Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Military Departure From Taiwan

Yesterday I posted most of Chapter I of Appendix I (Taiwan Wrap-Up) of the CINCPAC Command History. Because Chapter II ("Personnel") is much longer, I'll only deal with Section I, titled "Personnel."

The withdrawal of U.S. Forces from Taiwan involved far more than just taking the troops to the airport and putting them on a plane. Each Service had its own methods for reassigning its personnel (note the grumbling about the Air Force way of doing things). In addition, there were many Department of Defense Civilians and their families on the island.

Shortly after President James Earl Carter's announcement of the withdrawal, things apparently got a bit ugly. Rear Admiral James Linder was the last U.S. Military officer to depart Taiwan and, at a conference twenty years later, he described the situation:
We had a lot of discontent, and the people were very unhappy and presumed that we were going to go away and they were going to be in deep trouble. And we sort of felt the same way. There were some riots and there were demonstrations, and there were people injured. But the military and the government officials, the security people and the police were all very accommodating to Americans and the people that were out there, and the discontent went away rather quickly.
Here is the text of Chapter 2:



OPLAN 506X called for the departure of military personnel and their dependents to meet established milestones. The draft plan submitted by COMUSTDC recommended 30-day incremental milestones (D-90, D-60 and D-30). As approved by the JCS and CINCPAC, 506X provided for the following personnel milestones:

  • D-60 (28 Feb 79) - 20% personnel and dependents withdrawn.
  • D-30 (31 Mar 79) - 40% personnel, 100% dependents withdrawn. All household goods removed.
  • D-Day (30 Apr 79) - 100% personnel removed.
COMUSTDC advised CINCPAC that the approved time phasing was reasonable and provided flexibility but could be misinterpreted as maximum goals by supporting commands. Therefore, unless otherwise directed, COMUSTDC would pursue originally proposed percentages. CINCPAC responded that the time-phased percentages selected were modifications which permitted time to make decisions on major withdrawal issues and were not as restrictive during the first 30 days of withdrawal. The revised percentages were considered minimums to be used as a guide and could be exceeded in order to meet D-Day requirements.

When 506X was developed, no particular time of the year was envisioned to match the number of days required to depart Taiwan. With D-Day equating to 30 April 1979, a genuine concern was expressed as to the impact on school age children, especially high school seniors. In addition, as military personnel were identified to remain until April 1979, dependents and their sponsors sought waivers to allow families to leave Taiwan together. The plan provided for dependents to be transferred with their sponsors aboard the same carriers, when feasible. The knowledge that the spring break for schools on Taiwan was the week of 9 April, and the school year third quarter ended on April, became key factors in decisions regarding waiver requests.

Military Members

The USTDC proposed OPLAN 506X identified COMUSTDC as the on-island commander with operational control (OPCON)/administrative control (ADCON) of all U.S. Forces on Taiwan. With this authority, USTDC planned to centralize the management of personnel actions and to coordinate all personnel actions for all Services and functions on island. However, because the Service components and CINCPAC did not feel that ADCON was necessary, COMUSTDC was designated as the single on-island commander for coordination and control of withdrawal actions.

The USTDC branch was not staffed to handle all personnel actions for the 26 commands located on island. It was planned that the USTDC personnel element would be augmented from those commands on island providing personnel support functions (Navy - Headquarters Support Activity, Taipei (HSA), Army - United States Army Communications Command - Taiwan (USACC), Air Force - 6217th Air Base Squadron). Without both OPCON and ADCON authority, it became imperative that close coordination between USTDC, the three component commands and the Service personnel centers off-island be established. As a first step, COMUSTDC requested that the Service military personnel centers freeze all personnel assignments to Taiwan.

[I'd very much like to hear from anyone who was involved with the personnel processing side of things. Were additional personnel/admin types moved to the TDC building or did they process their own folks and coordinate everything through USTDC? There must have been major headaches during the process.]

In anticipation of receiving OPCON of U.S. Forces (less DAO), he also placed all personnel on Taiwan on operational hold until a retention review, to support the withdrawal, was completed. Although the Air Force Military Personnel Center (AFMPC), Randolph AFB, Texas, was the Air Force counterpart to the Navy's Bureau of Personnel, Washington, DC, and the Army's Military Personnel Center, Alexandria, Virginia, it was not the central point for issuance of orders. The majority of Air Force personnel on Taiwan were Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) assets. PACAF was designated, by AFMPC, to act as focal point for all USAF commands on Taiwan and to assign personnel against PACAF in-theater requirements first. The remaining personnel were referred to AFMPC for disposition. PACAF, in turn, delegated initial coordination to the 3rd Combat Support Group, Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, which provided normal personnel support to Taiwan-assigned Air Force personnel. With this fragmented control, personnel coordination was made more difficult for Air Force personnel. Specific details concerning Air Force related personnel withdrawal problems are contained in the COMUSTDC Terminal Command History.

The overall withdrawal of sponsors from Taiwan met the OPLAN 506X deadline. The larger number of sponsors leaving in the later portion of the withdrawal period did not create any major problems; however, additional management attention was required at the end to coordinate port calls.

Three military personnel remained on Taiwan as of 30 April 1979. Two were incarcerated with one of them being released by the end of May 1979. The third military person was an Air Force officer attending the Foreign Area Officer Language School in Taichung with the permission of his Service.

[How would you like to be the last American Military prisoner in Taiwan after everyone else had left the island? I wonder what eventually happened to him/her?]


Based on 506X, all dependents were to depart Taiwan by 31 March 1979, 30 days prior to D-Day. Initially, attaining the established milestones appeared easy because the negative reaction by the people of Taiwan to the Presidential announcement on 15 December 1978 resulted in a general consensus to leave as soon as practical. These reactions included demonstrations at the China Seas Enlisted Club, the HSA East and West Compounds, the American Embassy, and outside individual housing complexes. Some of these demonstrations resulted in minor personnel injury and property damage, but nothing serious. The violence during the Christopher mission also increased apprehensions among some dependents. After 1 January 1979 dependents had a change of heart. PCS orders arrived resulting in household goods being shipped and families moving into temporary living quarters. Living on the local economy was found to be not all that bad even with reductions in commissary and exchange merchandise and finally none at all. With more sponsors remaining into March and April than originally envisioned, dependents sought to stay longer also. As security concerns diminished and the timing of dependent departures during normal school breaks became more desirous, the enforcement of original 506X dependent departure milestones was relaxed in order to reduce family separations.

As early as mid-January 1979 the JCS had recognized that requiring all dependents to leave by 31 March could cause some personal hardships and advised that exceptions could be allowed. In the first monthly withdrawal report, COMUSTDC advised that waiver criteria had been developed for sponsors to use in submitting waiver requests. In the February end-of-month report, COMUSTDC reported receipt of waiver requests for 346 dependents to remain past 31 March. This figure included 22 dependents wishing to remain past 30 April, primarily for the purpose of finishing school. CINCPAC acknowledged these exceptions in the February report to the JCS. At the end of March, 378 dependents remained on Taiwan. Admiral Linder, COMUSTDC, presented a plan to LT GEN M. L. Boswell, CINCPAC Chief of Staff, for the withdrawal of the remaining personnel during April 1979. The plan split the month of April into three equal withdrawal increments (1-10, 11-20, 21-30). General Boswell concurred with the plan. Most personnel were tentatively scheduled to depart in early and mid-April, with only a very few to depart later than 20 April due to their special situations. The actual number of dependents remaining on Taiwan was reduced to 288 on 10 April, and 142 on 20 April 1979. By 30 April all but 34 dependents had departed Taiwan. With the exception of two incarcerated dependents and one wife remaining with her husband assigned TDY, these dependents planned to depart by the end of July 1979.

[Two incarcerated dependents? Once again, I wonder what prison life was like for them.]

DOD Civilians

When the decision to withdraw all U.S. forces was announced, 80 of the sponsors on Taiwan were DOD civilians. For scheduling purposes, these personnel were included with military members in meeting withdrawal targets. The majority of DOD civilians and their dependents left Taiwan by D-30. A few key civilians at various commands were retained until April 1979 and civilians assigned to the Consolidated Civilian Personnel Office, a part of the 6217th Air Base Squadron, remained until late April to complete all DOD civilian transactions and to assist in the outplacement of local national U.S. Forces employees.

Through CINCPAC initiatives, the Defense Department granted special reduction in force (RIF) and priority placement program authorities for U.S. civilian employees on Taiwan. Taiwan was immediately designated a major RIF area, thereby enabling all eligible U.S. citizen employees to register in the priority placement program and granting them exceptions to other normal program provisions. In an allied exception to policy, Defense authorization was obtained for special payments to employees who occupied temporary lodging beyond normally allowed periods.
From this point on, I plan to post only those portions of the report that may be of general interest. Much of the 127 page document discusses the "nuts and bolts" of the draw-down and eventual total withdrawal. If anyone has any specific questions, I'll be happy to post whatever information I have.

I would be delighted to hear from anyone who was involved in any way with this issue. I departed Taiwan in 1974, five years before all this took place, but I would really like to hear from someone who was actually there at the time. It must have been quite an emotional time.


Anonymous said...

I was stationed on Taiwan from 1961 thru September 1962. I worked the Transmitter site outside Taipei. We were part of USARCAT. It was an interesting tour of duty. I was a SP4

Jim said...

Great bolg. I am a longtime reader (lurker) and this is my first post. I was an expatriate US civilian dependant living on Taiwan from 1972-1978. I graduated from Taipei American School in 1978 but had returned to Taipei to visit my family on December 14th 1978. The announcement that our government would end formal diplomatic relations with the ROC came as a complete surprise (at least to this reader) and was a very emotional time to be on the island. Most of my ROC friends were more confused than angry. Many had seen this diplomatic maneuver as an inevitable reality ever since the Shanghai Communiqué in 1972, but most were nonetheless shocked by the sudden nature of the decision. As a "cold war kid", albeit an American civilian, I was shocked and dismayed by what I perceived at the time (and still harbor strong sentiments about)as a betrayal of our nationalist allies. I freely moved around Taipei in the days immediately following President Carter's announcement and never experienced any threat to my safety. I do recall a few minor incidents in Taipei that were primarily limited to some rocks thrown through some windows, but do not recall a single incident in Tien Mou, Yangmingshan, Shihlin or Peitou, the predominate locations of the housing for most DOD, civilian and missionary families. A few of my American ex-pat friends even joked about joining in on the symbolic pelting of Warren Christophers delegation with peanuts. (An obvious reference to the President) My memory is that there was an almost resigned acceptance by the Chinese.
I do vaguely recall the details of the incarceration of the two DOD dependants that occurred after my return to college stateside in January 1979. I was kept appraised of the incident by friends who were among the last DOD dependants to remain on the island until March of 1979. Sadly I believe it involved the alcohol related beating death of another DOD dependent that took place sometime in early 1979. I do not have any information regarding the outcome of this tragic incident or the eventual fate of the two incarcerated dependents. Be advised that there is a rather large and active TAS alumni network and I will certainly make some inquiries.
Thank you for all of your research and the mounds of fascinating historical data you have provided here.

Don said...

It's great hearing from you, Jim, and I'm glad you're enjoying all of the historical tidbits that have been deposited here.

I was surprised to see recently that this blog is averaging about 85 "hits" a day, which is way beyond what I ever expected when I launched it in July 2007. It's because of folks like yourself that I'm able to add new content on a fairly regular basis.

Keep 'em coming!



justme said...

it's great to finally know there's someone still out there who is my peer and was there at the same time as I was and in school. I was also there from 69-75' and although I was at Dominican until 75' when I had to go to T A S to facilitate high school I was only there for awhile as we moved back to the U.S. in that same year. I had gone back to visit my father who was a general manager of an American electronic engineering firm on Taiwan and eventually had married a Taiwanese woman. He never left the island and died there in 82'. I went to visit in 79' and spent most of the summer after my H S grad in the Philippines (3 mos). I do remember when I got called back to Taiwan by my dad and how scared my step mother was about being married to an American. I remember landing at the airport in Sept and there being some yelling and what not going on and some signs but I felt no great threat and as I always knew that the gov't had a very firm hand on local movement that only so much would be allowed to happen. I also spoke the language so that gave me a better gauge of what to expect I think as well. I remember that cocktail parties still occurred, that while my step mother may have feigned nervousness she never missed her tennis or bowling league and we were always at the American Club. I know this is a site for the military and their dependents there at the time but I have to say that I think they lived in a somewhat fabricated world while they were there in several different ways and so their perspective on what may have been happening was pretty eschewed. As far as the 2 dependents who were jailed I only remember that a little later the dependent Neil(non-military) of my dads neighbor (peitou) was killed in an auto accident and word was that there was liquor involved but I was not allowed to pry into that one. Oh yeah, they also used the whole unstable time as an excuse for me not to be able to drive as well. As I said I think it was different, and probably made to feel so for the military and the dod personnel. Everything was different for them.

Don said...


In the three years that I've been writing this blog, I've had many comments from folks like yourself who had nothing whatever to do with the US Taiwan Defense Command or any of the American military forces who were stationed in Taiwan.

All of them -- business people, civilian dependents, local nationals, etc. -- have shared useful comments with the rest of us and all were polite and courteous.

You are the very first to suggest that the American military members on Taiwan lived an insulated life and had no idea what the "real world" situation was there. Since you were a school kid at the time, some might suggest that you were far more insulated than those of us who were tasked with preserving the security of Taiwan.

I have never found it necessary to rebut honest comments from anyone here at the blog, even in those cases where I didn't fully agree with the writer. Until now.

This is a friendly neighborhood and I would appreciate it if you could try a little harder to keep it that way. Your personal gripes about the people of Taiwan and the men and women in the US military might be more appropriately voiced elsewhere.

titojohn said...

I totally agree with you Don. I know I didn't lead a sheltered/different life during my two tours at TDC. I was fully integrated with the local populace. I disassociate my feelings/comments from the other Quinn.

John Quinn
J-6 Communications
63-64, 66-68

Unknown said...

I was 9 years old standing on a soccer field it's a long story, but I remember, Jimmy Carter's voice, I remember having to leave. We left around March 23, 1979. I went to Dominican School and Mrs. Abbott was my teacher.