Photo of USTDC courtesy of Les Duffin

Monday, June 25, 2012

Recalling the Early Days

I received a nice note from retired Navy CPO Joe Faszcza who was one of the early pioneers at USTDC, arriving in 1956. He was kind enough to provide a summary of his experiences from those times and here's what he had to say:

It was early December 1956 when I completed getting my shots at the Naval Station, Treasure Island (San Francisco) and was ready to begin the long journey to Formosa.

There were only "prop" planes in those days, so our first first stop was at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, for a couple of days and then it was on to Guam. The NCO club only opened for an hour each day from 1200 until 1300 where one could get a beer. Another couple of days and it was then on to Clark AFB in the Philippines. The only flights out of Clark to Taipei were on Tuesday and Thursday, so if you arrived on a Friday you were SOL until Tuesday. The seats on the flight were bucket seats and the lunches were always a sandwich and an apple.

What a shock to arrive at what the Taipei airport in those days. It looked like a lean-to shed to me. There was a Chinese military driver there to meet me. There were no paved roads; only dirt roads with big pot holes. Most of the traffic seemed to be ox carts where the driver scooped up the ox's s**t and shoveled it into the back of his cart.

A bus took me from the United States Taiwan Defense Command building up to Grass Mountain (Yangmingshan) where I was berthed. There were two hostels, a recreation building and a chow hall (closed mess). When you lost all your money playing the slots at Club 63, the closed mess would let you run a tab. The tea was free but peanut butter and banana sandwiches were $ .05. The phone number was sue-sue-limba 4412 I think! The hostels had double bunk beds and a community restroom and showers. Kerosense lamps provided the heat. Whenever the shuttle bus engine conked out, the driver would beat the engine with a hammer - but it worked!

TDC was located at the far end of Taipei off a road adjacent to a river (Tamsui?). There was a zoo nearby which housed chickens, roosters, and other "wild" animals. Also nearby was the Grand Hotel and the Club 63 was down the road.

I was a 20 year old E-3 assigned to J-1 (Personnel) with a Navy Commander as the Division Officer and a Navy Warrant as the Administrative Officer. Our big job was to publish the Plan of the Day.  We only had one stencil machine in the building and it was located in J-2 (Intelligence). The Legal Office was also located on the first floor. The Admiral, his Chief of Staff, and Comms were all located topside.

We worked and stood personal inspections wearing dungarees and a tee shirt. The motor pool, and sick bay (where you got those yellow pills for your burning sensations) were located behind the building. The Photo Lab was a Quonset hut. We used a barrel-like object made of what appeared to be chain link fencing for burning our classified documents.  We took turns turning the handle of the barrel to ensure nothing remained. The mail came in via ship at Keelung twice a week.

Many bars intersected the main drag (Chung Shin Pay Lou). I hung out at The Black Cat bar where mixed drinks, e.g. VO or CC, were about a quarter and a glass of ice was a nickel. The girls in the clubs earned their living by getting the customers to buy them drinks. If a girl left with you, it would cost you about $7.00. There was also a bar called "Dick's" and they had the best Mongolian barbeque one would taste.

There was a town nearby, called Paytoe, that had many hotels. They also had sulphur springs where one could take a hot sulphur bath and feel like Superman. Our valuables were very rarely looted.

We rode in the Admiral's plane for R&R flights to Hong Kong.  We could wear civies in Hong Kong but the fleet guys still  had to wear their uniforms. We were also able to ferry over to Kowloon. I bought a cashmere white dinner jacket for $25.00 and tailor made monogrammed silk shirts for $2.00 apiece. Dick, one of our shipmates, got caught by customs bringing in a suitcase full of glass frames. He got a special courts martial and restriction to the hostel for three months. His girlfriend used to come up to the hostel to visit him while he was on restriction.

Ed, another shipmate, got drunk and killed a local while driving back up the mountain. The locals rioted and we called it "Black Friday." They bussed us down to the compound and issued us weapons but nothing further happened.  Ed was transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Japan.

At 20 years of age, I spent most of my time drinking and partying until I ended up with a collapsed lung and was hospitalized at the MAAG clinic.  While there I met an Army guy from Chicago.  Both he and I spoke Polish and we used to break up our nurses by speaking to each other in Polish. On my last day at the clinic, one of the nurses admitted that she also spoke Polish and knew everything we were saying. One good thing did happen to me during that week in the clinic. I studied for advancement and shortly thereafter got promoted to E-4.

I left TDC in July 1959 and still communicate with two shipmates.  It's been over 56 years!