Taiwan

Staying with my dad for another moment. I was in Glendale, Ca when I was born, he was in Taiwan serving as one of those unofficial military advisors that go to countries around the world.

While at his house this past week I discovered a document that documented his time in Taiwan.  I learned a few things. I have a feeling he created this document for a presentation at a Retired Officers meeting. He had been president and was the creator of the Glendale retired officers club.

I knew I hadn’t met my father for a long time but I was shocked to find out it was 22 months.  For years I felt I’d been consummated on Taiwan because I knew I’d been born in Glendale just a few weeks after my family had left Taiwan. I had always wanted to get a tattoo on my toe in the shape of a tag that said “Made in Taiwan”. For those who don’t know, back in the day before China was the country who made cheap and easily broken goods, it was Taiwan.  Luckily I learned before I could get the tattoo that I had actually been consummated and born in Glendale. Turns out we had only spent eight months in Taiwan.

After the end of the war with Japan, the large American presence in China evaporated, victim of the nation wide desire to bring the boys home as soon as possible. Unfortunately for the Chinese, the war did not end for them. As the Japanese were withdrawing, the battles with the communists were increasing. The chicoms benefited by receiving from their Russian allies, possession of the huge weapon, equipment and ammunition deposits left behind by the retreating Japanese. The government forces, beset by mismanagement and corruption, lost the respect and confidence of the majority of the population. The fighting forces dwindled away and the survivors took refuge on the island of Formosa. (actually they invaded the island and imposed the Chinese nationalist government in the indigenes

population.) Originally a province of china, the island had been under Japanese occupation and control for many years

Periodically the chi coms threatened to invade the island. These actions resulted in the president (dictator ) Chaing Kai Chaik appealing to the USA for assistance and we complied. In addition to posting the 7th fleet to a position to thwart an invasion, the US entered into several treaties. In one of these, the US agreed to re equip the Chi Nat forces for defensive purposes only, . A Military Assistance Advisory Group (Taiwan). was formed and charged with supervising training with the equipment and its proper in tactical deployments and strategic planning. A definite requirement was to insure that none of the material provided be used in any provocation against mainland China.

My family and I arrived in Taipei in March 1958..From the air the island was a gorgeous

green.. Once on the ground,, cultural shock. Two planting seasons, rice the main crop and heavy use of human waste the fertilizer of choice. The air literally took your breath away.

We lived in Hsin Chu, the islands’ 3rd largest city located about 50 miles south of Taipei and home of a ChiNat airbase (and usaf advisors, and several missions). The group I was in worked at the chinese army Hq half way between hsn chu & Taipei. and covered CNA units in the northern half of the island.

Each advisor was assigned a vehicle (jeep), driver and liaison officer (interpreter). The first 2 weeks we received Chinese language classes all day. After that classes continued 3 mornings per week. The assignment consisted of visiting assigned installations, units and facilities to observe status of training, knowledge, use and maintintence of equipment, and safety and security. Initially it was frustrating .The agreement required the advisors, BUT there was nothing said about listening to or acting on ‘advice given’.

Coming back from a particularly useless visit we stopped at my quarters for refreshment in route to hq. Capt X came in the house and in due course one of my kids came out.. he said “you have a son??

Yes. I have 4 sons he couldn’t believe it and I had to produce them to prove it.

Next day another visit to a place with an uncooperative commander. As usual Capt X

introduced us and added something I hadn’t heard before.. immediately the commander’s eyes widned and he became uncharacteristically open and animated during the tour of the facility. We amically discussed items that might be improved , some safety cautions (storing of ammunition) and he proposed a time schedule to accomplish what was discussed. I couldn’t believe the change and After we left I asked Capt X what caused the change in the commander’s manner..he replied.. I told him you had 4 sons. When he questionred me I told him I had seen them and they all looked like you. For a Chinese having that many sons is magic.

That was the key because things began to happen. And the next few months were pleasant

However..in October the chi coms began to make threatening noises, shelling began on the off shore islands and chi com aircraft began making feints toward Taiwan . The air group based in hsin chu intercepted one such feint within 25 miles and shot down several hostiles without a loss. Such actions occurred several days in a row and a state of emergency was declared: all dependents with large families and pregnant wives were to be evacuated immediately in anticipation of additional hostile action and ecpected augmentation to US forces. Since my wife was again pregnant, we qualified on both criteria and she was airlifted out 2 days later. Her experiences in the various flights are a story in itself. Our 5th son was born 11-23-58. He was 22 months when I first saw him,

While not happy at the separation it turned out for the best. The day our son was born (and for 2 days before and after) a particularly violent typhoon lashed taipei area. The only US medical facilities on the island was a small naval base hospital in Taipei with minimal natal care. A woman who could not leave with the others had her baby in the delivery room during this period… a Quonset hut with the attending doctor & nurse standing in water up to their knees. Given the weather conditions prevailing at that time we never could have made the trip to the hospital

During this period Capt X was reassigned and some time later I visited his new assignment . He had taken a poorly run, disorganized vehicle maintenance facility and turned it into a 1st class operation in a several months time. I complimented him and said we would be sure that the general got a copy of our report. He took me aside and said “if you are my friend do not mention me. Officers recommended by advisors usually lose their command and chance for promotion.”

I did as ha requested. then to test the waters, prepared a glowing report on an individual who was really screwing up. Sure enough, the problem officer with the good report was shortly transferred.

During for a 6 month period after my family left, I was assigned to Matsu defense command, one of the 2 so called off shore islands. Matsu actually is a group of 5 islands off of the Chinese port of Foochow. The largest of the islands is 15000 yards from the mainland. The smallest island is 9000 yards from the mainland. All of the islands are rocky outcrops with very little flat space. There was a 12 person team including radio operators and a medic. In addition to the training mission we were specifically required to verify the receipt of materials sent out for support, and try to prevent incidents.

During the Nixon-Kennedy debates the question of the usefulness of these islands was raised. Kennedy said they were useless and only served as a goad to the Chinese communists. Nixon, the vice president, argued that the islands were essential because they prevented ships from entering foochow. At that point he lost my vote and for the 1st time in my life I voted for a democrat president.

In the 6 months I was on the island, never once did the garrison fire at a passing ship. From observation posts on the island we could track ships as they came in and again as they came out.

One last observation. I’m sure many of you remember Gen Douglas Mac Arthur, and the controversy that followed his removal from command by president Truman. The action was precipated in part by the general’s speech that the US should unleash Chaing ie allow him to invade the mainland.

I assure you there was no way the nationalists were going to invade anything. Their army was ill equipped in artillery, tanks supply support. In short any unleashing could have been done only if supported by massive military power which we did not have to spare.

And, probably meet massive civilian resistance. Unfortunately, Chaing’s party was discredited by his own people . Proof: during the time I was on Taiwan , a tremendous flow of refugees crossed the border into Hong Kong. The ChiNAts offered to settle free anyone who wished to come to Taiwan. Most refused the offers.

Anyway, I found the story about the Taiwan officer funny. I also know from my Uncle that my father (and all military advisors ) had been targeted for assassination by mainland China and almost succeeded. I finally got him to tell me that story a few years ago.

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6 Comments

  1. El Lay Dave

    Thank you for this Phil. Fascinating story to which I have a little personal connection as well.

    Like

    • Thanks Dave, it was big deal for me to find this document last week. I just wish I’d found it before I couldn’t talk to my Dad about it. I vaguely remember him telling the story about the officers, but I don’t recall ever hearing about the storms in Taiwan on the day I would have been born there.

      Like

    • Were you born on Taiwan?

      Like

  2. Frank

    Phil, two fascinating stories (love all dodger posts as well). Always enjoy stories with personal connection. Though 1958 was well before my time (I’m a Taiwanese who live in LA now, and of course a Dodger fan), it’s still nice to read history from different angle. A good friend of mine (a white woman from Pedro) spent her teenage years in Taiwan (around 1967). She told me stories that I always felt fascinating (Pedicab? what are you talking about?).

    Long term care is hard. God bless you and your family.

    Like

  3. Mike Sacha

    What a great story. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

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