Saturday, July 26, 2014

The San Clemente Communications Contingency Team (CCT) (1970-1972)

The San Clemente Communications Contingency Team (CCT)
AF-1 at EL Toro MCAS

Type Of Activity
 Establish  CCT and provide support
 El Toro MCAS  El Toro Ca
Date of Activity
 June 27 1970 to June 1 1972
 33°40′34″N 117°43′52″W

15 June 1970 to Establish the San Clemente Communications Contingency Team (CCT)

I was assigned to The Western White House in San Clemente CA in June of 1970.  During the next two years I would support many visits to San Clemente at the Western White House and the west coast including President Nixon’s historic trip to China in 1972. The team also supported the Vice President on several trips to Palm Springs and other locations west of the Mississippi River.

The San Clemente Communications Contingency Team (CCT) was established in 1970 and became an integral part of the communications support provided to the Western White House. The CCT was a highly mobile group that could be deployed very quickly.  All of our equipment was positioned at El Toro Marine Air Station and was palletized so it could be quickly loaded onto an aircraft for a speedy departure. Several trips were very short notice and needed a very quick response.

The CCT’s repair facility was located in an aircraft hangar on the flight line and within 50 yds. away from where Air Force would be parked while the President was visiting San Clemente. The CCT worked all of the Presidents arrivals and departures at El Toro.
The Operations center at El Toro AF-1 would always be Placed in this area while in Ca.
The CCT’s Repair facility                       
The team consisted of an NCOIC, two switchboard operators, two comm. center techs and two radio techs’. All of us were assigned to the CCT after the Microwave Network was discontinued and the towers were closed and decommissioned. Five team members would come From Crystal one from Cadre and of course I came from Cannonball. My Primary responsibility was cross training the team so any member could help set up any of the equipment that deployed by the CCT. Each team member knew how to operate all of the equipment that we would set up on any deployment.

The word transportable took on a new meaning in WHCA, in the 60's and 70's it meant anything that you could attach handles. The communications equipment that the CCT maintained and installed on stateside trips included Baker, Charlie and Sierra FM radio base stations; we also carried a complete Comm. Center equipped with encrypted TTY systems, multiple teletype printers, and several fax machines.

The "Lilla" board was developed in the late 60's by Mario Lilla a civilian engineer who worked with WHCA.  This was a single position cord board that became part of the trip package especially the CCT' because of its compact size and it only took two people to transport it. It was also classified as "Quick Connect" because it had punch down blocks and Amphenol cables. The mini board replaced the AT&T POTUS boards on all trips as part of our standard package. 

We also carried audio visual equipment including recording, lighting and a PA system and a complete Presidential Podium for indoor or outdoor speech sites.

On overseas trips two 1Kw HF SSB (AN/TRC-23) systems with phone patch capability was also included which allowed us to communicate with Air force One as well as voice and teletype traffic back to the White House. 

09 Aug/27 Aug 70 to Thurmont MD to build CCT’s HF Control Console

Shortly after I transferred to San Clemente I returned to Camp David for two weeks to build a Control Console for the HF package used by the CCT. This Console would provide an operator position for the two URT -23. The operator would also be able to provide phone patch capability on the Upper side band (USB) on both systems. I returned to San Clemente with a functional Control Console completing our HF package.

Typical HF installation on overseas trips          
31 Oct 70 to Newport Beach CA-Political Speech and Fund Raiser

During the President’s visit to the Western White House in San Clemente we were on many occasions sent on side trips to support the Vice President who was also visiting southern California. The President had just returned from the Republican Rally at the Anaheim Convention Center where we were in the process of tearing down and packing our equipment, when we found out that we were to move and setup at the Newporter Inn in Newport Beach to support Vice President Agnew. The Vice President was to arrive on Nov 1, 1970 spend the night and depart back to Washington DC.

The Newporter Inn in Newport Beach CA
We had only one day to set up our radios, order and install the phones in the Vice Presidents suite and the USSS CP. We also had to set up a single circuit for Secure TTY Communications back to the Western White House Commcenter. Because the President was also visiting the local TELCO was available to work all of orders and completed them a few hours before the arrival the next day.

The Vice President arrived at the Orange County Airport (renamed John Wayne Airport) and motored to the Newporter Inn. The Vice President was scheduled to speak at a fund raiser that evening follower by a reception at the hotels pool.

Poolside Reception

On December 2nd the Vice President departed the Hotel and motored to Orange County Airport to return to Washington DC. Once the Vice President departed we packed up our equipment and returned to El Toro as the President was still in CA and it was Election Day and we had a lot of activity remaining before the President departs on December 4th to return to Washington DC.
With the President and Vice President both leaving Southern California as well as the White House Staff, mid term elections were complete and things were about to return to normal, at least for a few days.

Support to Air Force One, Army One and Marine One at El Toro

During one visit in 1970 I was asked to look at a pager that Col Albertazzie, the pilot of AF1, had been using.  I met with the AF1 radio operator, Bill Justus to pick up the unit and take a look at it. I worked with Justus several times after that.  I worked all of the arrivals and departures at El Toro while I was assigned to San Clemente.  There was a four pronged plug in the nose of AF1, two lines for passenger use and parallel connections for the ramp phone. 

I would meet AF1 and plug the ramp phone (bat phone) into the nose of aircraft when it arrived, and remove the phones upon departure. It was tough duty but someone had to do it. There was also a four pronged plug on Army One by the front entrance, two switchboard extensions were always installed, at least when they arrived at El Toro.

AF-! Cockpit (26000) in 1970                 .
Air Force One Sam (26000) aka “The Spirit of 1976” was retired while President Nixon still was in office and replaced by Sam (27000).   Air Force One (SAM 27000)  was retired after it transported the Nixon’s back to San Clemente and is now on display at the Reagan Presidential Library!
 Communications Console on AF1 (2600)
The Army's Executive Flight Detachment, Army One was identical to the Marines and Marine One.  Army One was a white top that would rotate with Marine One in supporting the President, they were stationed at Ft. Belvoir Va.  While I was in charge of the San Clemente CCT, our repair shop shared a hanger with the Marine One and Army One crews, while they were at El Toro on Nixon's visits to The Western White House.  The only reason that I knew that Army One existed was because I worked with them and even shared facilities at San Clemente and Key Biscayne.
Given to the CCT from the Crew of Army One
I did get to know a few of the people assigned to Army One, I would work more closely with the Army, mainly because the Marines were more aloof and El Toro was a Marine base. I always interfaced with MSG Julian Hill who was the NCOIC of the detachment. I also knew CWO Ron Bean who was in the pilot seat on that unforgettable night in the Bahamas when Army One crashed in the water while trying to land with Secret Service Agents aboard. The 1972 crash in the Bahamas was the last time I saw anyone from the Executive Flight Detachment.

President Nixon’s final flight on Army One (1974)
Ironically Army one would become closely tied to President Nixon. LTC Gene Boyer and Army One would transport President and Mrs. Nixon on their final trip to Andrews AFB to board AF1 to return to San Clemente when the President resigned from office in 1974.  Nixon’s Final Trip on AF1 occurred on August 9 1974 when the President and First Lady returned to San Clemente.

The Army's Executive Flight Detachment was officially deactivated in 1976 thus leaving the Marines as the only helicopter flight service for Presidential use.  Army One has been restored and is now on display at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda CA

05 Apr 71 to San Diego CA-Political Speech

The CCT was in the middle of another one of the Presidents working vacation at the Western White House. The day after the Presidents arrival I was sent to Los Angles to support the President with the presentation at the Samuel Goldwyn estate in Beverly Hills CA which lasted for only a couple of Hours.

Several days after my return I found out that the Vice President was planning a visit to San Diego International Airport. During his overnight stay he would speak at a Republican Fund Raiser and hold a Press Conference at the Airport.

Vice President Agnew talks to reporters
We set up our radios in the CP and at the Airport where we also had a number of Press Phones installed. I came down from San Clemente to work the Vice Presidents departure.  The Vice President arrived and addressed the Press, as he was leaving they surrounded him asking questions while the Vice President tried to board AF2.

When I returned home later that evening I found out that I was on the news just standing in the background while the Vice President talked to reporters. My moment of of fame lasted just 10 seconds and I never saw the clip.

Although the Vice President had departed southern California we still had the President in San Clemente for a few more days before everyone returned to Washington DC.

11 May 71 to Camp Pendleton CA-Organizational Readiness Evaluation (ORE)

Since the CCT was meant to be a fast response team that could respond quickly, DCSU HQ decided to surprise us with an Organizational Readiness Evaluation (ORE). I received a call from Mr. Douglas at about 7:30 in the evening to assemble the team ASAP at our El Toro shop.

I started calling or paging everyone to immediately call me for instructions it only took about 15 min. to inform everyone to pack a bag and report to our shop. When we arrived we were instructed to prepare to leave first thing in the morning with all of our radio, switchboard, and commcenter equipment for an unknown location in southern CA. We all went to the EL Toro MCAS, officers BOQ to spend the night.

Camp Pendleton’s main entrance    
              Abandoned Quonset Huts
Our instructions were to depart and proceed to Camp Pendleton to set up our equipment in a building on base. The building turned out to be an old WW II Quonset hut in an isolated area of Camp Pendleton. We were glad to find that the building did have electricity to power our equipment.  It only took us about an hour to set up all of our equipment and run the necessary radio keying lines and interconnecting audio circuits between the two URT-23 HF SSB radios with the mini board and the commcenter. Operational tests were conducted for both TTY and voice traffic including HF Phone Patches with Cactus and FM Radio patches with various places through San Clemente switch board.

This exercise continued until early evening when we were advised to terminate our activities, pack up our equipment and return to El Toro.   

19 Sep 71 to Chicago IL-Motorola Radio

I had been working on Motorola FM equipment for a number of years, all of my training had been on the job until 1971 when I was sent to Schaumburg IL to Motorola’s manufacturing plant to be trained on hand held FM radios and radio Pagers.

Motorola’s  Headquarters in Schaumburg IL 

Manufacturing Plant in Schaumburg IL
WHCA used the Motorola brand exclusively for communications between the Secret Service, the White House Staff, and WHCA our frequency spectrum was in the VHF range for these units.

We would use the P-33’s in all motorcade setups and all vehicles used by advance and staff. If the vehicle was assigned to the Secret Service they would receive a unit with Baker/Charlie frequency.

 P-33 5w FM transceiver 
The Secret Service Agents were all issued HT-220's on Baker/Charlie Frequency and certain Staff members would be issued HT-220's on Sierra. 

HT-220 1.5w FM Transceiver
The Staff frequency would also be set up with a Radio Paging system.  The Paging encoder would be set up at the switchboard at all trip locations or permanent installations. Any of the Staff and WHCA personnel authorized would receive a voice pager.
Page Boy radio paging unit 
Paging system Encoder
The San Clemente Detachment and CCT had hundreds of units that were used during Presidential visits or support on side trips for the Secret Service and the White House Staff.  This training would help us tremendously in our efforts to maintain our assigned equipment.

Since I had met and married my wife (Joanne) while I was stationed in Chicago, I was pretty familiar with the area.  I was sent to this training with Bill Eadie who was also a CCT member.  Arrived at O’Hare and departed to check into our hotel.

The Motorola Plant was only two miles away from our hotel, so the next morning we started the week long class. We wrapped up training on Friday morning and was given a tour of the manufacturing plant after which we were released to return home. 

Bill and I departed O’Hare on Saturday to return to San Clemente.

13 October 1971 to Hilo Hi with Henry Kissinger

In July 1971, President Nixon's National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, secretly visited Beijing, and laid the groundwork for Nixon's visit to China. The world discovered that Kissinger had just returned from a secret mission to China. Nixon then announced that he, the president of the United States, had accepted an invitation to visit China.

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Hilo, HI
On October 13, 1971 the San Clemente CCT was sent to Hilo, Hi to support Dr. Kissinger during his final trip to China prior to the President’s visit in February, 1972. The CCT set up a single position mini switchboard, and a secure Comm. Center in the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, where Dr. Kissinger would lay over for a couple of days before continuing on to Peking. There were several Autovon circuits and some TTY circuits terminated on the switchboard for use by the small staff that was traveling with Dr. Kissinger.

We departed Hilo on October 18, 1971 after Dr. Kissinger returned from his meeting in China.

When we left Hilo it was on an old Air Force trainer and we flew directly to Hickam AFB in Honolulu. Since we could not arrange for Air Force transportation, we had to arrange for our return on a commercial airliner. After we booked ourselves on a return flight the next day we checked into the Ala Moana Hotel for the night. 

Ala Moana Hotel in Honolulu HI
There were several things that we had to do before boarding the Aircraft. Since we were carrying classified material and Comm. Center equipment we were required to notify them that we were armed and order a Sky Marshal for the flight. Then we had to supervise the loading of the equipment into the cargo hold to insure that it was secured and nothing else was loaded.

Upon our arrival in Los Angeles we were the first off to watch our equipment unloaded from the plane.

On October, 25 1971, just five days after Dr. Kissinger returned from this trip to China the UN General Assembly expelled Taiwan and admitted the Peoples Republic of China.

14 Nov 71 to Washington DC-Lincompex Training for High Frequency Radios

I was sent back to the WHCA shop in Georgetown to be trained on a new piece of terminal equipment for high frequency radio telephone circuits.

I arrived at the Baltimore MD airport and was picked up by a friend who I would be staying that also worked at the radio shop.

The new terminal was known as LINCOMPEX, which improved performance of HF SSB audio circuits, more particularly when reception conditions are poor on account of noise and fading. By sending a compressed signal and expanding the signal on the receiving end, the two main advantages of using LINCOMPEX, was the constant loss feature which makes singing suppressors unnecessary and thus avoids the 'lock-out' trouble, and the muting of noise between utterances.

Training lasted for a week and I returned to San Clemente to add LINCOMPEX into the HF CCT package at El Toro. 

WHCA Shop on M st in Georgetown
Living On a restricted Marine Air Station

Blending in on a Marine base and working and living at the El Toro Marine Air Station, was not as easy as it might sound. We never wore uniforms so no one knew what rank we were. I had to argue with the barber not to cut off my sideburns whenever I would get a haircut. You know the barber only had one attachment for their clippers that they used on all Marines.

The Lighter than Air facility (LTA) in Tustin Ca

Home on Tustin LTA (Blimp Hangar in background)  
The Marine base also had everything segregated by rank you had sections for enlisted, NCO, Senior NCO, and Officer in the Movies, Clubs and Housing. We lived in Senior NCO Quarters at the Tustin, Lighter than Air (LTA) Station; this is where they serviced any remaining blimps. Goodyear used this facility regularly. There were many times that we had access to officer facilities by showing only our WHCA ID's. We would wear suits when working trips, but wore casual when back at our home base.

Joanne and Patty (1971) 
Our youngest daughter, Patty, ironically was born at 2am on Feb. 8, 1971 and at 6am a major earthquake rocked Los Angeles!  I had returned home from the hospital around 3:30am and  laid down on the couch to get a little sleep before the kids got up that morning,  I was awaken at 6am by the rattling of all of the dishes and pots and pans in the kitchen, the whole house was shaking. Don, Bob and Kathie came running out of their bedrooms startled and scared but by the time we realized it was an earthquake it was over! Once I got the kids settled down, I called the hospital to see if Joanne and Patty were OK. Joanne was in bed when the quake hit and said that all she could do was to lay there while the bed moved, the blinds shook and the toilet flushed, but they were both fine..  Although it only lasted about 60 sec. there was major damage throughout Los Angeles but we were all safe. We were living on the LTA facility at Tustin, I was very surprised that we had no damage and the blimp Hangars that were directly behind us were intact without any visible damage.

The Cross Kids (1972)
The Tustin LTA has been closed and decommissioned and all of the Quarters that we once lived in have been bulldozed. The Blimp hangars are still standing but are in a state of disrepair. The Goodyear blimp is no longer serviced at the LTA facility.

The San Clemente Communications Detachment Annual picnic
Over the years the CCT was deployed to many locations worldwide. It not only supported the President, First Family, White House Sr. Staff including the Press corps and the Secret Service Protection Details on the extended visits to the Western White House, but the CCT also handled many side trips to Los Angles, San Francisco, Santa Rosa, San Diego, Loma Linda CA., as well as Hilo Hawaii, Agana Guam and several trips to Palm Springs.

The CCT also provided the Vice President communications support on west coast trips. In a two year period the VP traveled to New Orleans twice,Phoenix, Tucson, Los Angles, Newport Beach, San Diego, and Palm Springs four times to play golf. The VP stayed with either Bob Hope or Frank Sinatra houses while golfing. Vice President Agnew participated in the Bob Hope desert Classic in 1971 and attended Frank Sinatra's retirement concert.

In June of 1972, I would be transferred to the Key Biscayne Communications detachment in charge of the Detachments permanent communications systems. Joanne and the kids packed up and we were off to Florida.

The San Clemente Communications Detachment was scaled back when President Nixon resigned from office in 1974; however a small group remained to support the Secret Service until the Nixon’s moved to New Jersey in 1980.  The CCT was eventually moved back to the east coast to be redeployed at Ft. Richie MD.


  1. thank you for sharing this kind of article, i read more about marines, how about for Marine Communication , do you have any idea that you can share with me? thanks.

  2. I knew Mario Lilla and dated his daughter just before he died.Have you heard from his family?
    Thank you, George Holt