retired certified employee assistance professional, educator, and pastoral psychotherapist. From 1991 until he retired in 2014, he worked as an employee counselor at the Sidney-based HVAC company Emerson Climate Technologies, that, according to Dun & Bradstreet, is a national company that generates $1.10 billion in sales annually and operates with 4,877 total employees at its various locations.

His previous books include: “A Memoir of a Pastoral Counseling Practice” (Haworth, 1997), “A Pastoral Counselor’s Model for Wellness in the Workplace: Psychergonomics” (Haworth, 2003), “Changing Society: A Social and Spiritual Vision for the Year 2020 Beyond” (University Press of America, 2009), “Divine Entreaty: Prayers for Public and Diverse Settings” (Balboa, 2014), and “Theo: The Circle of a Transcendent” (Balboa, 2016).

Menz lives in Sidney with his wife, Ruth. They have four children and six grandchildren. He plans to continue to stay in touch through Zoom with his Tropo brothers.

https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2021/11/web1_Menz-Book-Cover-2.jpgCourtesy photo

A view of the clouds from Pr’Line Mountain.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2021/11/web1_Menz2-2.jpgA view of the clouds from Pr’Line Mountain. Courtesy photo

Taking down a parabolic dish at Pr’Line Station.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2021/11/web1_Menz1-2.jpgTaking down a parabolic dish at Pr’Line Station. Courtesy photo

Tropospheric Scatter Microwave Communication equipment.
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2021/11/web1_Menz4-2.jpgTropospheric Scatter Microwave Communication equipment. Courtesy photo

Vietnamese women wearing cone-shaped hats while washing laundry in the river
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2021/11/web1_Menz3-2.jpgVietnamese women wearing cone-shaped hats while washing laundry in the river Courtesy photo

Menz with pet monkey, “Mai.”
https://www.sidneydailynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/47/2021/11/web1_Menz5-2.jpgMenz with pet monkey, “Mai.” Courtesy photo

By Shannon Bohle

sbohle@aimmediamidwest.com