I first heard of Taipei when I was in Vietnam. In March of 1971, I asked for Sydney, Australia, for my R and R (Rest and Recuperation) leave. However, my orders came back for a week in Taipei, Taiwan, instead. I was not happy, but since it was time away from Vietnam and my buddy got the same orders, I decided to go. While on R and R I met some other GIs and they convinced me that I should try to get assigned to Grass Mountain Tech Control.
During that R and R I remember frequenting the Sea Dragon and 63 Clubs run by MAAG and really enjoyed myself. I played golf at Tamsui, visited Green Lake, Wulai and generally left the island happy that the Army redirected my R&R to Taipei.
After my Vietnam tour I returned to the States. Then one day I was told I would be on orders soon and it was suggested that I fill out a “dream sheet’ to improve my chances of a good assignment. Of course I asked for Taiwan, Hawaii or Thailand, and of course everyone laughed at me and said, “No one ever reads those things.” In about a month I got orders for Taiwan -- very lucky for a young, married E-5 to get an accompanied, overseas assignment.
After receiving letters from my sponsor, I packed and shipped my furniture and away we flew to Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) airport to take a military charter flight to Sung Shan Air Base. I got lucky at Sea-Tac as I met the Command Sergeant Major from MAAG who was returning from leave. He was in charge of the 63 Club. I do not remember his name now, but we ended up becoming good friends. He helped me get into Bank of Taiwan housing in sixty days when the waiting list was normally nine months. He showed me how to manage my moving while living in a guest house upon arrival on the island. My sponsor put me in the Formosa Guest House at what we thought was a good rate, however I was moved to the Taiwan Guest House, a bigger place and one third cheaper.
My next challenge was to buy a car, but I didn’t have much money. I had to decide between a very small new car called a Daihatsu, or buy a used one from someone who was leaving Taiwan. Two friends and I decided to buy the new one. After two months on the island, I had a Chinese identification card, Chinese drivers license, ration cards for liquor and the PX and had been assigned a shift at Grass Mountain Tech Control.
I began taking college courses from the University of Maryland in September 1973 and took two courses per semester during my remaining time on Taiwan. I'm not sure how I had time for all of this but I also joined a bowling team and played for the Grass Mountain “Outlaws” softball team.
During 1974 and until August 1975 in addition to my work, schooling, and sports some of the many highlights included being part of a Dragon Dance team, Chinese Dragon boat team, seeing a “Double Ten" nighttime celebration and a very large July 4th fireworks display at Taipei American school. I took trips to Seoul, Korea, Clark Air Base in the Philippines, and I also volunteered to go to Vietnam to assist in communications support during the last days of our involvement there during March/April 1975.
But it was time to leave and I was extended for operational needs two months beyond the normal tour. Our last several months consisted of learning what a “chop man” was, buying teakwood furniture, buying carpets, handicrafts, and saying good bye to the many American and Chinese friends we made during that time. I am still in contact with the family that ran the first guest house we stayed in when we arrived on the island.
So during by Taipei tour I got promoted to E-6, accumulated two years of college credits, a house full of furniture, put some money in the bank, and made new friends. But now I was leaving for Ft. Huachuca, Arizona wondering what this assignment would bring.
After a year or so back in the States, I went to the USACC personnel department to see if I could get reassigned. Again, I was very fortunate as the personnel sergeant was my former supervisor from Vietnam. I asked him to find me an assignment where I could use my skills, of course asking for only the most popular locations and he said he would see what he could do. Well, to my surprise, about a month later I called in to my company First Sergeant who wanted to know what friends I had in high places. He then told me that I had been assigned back to USACC Taiwan. With the troop level being reduced to only a few hundred personnel how lucky was this for me?
In January 1977 I was headed back to the island I knew so well. I could tell as soon as I arrived that things had changed. Instead of over 7,000 U. S. military on Taiwan there were now less than 1,500. There was no waiting list for Bank of Taiwan Housing, plenty of appliances to buy in the PX, the China Seas Club was never crowded, and the education center had reduced the number of classes they offered. When I arrived at the Grass Mountain facility I was now a trick chief, but instead of 6 or 7 on a shift there was only 3. While being very glad to be back, there was a sad feeling that only grew during my tour.
The good times with good friends were still there but the small things gradually changed the atmosphere. Some of the changes were the morning briefing to the Commander of USACC was now done by voice order wire, not in person; the detachment at Grass Mountain moved downtown to the HSA compound; the Autovon switch was deactivated and shipped to Okinawa; the hours of the snack bar and PX were reduced; the Tien Mou swimming pool was empty; I could go on and on.
By June of 1977 we were training local nationals to do the job previously performed by USACC. This was difficult as I trained locals in Vietnam before we there in 1972. I couldn’t help making the comparison. I still think of Mr. Chen, Mr. Wu, and Mike Chiang often. Many of my Chinese friends were now asking, When are ALL of you leaving,? I just laughed it off saying that we will always be here, but the United States is reducing forces across Asia.The tour continued as we accomplished our mission with fewer personnel. We had a typhoon and an earthquake in 1977. That, combined with a major submarine cable cut to Okinawa, made for a very fast year.By the time 1978 rolled around our local national friends were doing the bulk of our work. The Defense Communications Agency reduced our reporting requirements from every 8 hours to every 24 hours. We really felt the end was near, as the amount of our normal work was greatly reduced. We now disconnected equipment and packed it up to be shipped off the island. It was now an effort to get enough guys to complete our softball teams, Shu Linkou Air Station was closed, Taipei Air Station was in caretaker status, and by July 1978 USACC was down to approximately 150 personnel. Still, life went on. I still went to the Tien Mou Mongolian Barbecue regularly, got video tapes to watch on my Sony Betamax, and of course I continued on with school.
In January 1979, we were living in the guest house and were concerned about riots and protests. A friend had his car burned at the China Seas Club, another friend was attacked, but fortunately he just got a few bumps and bruises. We were very cautious, but in a few days things calmed down. Most of us now shared rides to work, or took a military shuttle. I thought after all these years that the good duty stations were all going away. Thailand, Taiwan, Philippines, Iran, and Ethiopia all closed for Tech Control personnel. I was feted to a going away party by a few close military and Chinese friends. So, finally my family and I left via the new CKS airport on January 28, 1979 and a few close Taiwanese families came to see us off.
Some time after I arrived at Ft. Huachuca (Arizona), I was told to report to a colonel who had a project for me: I was to help coordinate the final departure of men and equipment from Taiwan. It was an exciting and easy job. I helped whenever there was information concerning disposition of equipment, assisted other solders if they had problems with assignments, household goods, etc. I think we left Taiwan around April 28, 1979 and I left the Army on May 10, 1979.
Somehow Taiwan and I were destined to be linked. It is truly amazing to me to realize that from 1971-79 Taiwan played such a major role in my life. To this day I still have USACC and Chinese friends from 30 years ago. I have been back to the island three times since then, always on business, with the last trip in 2003.
Friday, November 5, 2010
Bill Kling Memories
Some time ago I received a note from Bill Kling, who spent a lot of time in Taiwan during the 1970s. He described his experiences in some detail and I'm pleased to post some of those comments here today. Any errors or omissions are mine.