USAFSS 6987TH SG, Shulinkou AS, Taipei, Taiwan


1958 - 1959

"Random Memories of Lin Kou and Taiwan"

By Roy W. Boylan

Submitted 22 Feb 2002

 I enlisted in the Air Force in 1956. After basic training in San Antonio Texas, I was assigned to Chinese Language school at Yale University and then follow-up training in military intelligence in Suitland, Maryland. I was then sent to Taiwan (which was then called Formosa) as an Intercept Operator which meant that I listened to Chinese Communist military broadcasts, recorded and summarized them. I arrived at Linkou in February 1958 and left in April 1959. These are some of my memories:

The Boeing 377 Stratocruiser of the 1950s provided seating for 55 passengers, or 100 passengers with its sleeping berths removed. Stratocruisers were the last piston-powered airliners built by Boeing.

 My group left Travis AFB, California in January 1958. We had a chartered Pan Am flight (propeller not jet). Stopped at Hawaii, Wake, Guam and finally Clark AFB in the P.I. I remember the few hours we spent at Wake Island. I walked around Wake and noticed all the bunkers and rusted hulls of sunken ships out in the water. Also went into an Operations area in a Quonset hut that looked just like a World War II movie set. Reminded me that the war was fought there not that long ago.

 When I got off the plane at Clark, my knees buckled from the heat and humidity. It was like trying to breathe inside a sponge. Big change from a New York January to a Philippines January. Stayed at Clark for two or three weeks then on to Taiwan.

 When I first got to Linkou, there must have been a lot of empty bunks, because we had our choice. Harry Williams and I picked bunks on either side of the kerosene stove. We had been roommates at Yale and got along pretty well.

 One of the guys in my barracks had a guitar. I remember him playing one song. It was about a guy in prison getting a visit from a buddy and telling him to go back and tell his daddy and mommy various things and then the final line: “AND DON’T FORGET TO GIVE MY LOVE TO ROSE!” Over and Over and OverÖI grew to hate the song.

 The food in the chow hall was better than average military food. We got some fresh food from Australia. The best part for me was the ice cream. They had big cartons of various flavors along with wooden bowls and ice cream scoops for self-serve. If I didn’t like the meal, I had only ice cream by the bowl. A really bad habit that I am now paying for.

 When I was downtown in Taipei, I used to sleep over sometimes at a Christian-run place at 21 Nung An street. It was supposed to be to keep us out of Sin Alley and Peitou. Christian Chinese named Paul ran it.

 When things were quiet at work, we would sometimes listen to Chinese broadcasts. I remember one which started off the morning’s broadcasts with the William Tell overture. You could understand a lot of it because they spoke clearly and relatively slowly.

 We had a typhoon while I was there. I remember listening to the wind rattle the roof. After it was over and I went downtown, I was happy I wasn’t living in one of those flimsy Chinese houses – many of them were wiped out.

 One of our guys (name suppressed) got into a fight with a Chinese Nationalist officer in Taipei. There were demonstrations in Taipei and we were restricted to Lin Kou for a while. I can remember guys lying in their bunks moaning stuff like “Oh, I got to get into town. I haven’t HAD ANY for three days!!!” Many of them of course had not “had any” for the first 20 years of their lives before they got to Taiwan.

 About halfway through my tour I was reassigned to the Direction Finding operation. This meant I got into a jeep and drove out of the base to a small trailer-like building with its own generator. I carried classified information with me, so I wore a .45. Since I had never fired one in my life, I am sure I would have shot myself in the foot if I had to use it. I worked by myself. I snacked on C rations. I remember at night that it was a little spooky – out in the middle of nowhere and pitch dark. One day when I was in Taipei, I saw a tiger skin in the window of one of the shops. People assured me that a tiger hadn’t been seen in Taiwan for over 10 years but I still thought about tigers when I heard rustling in the underbrush in the dark.

 I remember a party we had at Pei Tou. I think it could have been a birthday party for Harry Williams. Paul Gierasch was there also. We cut a big watermelon in half, scooped out most of it and poured in pineapple juice and gin or vodka and maybe some other stuff. I got totally wiped out. Someone brought a guitar and we all sang off key. We were in a courtyard surrounded by a balcony. Up on the second floor, various bar girls hung out in various stages of undress waiting for us to become customers. I remember two of the guys brought wives to the party and one of them told me later how the wives left early because they thought we were waiting for them to leave so we could start an orgy. If there was an orgy, I missed it.

 At one point, I was asked to volunteer for flight duty. I don’t know if they meant actual flights over the mainland or just over the water. I was tempted at first because they told me I would get wings to wear on my uniform and I figured that would help attract girls. But I finally declined the chance. I thought of this years later when Francis Gary Powers got shot down over Russia and, of course, again in 2001 at the Tainan incident.

 In the fall of 1958, when things were hot and heavy, it was said that Bob Hope was coming to Taipei to do his Christmas show. By Christmas, things had calmed down and he went elsewhere.

 We had two Chinese houseboys in our barracks: Chang and Papa San. I remember Papa San was pretty strong. We had a barbell in the barracks. Once I saw him pick it up with one hand to clean around it. We tried to be careful what we said around them (in English or Chinese) since we assumed they were spies for the ChiNats or ChiComs.

 Mosquitoes were pretty bad at times. When not in use, your mosquito netting was draped over the top of your bunk. You had to be very precise in how you deployed it so as to not let any of them inside it.

 Discipline could be slack. I think part of it was the Chinese houseboys and KPs, which made us forget we were in the military. One day, a bunch of officers walked into our barracks and nobody called the barracks to attention or paid any attention to them. Later we got reamed out in formation.

 One of my distinct memories was taking a shower: you would wet yourself down, soap up and then, as you were ready to rinse off, the hot water would run out. Happened more than once..

 I got an Article 15 for walking on the grass. Or, more precisely, for lying on the grass with my pillow propped up against the bilingual “Don’t walk on the grass” sign. I cleaned up the Day Room for two weeks.

 The monsoon season went on forever. It seemed that it rained every single day for months. If it didn’t rain during the day, it started as soon as the sun went down.

 The only health problems I remember during that time were two ear infections I got from the swimming pool.

 The barracks were heated by kerosene stoves. When the kerosene ran out, we told the houseboys: “Mei yu mei yu.” (Linguist humor).

 I used to walk all around Taipei a lot. Went to the zoo, walked around the Grand Hotel and the Presidential Palace grounds. I remember I was outside the Presidential Palace in February, 1959 when I heard an English language radio station bulletin that Buddy Holly had died in a plane crash.

 Took trips to Sun Moon Lake and Keelung. Also went on a tour of a Chinese jail. Just like a zoo with prisoners living in appalling conditions. After the tour our group had glasses of green tea with the warden who was beaming over his “modern facility”. I would have hated to see what lesser jails looked like.

 Toured the “Temple of a Thousand and One Steps”. Our group walked up the steps. Our guide, a little Chinese girl, made it easily. Some of us finely trained American military personnel barely made the 1001 steps.

 The “politically correct” slogan was “Hwei Da Lu” (Return to the mainland.). One of our houseboys taught us this ditty:

“Ali Shan san san bu

Women jyou hwei da lu” (When Mt. Ali gets up and takes a walk, then we will return to the mainland.) (Considering that we were living in a police state he was taking quite a chance saying this.)

 On the flight back to the states, when we sighted the coast of California, I had tears in my eyes. A year in a police state was enough for me to appreciate my country and its freedoms and standard of living. As we disembarked from the plane, one of our guys dropped to his knees and kissed the ground. I was too self-conscious to do this but I felt the same.

It’s a period in my life I will never forget – good and bad.

Author’s Note: Please forgive any Chinese romanization errors. I first learned the Yale system, switched to Wade Giles and now see mostly Pin Yin. I use all of them.

Roy W. Boylan