Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Monday, January 14, 2008

More Memories -- STRATCOM

I recently heard from Rick Courtney, who was in Taipei during 1967-1968, and I thought that today I'd turn over the keyboard to him. Most of this stuff will be familiar to all who served in the HSA area, including the TDC folks:

I was in Taipei from May of 1967 thru July of 1968. I flew into Taipei on a Sunday afternoon, on a Northwest Orient commercial flight with a couple of Navy guys. None of us spoke any Mandarin. We finally found an information desk manned by a person that spoke a little English. They dialed the telephone and handed it to me. I was relieved to hear an American voice answer. After explaining the situation, the voice on the other end said to go outside and they would send a vehicle to pick us up.

Outside, what is that SMELL?? We all experienced it, but that first time really catches you by surprise, nothing quite like it. Anyway, a little time passes and a grey Navy vehicle shows up with a Chinese driver and he tells us to get in. We are driven to the East Compound and put up in the EM barracks and told to report the admin building next door the next morning.

I was US (a draftee), only been in the Army for about eight months, still a PFC (E-3), half way around the world from home, trying to figure out what the heck is going on. The next morning I get up and go over to the admin building and start processing in. When I go by the mailroom I discover I have mail waiting for me, orders from my old company at Ft. Bliss , Texas promoting me to Specialist Fourth Class (E-4). I have been promoted while I was on leave pending transfer!

It turned out to be good luck. Since I was a freshly minted non-comm, I was eligible to live in the hostel instead of having to live in the barracks. I was put up in the front hostel, on the street side of the north end. My roommate was another SP4 from the outfit I was assigned to.

I was assigned to the Taipei Military telephone system. It was really kind of a world unto its own. On paper at least, the unit was part of the Army Stratcom Long Lines Battalion (ie: Grass Mountain - Joint OverSeas Switchboard) but was assigned to Stratcom Operations Battalion. It was one of those deals where everyone needed us, but nobody wanted us. In reality we provided telephone service for everybody in the Taipei area that had anything to do with the US , including all branches of the military, MAAG, and various embassies. If when you picked up your phone and dialed Operator, a Chinese voice said “Taipei Military” that was one of our phones.

We had a telephone exchange located in the Sugar Building , in the Ximeding area (It was adjacent to the First Company Department Store, the only multistory department store I saw while I was there). The AFNT studios were located in the Sugar building also, on the back side of the lobby. All of our switchboard operators were Taiwanese. There were usually a couple of GI’s that worked at the Sugar Building, maintaining the exchange and anywhere from six to eight of us that worked outside, installing cabling and telephones, and fixing troubles.

The outside group met in the motor pool that was close to the rear entrance to the East Compound. I could walk south from the hostel; go past the Chinese guard and into the main entrance to the East Compound, past the Navy Exchange and theater, and thru a little alley and come out next to the motor pool. All of our vehicles had Chinese military drivers; the Army didn’t want to take any chances on us being involved in an accident driving a government vehicle. So, we would meet at the motor pool every morning, call the exchange at the Sugar Building to get our assignments, and away we went. We usually worked in two man teams, for safety.

One of the benefits of having the Chinese drivers was that if we were anywhere close to the 63 Club around lunch time we would get the driver to drop us off and go back to the motor pool. We could have a leisurely lunch, enjoy the air conditioning, and maybe play a little pinball afterwards. Then we would catch a cab back to the motor pool.

We worked all around the greater Taipei area. East and West HSA compounds, Linkou, the airport, various MAAG compounds, Grass Mountain , Tien Mu, you name it. It was really pretty good duty. It was more like a civilian job than being in the military. We could occasionally play one organization against another to our advantage. As long as the phones kept working everybody was happy.

I wish I had taken more pictures while I was there. All I have are a few Polaroid’s that are pretty badly faded. I have enjoyed the photos on your site as well as several others; they bring back lots of memories.

One of your contributors was commenting about places we ate. I ate at the FASD mess hall in the East compound a couple of times and a few times at the Linkou Club Annex but have no clear memory of either. Mostly, I ate at the 63 Club or the snack bar in the West compound (bowling alley). I remember there was a small snack bar at the rear of the lobby in the hostel. Occasionally I would get a sandwich after work there if I didn’t feel like going to the club. There was also a really small snack bar off the rear lobby of the Sugar Building that we would eat at if we were there picking up supplies.

There was a barber shop just off the lobby of the hostel I lived in. I remember getting a haircuts and manicures there. What a treat to sit and relax after having been out in the heat and humidity all day.

1 comment:

George said...

Rick,

Your story sounds very much like mine. Flew from Travis AFB in a Pan Am Charter bound for Vietnam in January 1965 and lucky me got off at Clarke AFB Philippines. Waited two days for a Southern Airways DC-6 Charter to Taipei. I'll never forget breaking through the clouds on a rainy day to see the Grand Hotel when landing at Sung Shan. I was stationed at the HSA Admin Office you mentioned from Jan 65 - Jan 67, so I just missed you. I did a twice daily mail run in the Motor Pool vans you mentioned while practicing my Mandarin skills with the Chinese Sergeants. TDC, Navy Hospital, MAAG, TAS, Attache, MND Building, FASD, among other stops. What a life changing experience driving around Taipei daily to deliver mail!