Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Letters Home

Stev Pitchford was a Navy photographer at TDC during 1959-60.  Many of his excellent photographs have been enjoyed by countless visitors here.

Stev recently went through a stack of letters that he wrote to his parents years ago.  What follows are his comments about the letters, followed by excerpts from some of those that he wrote during his time in Taiwan.   I really enjoyed them because I think they're typical of letters written by young men far away from home years ago, and probably similar to letters written by today's young men and women stationed around the world.  Of course most of today's letters are probably typed on a keyboard and received by Mom and Dad within seconds after they're sent.

Mom and Dad saved the letters I wrote to them while I was in the Navy.  After about 50 years, I've gotten around to reading them.  Some things I remember pretty well, but there's a lot I don't recall.
A few remarks about Chiang Kai Shek (Gemo) and President Eisenhower (Ike) were a little impertinent, but I was a teenager at the time.  Looking back, I realize what a privilege it was to have come into personal contact with two of the most significant figures of the 20th century.


July 29, 1959  (Treasure Island, San Francisco, CA)
 
. . . . I leave at 6:30 AM August 1, by plane.  I’m not sure where I’ll wind up, but it will probably be Taiwan or Japan
. . . .The next time you hear from me it will be from across the Pacific. . .
 
August 6, 1959
 
. . . . Well, I’m here.  I got in Taipei at about 4:00 this afternoon.  There is no base here.  Taiwan Defense Command is one building on one side of town. . . .  It could be very nice.
 
. . . . I don’t know if I’ll stay here or be shipped to some other part of the island.  I’ll find out tomorrow. . . . .
 
. . . .Tomorrow . . . .  I’m staying here.  And I’m beginning to like it even more.  There are 11 people in the photo lab, and it isn’t too busy. . . .
 
. . . . I went to a Mongolian Barbecue for lunch today.  9 of us went across town on 5 motor scooters to the place.  I don’t know what it was but it was good.  We ate with chop sticks, which proved to be interesting. 
 
August 17, 1959
 
. . . .There aren’t many cars here, but that doesn’t mean anything.  There are plenty of bicycles, rickshaws, and people to make up for it. . . .
 
. . . . Seeing as how we get pretty good money and things are so cheap here, we live pretty high.  I’m going to be spoiled when I get back. . . .
 
. . . . They have American movies here.  Most of the theaters in Taipei are comparable to those in the U. S.  I’m told that one will show up anything in the states. . . .
 
August 30, 1959
 
. . . . I get mail in the oddest ways here.  Commanders bring it to me, I get some on days the mail isn’t supposed to come in, and yours just came in the middle of a typhoon. . . .
 
. . . . 4 of us are keeping the photo lab tied down during this big wind.  Right now it’s supposed to be blowing about 100 mph outside.  It’s 1:30 AM and I’ve got nothing better to do, so I’m answering your letter.  I’ll bet this is the first letter you’ve received written in the middle of a typhoon. . . .
Sept. 7, 1959
 
. . . . Probably tomorrow, I’m leaving for Matsu for about a week.  It’s an island 2 miles from the mainland.  So now I’m going to see Communist China. . . .
 
Sept. 16, 1959
 
. . . . I was on Matsu for 5 days.  That’s a group of islands 5 miles from the Communist coast.  It’s from right out of the war movies.
 
I even had my own personal jeep and driver till the last day.  Then I had to share it with an officer. . . .
 
And to top it all, I got $70 extra pay for going. . . .
 
I finally made it on board ship.  I came back on a Chinese destroyer.  I was all over the thing shooting pictures. . . .
 
 
Sept. 24, 1959
 
. . . . I went swimming for the first time last Sunday.  They’ve got a wild diving board at this pool.  Usually you use a diving board to put you where and how you want to hit the water.  Not so with this one.  It throws you any ole place it feels like.  Very exciting.
 
Monday is Confucius’ birthday, so we’ve got a long week-end. . . .
 
 
Dec. 17, 1959
 
. . . . Last week we really put out the work.  I didn’t even get one day off - - - except for the weekend.  Things like that don’t happen very often though.  We’ve been about half busy this week.
 
We’ve had a pretty cold week.  A raincoat feels pretty good now.
 
 
Jan. 26, 1960
 
. . . . I don’t know about this command.  One of our idiot generals thought it would be nice to stand an inspection once a month.  Not that that wasn’t bad enough - - - we have to wear uniforms to and from work and any other time we leave the compound.  Since we have to work in dungarees (uniforms would get stained), this will involve changing clothes every 5 minutes. . . .
 
 
Feb. 10, 1960
 
. . . . Our general’s ideas just went out the window Monday - - - hooray!  We’re back to normal now. . . .
 
 
Feb. 29, 1960
 
I went to the Admiral’s house again Saturday.  I showed “Auntie Mame.”  And I had pop corn for the first time since I’ve been on this island.
 
I was out shooting pictures all Saturday afternoon.  The Admiral’s aide got me a car to use all day, so I saw some new territory.  I thought that was pretty nice of him.
 
 
May 1, 1960
 
. . . . Gemo is throwing a tea party at the hostel tonight, so I think I’ll go bowling again.  I don’t like crowds. . . .
 
 
May 21, 1960
 
. . . . I learned today that I got my fourth stripe May 16.  I’ve been a PHG3 for almost a week now. . . .
 
 
June 16, 1960
 
. . . . I’m mad at Ike.  Just because he’s coming here, I have to work this weekend.  That messes up my swimming and I might miss a good movie. . . .
 
 
June 23, 1960
 
. . . .Ike sure messed up my weekend.  I didn’t even get to go swimming once.  And the weather was perfect.  This place looked like Ripley on the 4th of July. . . .
 
 
July 19, 1960
 
. . . . I got myself a Zenith Trans-Oceanic radio last week.  It is an awfully potent short wave radio.  I haven’t even hitched an aerial to it, and I can get as far east as Delano, Calif. and as far west as Paris, France. . . .
 
 
Aug. 4, 1960
 
. . . . The basic reason I decided to get a recorder is that in this part of the world I hear things (on the short wave radio) I’m not sure I’ll be able to pick up in the states, and they’ll be interesting to me and maybe you to hear later.  Radio Peiping, from Communist China, is my main target here.  They tell me how horrible we “imperialist Americans” are. . . .
 
 
Aug. 11, 1960
 
. . . . I may be sitting on that front porch with you in about 25 days.  My orders came in yesterday.  I’m going to the Norton Sound - - - which didn’t shock me too much.  I leave August 30 - - - which really shocked me. . . .
 
 
Aug. 21, 1960
 
. . . . I’ll see you sometime next week.  I fly out of here on the 29th. . . .
Stev

2 comments:

Wg said...

Thanks, Stiv. Good to read it-- I was 10 when you were there.

Stev said...

You’re welcome, Wg. Looking over those excerpts again, they don’t really reflect how much I enjoyed my time in Taiwan. It was a very interesting and enjoyable period for me. If you were 10 at the time, you were too young to be among the local teenagers we used to play basketball with in the park next to the Grass Mountain Hostel. They could run forever and really left us dragging.