Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Flag Raising

I wrote earlier about pulling watch at TDC, and mentioned that raising and lowering the flag each day was part of that.

I may be a little fuzzy on the details here, but basically two enlisted people were responsible for raising the colors each morning. The two of them marched from the front steps of the building out to where the flagpole was on the far left side of the parking lot. The person junior in rank carried the folded flag, stepped up onto the small platform at the base of the flagpole, hooked the flag to the line, and waited for the signal to hoist it. The senior person stood at attention until the flag began its ascent up the pole, at which time he saluted. The signal to raise the flag came via the chief ringing the ship's bell back on the front porch...or quarterdeck...or whatever the heck it was that the Navy guys called that part of the building.

So the flag goes all the way up the pole, the line gets properly secured, and the flag raiser moves over beside the senior guy and also salutes. The chief, back on the porch blows three short blasts on a whistle and the two proud American military personnel march sharply back to the porch. Mission accomplished and everybody's happy. That's the way it's supposed to work.

As our two hypothetical troopers (squids, leathernecks, wingnuts, grunts) are marching off to the far left side of the parking lot to raise Old Glory, there are two Chinese soldiers off to their left marching over to a second flagpole on the far right side of the parking lot. They sort of criss-cross on their simultaneous journeys. I don't think the two pairs ever actually ran into each other during their criss-cross maneuver. Hard to say what sort of international incident that might have generated.

One morning I was assigned as the senior guy on the flag raising team. The junior man was a young sailor, about a yeoman second class, I think. He was a little nervous, it being his first time and all, but we reviewed the procedures and stepped off on our excursion to the pole. I stopped and snapped to attention a few feet away from the pole while the kid went ahead to hook up the flag and wait for the bell to ring.

A little digression here: The flag was to be raised at precisely 0800. That's 8:00 AM. It's also eight bells in Navy time. Of course 0400 is also eight bells, as is 1200, as is...well, never mind. Anyway, the chief always had his portable radio tuned to a local radio station that signaled the start of every hour. I have no idea why they did that, but they did. I guess it was just a Taiwan radio thing. It started at three seconds before the hour and went beep, beep, beep, BEEEEEEEEP! At that, the chief would spring into action, ringing the bell eight times, in groups of two -- dingding, dingding, dingding, dingding -- and the flags went up. Why groups of two? I don't know that either. I'm not sure if the chief knew. I guess if it was good enough for John Paul Jones, it was good enough for us.

Okay, back to the fateful morning I was discussing: There we were, all nice and military looking and standing at attention, awaiting the Chief's bell. Suddenly we heard the telltale beeping of the radio and our big moment arrived. The Chief rang the bell, I saluted, and the yeoman raised the flag. It was about halfway up the pole before anybody noticed that it was upside down.

The chief went ballistic, screaming at the yeoman to FIX THE F*****G THING, or something that sounded more or less like that, except that he kept yelling it over and over and the individual words became less distinct as he went along, plus there were a bunch of other words that I hadn't heard since basic training. I think he may even have invented a few new ones right there on the spot.

The Chinese troops already had their flag up and secured and appeared to be trying hard not to smile.

My bell-bottomed buddy hurriedly brought the flag back down and unhooked one of the clasps. Unfortunately, he sort of tugged at the other end of the line while doing it, which made the unhooked end start back up the pole. This was not covered in our pre-flag raising discussion.

I'm standing there saluting an empty flagpole and watching the yeoman hold his unattached flag in one hand while jumping up and down trying to reach the clasp that was just out of his reach. The chief is still screaming -- louder, actually -- and now the Chinese troops are clearly having a good time.

Now the chief starts yelling at me to give the lad a hand. "Get up there and help him out! FIX THE F*****G THING!"

I noticed the concrete railing around the base of the pole was a foot or two high so I said quietly, "If you stand on that thing, do you think you can jump the rest of the way?" Of course by now he was thoroughly traumatized and the chief is still yelling at him, but he managed to pull himself together enough to give it a try. Wonder of wonders, it worked on the first try!

He quickly hooked the flag to the clasp and immediately started it back up the pole...still upside down, unfortunately. Now the Chinese troops are actually laughing and I can see the chief's face turning purple. I told the kid to just pull the flag back down and keep the line going so that the flag would just loop under and then head back up the other side, this time right-side up. Nice save, I thought.

The chief blew his whistle three times -- a little louder than usual, it seemed to me -- and we headed back to the porch...uh, quarterdeck. I'm sure I saw smirks on the faces of the Chinese troops as we criss-crossed, but we were way beyond embarrassment at that point. The yeoman looked like a whipped puppy as we approached the chief, who grabbed him by the arm and steered him into his office. I saw him later that day so I guess he survived.

I've hoisted the colors dozens of times before and after that event, but that's the one I remember most.

Oh, just one short footnote: A few months later, the chief had an appointment somewhere so another chief in the building was appointed to take his place at the bell. It turned out that he had never, in all his years in the Navy, rung a ship's bell for colors. Not surprisingly, that also occurred on a day when I was assigned to colors duty. My whole tour sort of went like that.

Anyway, when the radio beeped, the chief rang the bell eight times. But he apparently didn't know that it was supposed to be done in groups of two, so he rang it more like dingdingdingdingdingdingdingding! We raised the flag without cracking up, though I'm not sure about the Chinese troops across the way.

But the Navy captain (O-6) whose office was just inside the front door of the building came STEAMING out on the porch. He and the substitute chief apparently had what diplomats call an open and frank discussion of the issues. The chief survived, but I saw him walking the hallways and mumbling to himself for a day or two.


Monday, July 30, 2007


I think I heard his actual name once but I couldn't tell you today what it was. Everybody just called him Pop and he was a regular at the China Seas stag bar. If you saw a rough old cob, probably in his fifties or sixties, chewing on an unlit cigar as he played cards and gave everybody a hard time, you'd likely found Pop.

He was retired from the Army and living with his Chinese wife in Taipei. He had a million stories to tell, most of which probably shouldn't be repeated here. But there was one period of his life that he rarely talked about and that was his time in Korea during the 1950s. I'd heard that he was a POW in North Korea and one night I asked him about it.

He said that he was assigned to a forward operating unit and one night he was the sergeant of the guard. He made his usual rounds from one sentry to another throughout the night, but around dawn he found two sentries who'd been killed.

He said that he quickly looked out over the valley in front of him and it looked to him like it was moving. He soon realized that he was seeing thousands of Chinese combat troops heading straight for his position, practically on top of him at that point. He and his comrades were quickly captured and spent the rest of the Korean Conflict as prisoners of war.

It was a hard existence and many didn't make it. He said they wore only thin cotton pajamas and no shoes. There was little straw on the floor of their building and no heat. They huddled together to try and keep warm and avoid frostbite.

It was clear to me that Pop still held a special hatred for one particular guard in that camp. I don't remember the name after all these years, so I'll just refer to him as Kim. Pop said that Kim loved to inflict pain wherever and whenever possible and he was really good at it.

Every morning the prisoners had to stand outside of their wooden barracks in their PJs and bare feet for roll call. During the brutal Korean winters, this was pure torture for all of them. Pop said that Kim would walk up and down the ranks and would often kick the prisoners' ankles for no reason other than the fact that he enjoyed doing it. Pop said that his own feet and ankles never did heal right. He walked with quite a limp when I knew him.

He always volunteered to work in the fields during potato harvest because sometimes he could sneak a potato to eat. But if Kim happened to catch him, it didn't go well. He said, "He'd beat me and then take my potato. I could handle the beating, but I sure hated to lose that potato."

I was talking to another Army guy one night who had known Pop for a number of years and he told me the rest of the story. He said that when Pop was repatriated at the DMZ, he told the guards on the North Korean side, "You tell Kim that I'm coming back for him."

A year or two later, American soldiers guarding the DMZ detained a man who was trying to slip across the border. Pop didn't quite make it back to settle the score, but he sure gave it his best shot.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Stag Bar

To some of us, the stag bar at the 63-Club (later the China Seas, when the Navy took over its operation) was our home away from home -- the place where we gathered to unwind and be among friends.

It was sort of a cross between Cheers, from the TV series of the same name, and Monks, the diner on Seinfeld. Everybody knew your name and nobody was a stranger after his first visit. By your second or third visit, there was a good chance that Pete or Bobo, the regular bartenders, would have your usual drink ready by the time you made your way from the entrance to the bar.

It was located in a small building just a few yards away from the main entrance to the 63-Club. We'd sometimes stop by the stag bar for a quick cold one after work, then head over to the main club for something to eat. If you didn't want to make that trip, you could just order whatever you wanted to eat at the bar and the bartender would call it in. A few minutes later someone would deliver it or the bartender would make a quick run over to the kitchen to pick it up.

The stag bar was populated mostly by singles and a few of us married folks whose families were back in the States. It was a "safe" place for both groups. You could be yourself, have a good time, not spend very much money and mostly stay out of trouble. It was a refuge of sorts.

It was nothing fancy, just a few tables and booths, a couple of pool tables, a jukebox, a shuffleboard table and the bar along the back wall. Sometimes a card game or two -- mostly pinochle or blackjack -- would break out, often lasting all day on the weekends, with players shuffling in and out.

When I arrived there, it was a males-only environment. No wives, girlfriends, or anyone of the feminine persuasion was allowed, period. But one day the earth shifted on its axis. I remember clearly the afternoon when the door flew open and in walked a fit looking female who wasn't smiling. In her best command voice she proclaimed, "I am a petty officer in the United States Navy. I am going to sit at that bar over there and buy myself a drink." Everybody just went back to whatever they were doing and that was that. The next day a couple of other females wandered in and within a month the plate on the door was changed from Stag Bar to Casual Lounge. I don't think I ever saw that first female sailor in there again. I suppose she decided that she'd made her point and that was enough.

There was a brief period when someone set up a couple of beer cases to serve as a backstop at the end of one of the pool tables and craps became the game of the day. Some fairly serious money changed hands some nights and the club management (by then it was the Navy) banned the game within a month after it started. Most games were low stakes, like the occasional card games, but every now and then some of the players would get a little carried away.

There were occasional disagreements in the place from time to time, some of them pretty heated, but I never saw anything close to a fight or even a shoving match in the stag bar during all of my 15 months in Taipei.

We probably would have been better off spending all those hours doing something more constructive, but all things considered, my memories of the 63-Club/China Seas Club stag bar are very pleasant ones.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

McCauley Beach

Does anyone recall exactly where McCauley Beach was located? You might remember that it was the recreational spot where US military officers and enlisted people could spend their off-duty time on sand and surf, with appropriately chilled adult beverages in hand of course.

You can find pictures of the beach as it was a few decades ago here, here, and here.

What I'm really looking for is the current name of the beach. Someone suggested that it might be the beach near An Li on the northern coast but I really don't recall. If you have access to the Google Earth program, just do a search for "anli taiwan" and see if it looks familiar.

Please comment on this message or drop me an email if you can help.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Awards and Stuff

One of the perks that came with an assignment to the US Taiwan Defense Command was the receipt of this presentation set. I believe it was officially called The Chinese-American Friendship Medal, or something like that. We just called it the Gemo Medal -- short for Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek.

As I recall, you had to have been assigned to the unit for at least twelve months and have had an unblemished record during that period -- not always an easy task in Taipei.

It was not authorized for wear on the uniform and it didn't help during promotion cycles either. It was just a nice little presentation set that you could keep in a drawer somewhere.

During the 1973-1974 period, enlisted grades of E-7 or above were considered for the Joint Service Commendation Medal at the completion of their tours. Every now and then someone in grade E-6 or below would receive the JSCM, but not often.

I did receive the standard USTDC plaque with a certificate signed by the admiral. I tossed the plaque a few years ago, along with several others, when I needed the closet space they were taking up.


Monday, July 23, 2007

TDC Badge

Though I didn't take any pictures during my tour, I did manage to hold on to a couple of souvenirs from those days.

This was the badge that we all wore on the breast pocket of our uniforms. It's about 1 3/4" in diameter and had two pins on the back which were secured by standard ribbon clips -- what we Air Force types used to call dammit clips. They were called that because that's what one said when they slipped off. Which they did. Often.


Friday, July 20, 2007

USTDC History

I've searched all over the web for an official history of the US Taiwan Defense Command. The closest I could find was at the Veterans Affairs Commission Executive Yuan, R. O. C. website:

The first chief of the U.S. Military Assistance Group, William C. Chase, arrived in Taiwan on January 23, 1951, and on May 1st that year, he organized the U. S. Army Military Assistance and Advisory Group in Taiwan. (on December 1, 1960, the Group in Taiwan was renamed as the U. S. Army Military Assistance Group in R.O.C.) On October 20, 1952, he established the Formosa Liaison Center. On December 3, 1954, the U.S. and ROC governments signed the Mutual Defense Treaty between the USA and ROC in Washington D.C., and on April 25, 1955, the Formosa Liaison Center underwent reorganization and emerged as the U.S. Formosa Defense Command, and thereafter renamed as the U.S. Taiwan Defense Command on November 1st of that year. Twenty-eight years later, the U.S. Taiwan Defense Command held its final flag retreat ceremony in the afternoon of April 26, 1979. The U.S. Military Assistance and Advisory Group Chief, Col. Thompson left Taiwan thereafter, officially closing the doors of the U.S. Taiwan Defense Command. In the early days, the U. S. Army Military Assistance Group executed three important missions, including providing consultation assistance to the government, military training assistance, and new weapon and armament usage instructions and training. From 1951 henceforth, William C. Chase and other 11 U.S. military assistance group members took residence in the islands of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu. In the 28 years that followed, the U.S. military delegation assigned to the U. S. Army Military Assistance Group reached a one-time high of 2,347 members, and at least one supervisory U.S. non-commissioned officer had been assigned to each ROC military battalion unit.
If anyone knows where I might be able to locate an official DOD unit history, please let me know.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Watch

As a young airman back in the 1960s, I was periodically scheduled for CQ (Charge of Quarters). The detail was normally performed in the squadron orderly room, beginning around the time that the commander, first sergeant and orderly room staff left for the day and ending sometime after they returned the next morning. Duties included such things as answering the phones, taking messages, doing security walks around the barracks and generally trying not to make any major screw-ups that might land you in hot water.

The Navy has a similar program which they call The Watch and that's what those of us in pay grades E6 and below pulled at TDC. Think of it as CQ with about 200 years or so of additional naval history and tradition to complicate things.

In the TDC lobby was a glass enclosure, sort of like the ticket window at old movie houses. There was a small room behind it that contained a cot. During the day, the Chief Boatswain's Mate (BMC Gagne when I was there) sat in that enclosure. We came on duty a few minutes before he left and mostly stayed in that enclosure until he returned in the morning.

There was a "squawk box" on the wall that was connected to a similar gadget up in the "Flag Office" where the admiral and general hung out. Whenever the admiral arrived at the main entrance to the building (quarterdeck in NAVSpeak) we'd key the box and announce to whoever was on the other end, "Admiral's aboard!" Same deal for the general. Whenever the admiral walked out the main entrance, we'd similarly announce, "Admiral's ashore!" Again, same deal for the general. Now I was pretty sure that our building wasn't actually a ship so nobody was actually coming aboard, and nobody really had to go ashore because we were already there but I didn't point that out to those in charge. That's just part of the history and tradition stuff I mentioned earlier so I tried not to dwell on it.

Once everyone left for the day, I mostly just sat, read a book, wrote letters, answered the occasional phone call and not much else until about midnight when I locked the place down and tried to sleep on the cot in the back until morning. By the way, I was amazed how many people in the States had no concept of international time zones. It wasn't at all unusual to get a call at O-dark thirty from someplace like Podunk Iowa wanting to speak to someone in the organization.

That was pretty much it, except for raising and lowering the flag in the mornings and evenings, but that deserves its own stroll down memory lane which I'll get to later.

Until then:

Don's ashore.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

USTDC Chiefs of Staff

As far as I know, the Chief of Staff position at USTDC was always an Air Force billet.

In looking around the internet, I discovered the official biographies of former Air Force Generals and with a little creative googling I was able to identify all of those who filled that position. Though I had to guess at some of the dates because the biographies weren't always specific, I think I'm pretty close. If anyone has a correction, please post it below.

Also, if anyone has a similar listing of the admirals who served as USTDC Commander, please let me know and I'll post it here.

Here's the list:

1955-1957 Brigadier General Harold Winfield Grant

1957-1958 Brigadier General William G. Lee Jr.

1959-1960 Brigadier General Neil D. Van Sickle

1960-1962 Brigadier General Robert Francis Worden

1962-1963 Brigadier General Richard J. Sutterlin

1963-1965 Brigadier General John W. Collens III

1966-1967 Brigadier General Thomas Norville Wilson

1967-1968 Brigadier General Carlos M. Talbott

1968-1970 Brigadier General John A. Desportes

1970-1972 Brigadier General Clarence J. Douglas Jr.

1972-1974 Brigadier General William C. Burrows

1974-1976 Brigadier General David O. Williams Jr.

1976-1978 Brigadier General Dan A. Brooksher