USAFSS 6987TH SG, Shulinkou AS, Taipei, Taiwan

United States Naval Security Group

Shu Lin Kou Air Station

1959

"A Sailor's Tour of Shulinkou"

By Ron Crowley, Former U.S. Navy Assigned Shulinkou


Submitted 12 February 2005


Two years before stepping off the plane at Sung Shan Airport, Taipei, Taiwan, R.O.C. in January 1959, those of us who enlisted in the USN in December 1956 and wound up at Recruit Training Command, Bainbridge, MD in the dead of winter might have thought that we had died and gone to hell had it not been for the frigid conditions of the WWII barracks we would be calling “home” for the next several weeks.

At some point during our “boot camp” training, Navy recruits were put through a battery of exams (General Classification Tests) that included Morse code recognition. We only had to recognize three letters in Morse: like: “I, N,T” ( for “international”). Those who did well were upon graduation assigned to 22 weeks of communication training at COMRADSTA, Imperial Beach, CA.

After boot camp was completed and with home leave behind us, I was off to “sunny California”. The blast of hot air as I stepped off the plane in San Diego was most welcomed, having left Boston. MA several hours ago. But, I would have to change from Dress Blues to Summer Whites before reporting in.

 While awaiting a new radio communications class to begin, I did a TDY at Recruit Training Command, San Diego. For the duration, I worked in the “galley” or “mess hall” as other services call it. With “dishpan hands” and “scrub woman’s knees”, I bade farewell to San Diego and reported in at COMRADSTA, I.B. and set out to learn Morse and other classified commo systems. Half way through school, students were tested for their foreign language aptitude. The artificial language “Esperanto” was used to determine one’s ability to translate the material into English. Those who had studied a foreign language before enlistment or who were bi-lingual since birth scored highest. My advantage was to have taken French in high school which was most helpful in recognizing the similarities.

Just before graduation from code school, all received notification of their first duty assignments. Many were assigned to shipboard duty, while others were to begin a period of training in the study of foreign languages. Certain languages were of interest to the Navy in the late ‘50s, one of which was Chinese Mandarin. When I heard that I had been chosen to study Chinese at the then Army Language School (Defense Language School) Monterey, CA, I turned to one of my code school classmates and remarked: “How in the world am I going to learn all that “hen scratching”?

Students enrolled in Chinese Mandarin classes at DLI had the unique “privilege” of learning the language from native speakers whose pronunciation of the official Mandarin dialect depended on what province they hailed from. Students had to respond in the way each particular teacher would say it, especially during oral quizzes. Some fun!

 As graduation day approached in December 1958, the assignments were announced. In our class (CM12-57), only three of us were enlisted Navy. Three assignments (“billets” in Navy lingo) were available: one in the Philippines and two in Taiwan). Because two of us had surnames beginning with “C”, we got the Taiwan billets while our other classmate whose surname began with a “K”. got the Philippines. And so the Taiwan tour began.

Since I haven’t been given permission to disclose the full names of my shipmates, I will only provide their first names and last initial. Howie C. and I were both from Massachusetts and had been through code school and language school together so we were pretty happy to land the Taiwan assignment.

After home leave, Howie and I departed Boston by plane for California, then “island-hopped” (Honolulu, Wake, Kwajalein, Okinawa and finally Taipei, Taiwan). Our first stop after night arrival was at a hostel next to the Linkou Club on Chung Shan N. Rd. The wooden floor would have been a softer surface to sleep on as the bunk mattresses were like granite!

 The next morning, we reported in at the TDC/MAAG Compound across the street where we were issued our Navy Exchange cards. It was then that we were told that we would not be working downtown but at the U.S. Air Force 6987 Radio Squadron Mobile installation, 16 miles outside of Taipei at a mountain village called Shulinkou. An Air Force truck (“deuce and a half”) was to be our transportation. So, off we went, straddling the wooden benches provided, as we rumbled up the winding, dirt road and unsuccessfully shielding our “Cracker Jack” uniforms from the billows of road dust that followed us all the way up the hill . Shortly before our tour ended, we were there to see members of the Chinese Army blacktopping the road that, I was told, was paid for by Uncle Sam.

Arriving at the main gate, the AP directed us to Operations where we reported in and were escorted to the naval detachment section. The C.O. was CDR B. who briefed us on what we would be doing. Then, he turned us over to CPO Jim G. who was a fellow New Englander (Maine). His command both of Mandarin Chinese and the local Taiwanese dialect was something else! The locals were always amazed at how well he spoke their language…and he didn’t even sound like a “yang gweidz (foreign devil).”

Other Navy guys who arrived earlier were: Lem M., Harry W. (2nd generation Chinese) and later Eric P. Three of us were Third Class Petty Officers when we arrived in January, but passed the exams for PO2 several months later.

Because of the red soil problem (wet or dry) cited in another report on this website, we did not have to change from Navy blues to Navy whites. We were issued CB Greens and they became the Uniform of the Day throughout the duration of our tour.

Our quarters were those Quonset huts also spoken of by another fellow Linkou-ite in his report here; tolerable in the summer, but a bit nippy in the winter months. I still remember Eric P. coming off a watch, either in January or February who walked straight to the pot-bellied stove in our barracks, hovered over it and said with much delight: “Ah, blessed heat”!

Our work in the vans is no longer a classified matter, but I still prefer to let others divulge the details. One thing I will mention, though, which really got a rise out of our section chief Jim G. We had a steady stream of traffic coming over the airwaves and Jim was helping with the transcribing. Around 0300 hrs., he asked me to see how the guy on watch in the van was doing. The watchstander had one tape done and was still recording another, so I took the one back to Jim while adding several more erased tapes to make a nice pile of work to present to him. One look at what I had and Jim, now bleary-eyed by this time, groaned: “Good God, that much?” He was much relieved when I told him it was just a joke. Good thing he went along with it!

 “Following the red-brick road” down to the latrine (“head” in Navy talk), was always a trip…literally. I loved the sign that read: “Wet down, soap up, rinse off and move out. Conserve water!” I also would chuckle to see guys lathering up under the shower dragging on a smoke. Or shaving with a butt dangling from their mouths.

It was interesting to see the rice paddies as we descended the hill when we were off duty. The Taiwanese farmers were able to harvest three rice crops a year. They are a hard-working, industrious people and truly friends of the U.S.A. One particular farmer would always run to the road as the Air Force truck rolled by and waved to the occupants. Nightlife downtown was as others have said: not quite what you would find in Hometown USA. “Sin Alley” was there for whoever wanted to patronize the bars. Aunt Ollie’s Hospitality House was in operation to keep some of the sheep from straying. For ten cents U.S. an hour, you could rent a bicycle and head out for the hinterland. Pedicabs still abounded which were pretty cheap then. Exchange rate was NT$40 to US$1. Hasn’t fluctuated much in all these years.

I must mention that while studying at ALS,/DLI, I struck up a friendship with an Army buddy, Bill B., and although he initially was assigned to Okinawa, he later did a stretch at Linkou with the ASA crowd. We had many an “adventure” downtown together. We’ve kept in touch all these years and email, obviously, is a great medium to do just that.

One incident involving Bill and me was the time we were headed for the enlisted Club 63 (within the shadow of the Grand Hotel) on a hot summer afternoon. We hired a pedicab for the trip and as the driver approached the bridge on Chung Shan N. Rd., Sec. 4 which spanned the Tanshui River, he was really working up a sweat to negotiate the incline with two overfed “yang gwei” passengers. Immediately, Bill and I jumped out and helped the old gentleman maneuver his chariot over the bridge. We then got the biggest, gold-toothy grin we’ve ever seen. One opportunity to be “ambassadors of good will”.

Four months into our tour, Howie C. and I were TAD’ed (temporary duty) to the aircraft carrier USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) to do our thing aboard ship. That lasted two months. Then, the flagship of the 7th Fleet changed vessels and we were transferred to the USS Lexington (CVA-16), another “flat top”. We had some excitement when our ship was anchored in Hong Kong harbor. A “cat and dog” fight between the KMT and PRC Air Forces over the Taiwan Straits transpired, so the crew ashore reported back to the ship and it was anchors aweigh post haste. No further action occurred, however. We finished up the four months by cooling our heels at Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan, awaiting a “Space A” flight back to Taipei.

Shortly before departing Taiwan, we were “on deck” for a change of command ceremony when CDR D. replaced CDR B. Whereas many of my fellow Linkou-ites, Army, Navy and Air Force alike, clung to the slogan “IHTFP (‘In Honest Toil for Peace’ so say some)”, my own experience there as a Chinese linguist was a rewarding one. Conversing with the general populace from all walks of life was educational, enjoyable and memorable. Reluctant to leave “Terraced Bay” for good, I had to take back to CONUS something which would be a constant reminder to me of how much I think of the Taiwanese people. And so, after 44 years having passed I still have that “constant reminder” with me in the form of a devoted wife who after all this time has retained that gentle charm and honesty I discovered in the people of her native land.

We now are enjoying our retirement years in Arizona with annual trips back East to visit family and friends….and, of course, an occasional return trip to Taiwan where despite all of the changes that have been made there, we still can find areas where we are able to re-live some very happy memories.

Respectfully submitted,

Ron Crowley