The Cold War in Asia
By Michael Haydock
(from VFW Veterans of Foreign Wars Magazine)
The Cold War in Asia took place in a vast theater. It stretched from the icy waters north of Japan—where a downed flier could freeze in six minutes to the muggy jungles of the Philippines and beyond to the desert wastes of the Australian outback. In many instances the duty, necessary and often dangerous, was little-known or even secret from civilians at home.
While the conflict between the West and the Communist Soviets, North Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese and their allies flared into full-fledged wars in Korea (1950-53) and Vietnam (1961-75), the much longer twilight struggle consumed Its first casualty, Army Air Force Capt. John Birch, an OSS operative, was killed by the Communist Chinese on Aug. 25, 1945 even before WWII ended. The civil war that raged in China would claim other American casualties, almost unnoticed at home except to the grieving loved ones they left behind. The Marines lost 12 killed in action (KIA) and 42 wounded in 26 separate engagements in North China by 1948. (See 'Walking a Tightrope in China’ VFW magazine, October 1991 and 'Singed by the Red Dragon', VFW magazine, April 1997)
When the mainland fell to the Communists, Nationalist forces withdrew to Formosa (Taiwan). They also occupied smaller islands offshore—the Tachins, Pescadores and Quemoy and Matsu, both of which were within range of Red artillery. A Red invasion of these outposts on Oct. 1, 1949, was beaten back, but trouble over them would flare again and again.
Red Chinese pressure on the Nationalist forces on the offshore islands intensified in 1950. The carrier USS Valley Forge took up station in the 130-mile-wide Formosa Strait to deter a Communist invasion. As the Taiwan Patrol Force (TF-72), elements of the Seventh Fleet would serve there for more than a decade.(Also, a U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group set up on Formosa in 1951, training Nationalist units.)
Flying patrols over the Formosa Strait was a risky business. Former Master Sergeant Phillip H. Warren was with the U.S. Air Force Security Service. He recalls some close calls: "We were chased at least once by MiG- 15s off Shanghai, but after they could not get position they broke off and then returned to base."
As a radioman with VP-28 in 1952 things got closer to home. "During this deployment, one crew was fired upon by MiG-15s during the early patrol. They succeeded in at least damaging one of the MiGs when the upper forward turret gunner got a few hits. The MiG reportedly staggered off the intercept curve and turned toward Shanghai trailing smoke."
"Later on this tour’ said Warren, "our No. 8 aircraft was shot up by a disguised junk which opened fire with a 40mm gun. It put several holes in the plane, including the No. 3 engine and through the wheel well, but somehow missed the engine. Also, a large hole was found just over the radio operator’s station."
As Korea wound down, Red pressure in the Strait escalated. An attack on two American aircraft in mid-1954 left the navigator of one plane dead.
Then on Sept. 3, 1954, 5,000 shells descended on Quemoy. MAAG Lt. Cols. Frank Lynn and Alfred Medendorp were among the dead. The shelling grew heavier; during the campaign, an average of 10,000 Red rounds were fired daily
In January 1955, heavy air and amphibious raids were launched by the Reds against the Tachin Islands. Ships of the 7th Fleet evacuated 42,000 Nationalist soldiers and civilians from the islands.
Lester D. Ross was an aircrew member of VC- 11, which was aboard the USS Yorktown in February 1955. Task Force 702 operated around Taiwan during the evacuation of the Tachens. "Chinese aircraft would fly in large circles and every once in awhile they would come toward us’ he said. "We flew air cover for supplies being moved to the Nationalists.
"From Feb. 8-12, the crew was on alert. All flights in the area were logged as combat missions. We saw shelling. The Chinese Communists even fired their artillery at U.S. planes, using proximity fuses, but failed to do any damage."
As a sailor aboard the USS Kidd, LeRoy Graves also was a part of the action off the Tachens. "Unidentified planes were picked up on radar during the evacuation, but would back off before getting real close to the ships" he said. In all, 50 ships were involved, along with a battalion from the 3rd Lt. Col. Alfred Medendorps Marine Division. The Air Force’s 18th Fighter Bomber Wing was hastily deployed to Taiwan to provide additional air cover for the operation. Marine Air Group 11 also joined the Formosa Defense Command, with its Sidewinder-missile-armed F4Ds. Congress responded to this latest crisis by passing the Formosa Resolution. It authorized the President to employ U.S. forces in any way he saw fit to ensure the safety of Formosa and the Pescadores.
GI's stationed on Okinawa were caught up in the 1954-55 fracas, too. That included the Army’s 29th Regimental Combat Team. Jack J. Woods was with its Heavy Mortar Company. He vividly remembers "unrolling the new maps they were not for Okinawa, but instead for Quemoy and Matsu. At this point, I was in a state of mild shock."
U.S. troops, of course, never invaded the islands. And, in early 1955, the colors of the 29th were sent home to be replaced by those of the 75th RCT of Ranger fame.
The Communists ratcheted up the pressure on Aug. 23, 1958, by slapping a blockade on Quemoy and beginning an artillery bombardment. The most vivid memory of Edward Fahey, a radioman on the USS Twining in the Strait at that time, is "steaming with a lot of ‘heavy metal’ flying overhead."
Nationalist convoys, escorted by ships of the Seventh Fleet, which were reinforced by a carrier and four destroyers from the Sixth, resupplied the islands
William J. Bennett recalls that any fire that came in the direction of his ship was "pre-judged to be accidental "Accidental, my ass;’ he goes on. "For two days, we found ourselves within 25 yards of some hundreds of rounds of ‘accidentals.’ "Several hundred machine-gun holes dotted the superstructure of his ship, the USS McGinty.
The carriers patrolling the strait included the Ticonderoga, Midway, Hancock, Essex, Bon Homme Richard, Shangri -La, Princeton and Lexington.
. Ron Johnson served aboard the USS Owen in 1958. Near the end of a 30-day patrol, he remembers: "Suddenly, a Russian MiG came toward us real low in the water. He sneaked in under our radar. All guns were loaded we were manned and ready. Our orders: Fire if fired upon! But he never fired at us. For 92 days on patrol, we rated the China Service Medal."
Despite all the sacrifices, service in Cold War Asia has been quickly forgotten.
As William Bennett, under hostile fire on the USS McGinty, noted, "By the time we got back to America, Quemoy and Matsu were dim memories in the fickle American mind."
Taiwan remembers the hostilities all too well: It erected a memorial on Quemoy to Lt. Col. Medendorp, who was killed there in 1954 and was posthumously awarded the Order of the Cloud and Banner.
Duty in North China and the Taiwan Strait was recognized by the China Service Medal (Extended) for service there between Sept. 2, 1945 and April 1, 1957. (See Membership page for details.)
The Armed Forces Expeditionary medal is authorized for those who served in the Taiwan Strait (Aug.23, 1958-Jan. 1, 1959), Quemoy and Matsu (Aug 23, 1958-June 1, 1963) and Korea (Oct. 1, 1966-June 30, 1974.)
Recognition will finally come to some veterans of the Taiwan Crisis this year. In Boston, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office will present 410 vets with a "badge of honor" on Aug. 23. Those who served with the 71st Artillery will receive the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal in a ceremony at Fort Bliss, Texas.
"Revisionists may downplay the threat that China represented, but it was very real;’ wrote Blair Case in an article on the deployment. "For a few months at the height of the Cold War, American soldiers of the 2nd Missile Battalion, 71st Artillery, stood on freedom’s front line, and won a small but important victory in the fight against tyranny"
Eugene Kaiser, whose Matador-missile-equipped 17th Tactical Missile Squadron was rushed from Florida to Taiwan in November 1957, feels dismay at the lack of recognition the U.S. government gives Cold War veterans. He adds, "At least I know I was there and am proud to have been part of it."
What the Republic of China said of Lt. Col. Medendorp is true of each of all 187 Americans KIA in Cold War Asia: "He died at the edge of freedom’s perimeter at a moment in history when the forces of oppression were seeking to impose their will:’
YorktownSailor.com editor's note: Did you get your Cold War Service Certificate from a grateful United States of America? click here