The story I am about to tell covers a period 40 to more than 60 years ago. As of this date the principal participant has died, and I, the youngest participant, am 82 years old and of marginal health. So the story had best be told by me today or the truth may never be known. Therefore, for what it’s worth ….
It was a tense period for our nation during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, with special concern with what President Kennedy called The Missile Gap. With the highest national priority, the Navy’s Special Project Office (SPO) was formed, headed by Admiral “Red” Rayborn, to conceive, develop, build, and deploy a nuclear retaliation force of 41 nuclear submarines (each with two complete crews) and 16 Polaris missiles that could be fired submerged on orders from the President of the United States. As the backbone of the nation’s deterrent force, these submarines were to be stationed on patrol in many unknown locations somewhere beneath the Seven Seas.
The importance of the program was felt keenly by SPO personnel. In those days it was the custom in Washington for all service personnel to wear civilian clothes to work. Y ct, as a reflection of pride for the extremely high national priority of SPO, we all wore our uniforms to work-only on weekends were civilian clothes worn. (All hands were very conscious of that priority, so Saturday work was normal routine .. . and often Sundays as well).
I was a member of S PO. I was therefore a small part of a magnificent team, who put their hearts and souls into creating one of the finest and most dedicated Military/Civil Service organizations our government has ever produced: Special Projects Office. It was quartered in the old Munitions Building on Constitution A venue, and completely dedicated to its mission of highest national priority. Within SPO, this LCDR had the distinct honor of working for a remarkable officer, Captain Dave Veazey, as his one and only communications assistant. `
Communications, of course, enjoyed a small but vital position in the huge POLARIS Technical Engineering Division, which was responsible for designing and producing the submarines and their missile armament. It was headed by RADM Levering Smith, CAPT Veazey’s direct boss.
The fact was, of course, that the entire mission of our 41 submarines depended on our ability to reach them with a firing message while deep in the ocean and far from home. It was Captain Dave Veazey’ s Command Control Communications Branch, that was charged with developing the system(s) that would guarantee receipt of the President’ s orders by all deployed submarines-even with the USA under attack.
There were many, many R&D ideas under development in an attempt to determine the best mix of communications systems that would provide the redundancy necessary to assure message delivery, even after the US sustained a nuclear attack. Several of the various systems made use of powerful low frequency radio signals sent from huge shore based antennas, and one even involved an aircraft dropping an explosive device far at sea emitting a series of coded detonations.
So it was a natural to try combining these two ideas such as installing a very low frequency (VLF) transmitter in a navy patrol aircraft. It would fly over distant seas and transmit VLF signals to submerged submarines by use of an extremely long wire antenna towed behind the aircraft.
The idea, of course, was to get the transmitter closer to the submarine operating areas thereby increasing the signal strength needed to penetrate deeper into the salt water. Development of this system was assigned by SPO to the Bureau of Aeronautics (BUAIR). This project eventually acquired the name TACAMO.
Well, that’s the background of the VLF transmitter flown to sea by an aircraft. But how docs the name TACAMO get in there? A bit of history is necessary to understand how this all relates:
Dick White side and I were classmates in the USNA class of 1949 but that was just for starters. W c were together again in 1951 attending Submarine School. We remained close friends, and it was our good fortune that duty assignments had us together several more times over our naval careers. And, as luck would have it, my submarine even relieved his submarine in a Sixth Fleet deployment to the Mediterranean-we were each XO of different subs.
So it was in Gibraltar that we sat in his wardroom transferring pertinent deployment information. As usual we swapped a few sea stories and that included our experiences as XO. One of Dick’ s many ideas was this extra large stamp he had made up, with which to imprint a piece of incoming mail, thus directing some action officer to Take Charge And March Off-in other words take full responsibility for whatever action was necessary, and get on with it. In large red capital letters the stamp simply said: TACAMO.
To those of us who spent some years as USN A midshipmen, the order Take Charge and March Off is familiar. We used to march a lot, often in sections to and from class-there was but a singular curriculum back then, which made it feasible to do so. The order may be less familiar today, as the diverse USNA curriculum has precluded sections marching to class for many years.
THE EVENT THAT COINED TACAMO
One of my many responsibilities for Captain Veazey was to keep Milestone Charts showing sequential progress and plans of our numerous Communications R&D Projects.
We had lots of them-at one time running a R&D Communications budget as large as twenty million dollars a year.
At this particular time-time frame 1962-1 was having difficulty in laying out any meaningful development schedule for our VLF aircraft project that had recently been assigned to BUAIR. I had called them frequently but they apparently had our project low on their priority list. In the absence of Captain Veazey, who happened to be in the hospital at the time, I was making our periodic status report to Admiral Smith and told him the BUAIR project was languishing.
I was ordered to return immediately to his office, together with the action officer in BUAIR responsible for the project. In short order Admiral Smith’s office featured two BUAIR Commanders, plus this Lieutenant Commander, all lined up at attention before his desk and suffering the penetrating glare of ADM Smith. I had the distinct impression that the casual civilian attire of the Commanders was not making a favorable impression on Admiral Smith.
After some unsatisfactory answers to his questions, Admiral Smith read the riot act to the two rather dejected BUAIR reps, and left no doubt that the priority for the project was to be moved to the top of the list. Then he asked them, “What’s the name of this project anyway?”
There followed a long silence with the two BUAIR Commanders looking even more uncomfortable-the project had never been assigned a name.
Finally I broke the spell with: “How about TACAMO, Admiral?” ADM Smith shifted his gaze to me and asked: “What’s a TA CA MO?” I told him that it was short for the command “TAKE CHARGE AND MARCH OFF!” “Perfect! Make it so!” said the Admiral, and immediately told the two BUAIR Commanders that they’d better get hopping … and now!
And with that TACAMO became a new SPO/BUAIR high priority R&D project. The name was applied that day by Admiral Levering Smith in his office; and TA CA MO went on to become one of our R&D projects that actually became operational in the world of POLARIS Command Control Communications.
I have heard several amusing, and incorrect, explanations of TACAMO’s origin, including the honoring of an obscure American Indian Tribe-so obscure that no one has ever found record of it. But the story I have related above speaks for itself.
As for me, I quickly called my friend Dick Whiteside to confess I’d used his creation without his OK. All I can say is that it was lucky for me that Dick was a good friend of mine.
There you have it.