Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Memories, Real and Imagined

Two or three years ago, during a summer visit to my old hometown in Ohio, I had an opportunity to explore the school buildings where I spent my junior high and high school years. I hadn't entered either one since I left town to join the Air Force back in 1962.

A few things in both buildings were pretty much as I remembered them, but I was quite surprised to find that most of those empty hallways and classrooms bore only a slight resemblance to my memories of them. Both buildings were torn down this past summer, so I'm glad that I had a chance to see them before they were gone.

Though my memories of the USTDC building have dimmed over time, I suspect that many of the memories that remain are probably also flawed.

I remembered the main entrance to the building (which I think was officially called the quarterdeck) as very ornate with large columns. But a year or so ago when I received the photograph that's at the top of this blog, I saw that I had it wrong. I later received some earlier photos showing a long metal awning over that entrance, but it was gone by the time I arrived.

I remember that the ship's bell was on the right side of the porch just outside the entrance. Chief Gagne always brought his portable radio out a couple of minutes before 0800 each weekday morning so that he could hear the "beep-beep-beep-beeeep!" time signal to ensure that we raised the colors at precisely the right moment while he did the four repetitions of two bells. Things didn't always go as planned, as I wrote in this piece back in July, 2007.

I remember that the J-1's office (Director of Personnel - Admin) was to the left as you walked into the lobby. That was a Navy captain (0-6) when I was there in 73-74, but I don't remember his name. I believe he was a tall, thin guy with grayish hair.

Straight ahead, as you came in the main entrance, was the small room -- a sort of glassed in booth -- where BMC Gagne spent his days. That was also where we pulled watch at night and on weekends. There was a military bunk behind a wall in that room where we were allowed to sleep on watch between 2400 and 0500. The phones often rang at night (usually some idiot in the States who didn't know the time difference) so we often didn't get much sleep.

Just to the right of the chief's office was a stairway (with a fancy wooden railing?) that went up to the right. I remember almost nothing about the upstairs except that the admiral and the general had their offices up there. Admiral Beshany and Brigadier General Burrows filled those positions during most of my tour. Admiral Beshany was apparently a Washington Redskins fan because I remember seeing a helmet on a bookshelf in his office. I also remember the J-2 Acquisition Office was up there somewhere, where Larry Sherman and Pete Ayling worked (AF and Army NCOs and both great guys). Public affairs, Protocol and the Legal Office were up there somewhere and I assume that the J-2 (Intel) and the J-3 (Ops) were also.

Back downstairs and facing Chief Gagne's office, I turned right to head down the hall to my office. It seems to me that there was a ramp to the left off that hallway that went down toward my office, which was to the right at the bottom. John Cranford and Wayne Morris were Army guys with whom I shared the office. There was a big old Xerox 914 copy machine there during my time. I think the government must have bought thousands of them because I used them just about everywhere I was ever assigned.

Back to the left was my boss's office (Army LTC Blanton) where some Navy and Marine guys worked (Ken Royce, Larry Driscoll and two or three others whose names have gotten away from me). There were two secretaries; one was American (Helen) and the other was Chinese and I can't remember her name.

There was a back door to my office that opened to the outside, and it could only be opened from the inside. Not far from that door was the print shop where two or three Navy guys printed all the documents for the place. I remember that they had a paper cutter in there that could slice through a ream of paper like a hot knife through butter.

It seems to me that the floors on the lower level of the TDC building were all terrazo tile, but I don't remember if that was the case upstairs. I also don't remember anything about a basement, though I think there may have been one.

So that's about everything I remember about the USTDC building. Based on my experiences with my old schools, I'm probably wrong about much of it. I've never seen any photos of the inside of the building and I doubt that there are any around. Most of us don't take pictures of our workplaces. The building was torn down sometime after 1979 (does anyone know when?) so none of us can go back to see how things really were. I've often wondered if it was used for anything else between 1979 and whenever it was demolished.

What things about the building stand out in your memory?


sarj said...

I was only in the main building a few times in the 2 years I was there. I don't know if I ever went through the front door. I think that even when I checked in for duty I went straight to the Photo Lab. I always went in through the back door.

Once I went into to see Colonel Boggs USAF. He was the second up the third up the chain of command for us. His office was to the left as you entered the back door. I beleive it was up one flight. The windows of his office faced the photo lab. I went to see him when my friend Zip and I got orders for Vietnam. He got us out of that thank God.

A couple of times I went into the Photo Interpretation section that we were directly linked to. I remember it as being a long thin room on the ground floor. This area always seemed to me to be an above ground basement. You went in the back door nest to the Barber Shop and turned right. funny but it always seemed to me to be like an above ground basement. I remember it was only a few steps up to go to the first floor and Boggs's office.

I was only up on the second floor twice to my memory. Once I was visiting with a JO2 who was Chinese and I liked to talk to him about the Culture and the journalism rate which I had wanted to be. The other time was during a typhoon and we were on watch in the photo lab. The wind got so bad we thought that the roof was going to come off of our Quonset hut building. We called up to the Officer of the Day and he told us to secure the safe and come inside to ride out the storm. We stayed in a room filled with teletype machines etc. I guess it was a communications room.

Those were the only times I was ever in the building. The walk from the Lab to the back door went past the generator building and then past the printing area (to the right) and then left into the back of the building past the barber shop on the right, giving a wave to the barber as you entered.

titojohn said...

In addition to the main building there was a huge communications center building constructed directly behind that left wing of the original main building. The new communications center was activated sometime in 1967. Prior to 1967 the communications center and the J-6 staff offices took up the whole second deck of the left wing of the original building.

Stev said...

Like Sarj, most of my time was spent in the photo lab. I sometimes went into the main building to see CDR Best, the officer in charge of the photo lab. I also sometimes stopped in to talk to LTC Tinsley, one of the photo interp people. He was an avid amateur photographer who took a lot of pictures in and around Taipei and we would trade suggestions about places to take pictures. My memories of the inside of the building are pretty foggy, so I'm not sure if they shared an office or their offices were just close together. I think their office/offices was/were on the first floor on the photo lab side of the building.

There was a conference/briefing room on the second floor on the photo lab side of the building. From the few times I took charts and pictures over for review, I remember the room as having no windows. When I first got there, the photo lab had a large (10 ton I believe) central air conditioner. Our air conditioner got appropriated for that conference room and the photo lab was relegated to using several window units.

I think ADM Smoot's office was on the second floor, but I don't remember ever being in it. One of my duties was showing movies for him at his home, so I did visit his house several times. It was on the way to Grass Mountain and had a spectacular view of Taipei.

The barber shop near the back door was probably my favorite place in the compound. For the equivalent of 25 cents U. S. you could get a haircut and shampoo. Getting my head rubbed for that shampoo felt so good I frequently went even when I didn't need a haircut.

Back in Feb., Don did a posting about the heads - latrines - rest rooms. I remember them as being in the wing on the left of the building as you looked at it from the front. I don't remember the flushing problems he described, but the plumbing was a lot older when he was there than when I was - 1959/60.

marc said...

Hi Don -
I just found a new resource you may be interested in. All of the photos taken by Life Magazine are now hosted at Google images. If you go to then type in either "Taiwan" or "Formosa", you will find a bunch of 40's-70's photos. (I think the "formosa" search may be better for military stuff.


P.S. if interested, at I just posted a few interesting Taiwan headhunter photos.

Don said...

Marc, the links to the Time Magazine photos are amazing! I'll add those as links to the blog shortly.

I also took a look at the headhunters photos on your website. I had no idea that there was any history of that in Taiwan. I wonder if it was limited to one or two tribes or if all the tribes engaged in this practice.

Anyway, all very cool; thanks a bunch for the links.

Anonymous said...

Aboriginal/headhunting stuff:

Also, I remember going to an aboriginal park/town when I was at TAS. Don't recall the name of it.

Les Halfhill said...

Hi, all. My first post here. I was adding some placemarks in Google Earth, including my military postings (20 years Air Force, E-7), and when I went to Taipei, I saw that TDC was all gone. When I started searching for photos of the place, for old time's sake, that's where I found this blog.

Anyway, I arrived in 1978, supposedly for a three-year tour. I was assigned to Detachment 3, 7602nd Air Intelligence Group. Our offices were on the second floor of the TDC Hq bldg. If you were facing the entrance to the Commander's (Admiral's) office, then turned to your right, I remember (poorly) that the hallway jogged a bit part-way down, and at the end where it turned left, the entrance to our shop was a door on the right, with a small sign sticking out from the wall over it.

There were only four of us in the unit: A Major in command (Melvin Rooch), an E-6 intel specialist (Bobby ??), me (Les Halfhill, an E-5 admin at the time), and a GS-12 intel type (Funston Chan).

I remember the layout of the offices very well, and many of the events while I was in them, but for the life of me, I don't remember ANYTHING about how/where I came into or left the bldg. Funny how the brain lets you down.

Anyway, I was there until we got kicked out in March/April 1979, far short of my three years.

Don said...

A big TDC hello to Les Halfhill. Thanks much for your comments to this particular post on my blog as well as the others you've made.

I've often wondered what it was like for Americans in Taipei during those last few months we were there.

I'd appreciate it if you'd drop me an email at: ustdc(at)


Don Wiggins
USTDC Blog Owner