This article was written by my father, retired Lt. Colonel Howard O. Smith, who served in Taiwan during the mid-60’s, and who traveled back to Taiwan this past August to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Chinese’s bombardment. The People’s Liberation Army of Mao Zedong fired more than 450,000 shells on Kinmen Island and several other smaller islets in a 44-day artillery bombardment beginning on August 23, 1958.
On August 24th, 2008 the Republic of China (ROC) Ministry of National Defense (MND) conducted a memorial service for ROC military personnel killed during the Communist Chinese artillery bombardment of Quemoy (now Kinmen) and Matsu Islands in the Taiwan Straits in August 1958. In addition to the Taiwanese veterans who were invited to the service, there was also a group of American retired and former military personnel who had been present in or near Taiwan during the fighting or who had participated in the US support given to the ROC from 1958 until the mid 1970s. In our group of almost 30 there were 11 men who were there in 1958, with the remainder having served in Taiwan during the rest of the time period. My wife and I were in Taiwan from March 1963 until March 1965 and our eldest son, Wade, was born at the US Navy hospital just outside Taipei. We three were very excited to be among the group returning for this 50th anniversary gathering.
Our trip to Kinmen was part of a longer tour to Taiwan. We spent the first few days visiting various tourist sites, and then were escorted to Kinmen by MND personnel. I will cover the primary purpose of the trip for us, the return to Kinmen.
On August 21st three representatives of the MND (a Colonel, Major, and First Lieutenant) escorted us while we traveled south from Taipei on the new high speed “bullet train” to Kaohsiung, a city on Taiwan’s southwest coast. At that point the presence of a typhoon just south of Taiwan caused our trip to Kinmen to be delayed by one day, so we were taken to a number of tourist sites in the area. On the 22nd the MND advised that we would be leaving for Kinmen the next day.
On the morning of the 23rd we were taken to Tainan Air Base and given a tour of the ROC Air Force Academy. At their museum I noted a PT-17 on display. This was a WWII biplane trainer that was used by both the US and ROC Air Forces during and just after WWII. This type of aircraft was sold as surplus in Taiwan and I was lucky enough in 1963 to have flown a number of hours in this model of aircraft. After the tour of the museum we were taken to the headquarters of the unit at Tainan AB. This unit flies the locally produced fighter know as the Ching Kuo. After a briefing by unit personnel we were allowed to participate in flying their simulators for this aircraft. With assistance from a training tech I got into the “air” and initially performed straight and level procedures, then moved on to banked turns before returning to the airfield. I never got to that phase in my 1960s training and did no better this time. I crashed!! Wade was using the other simulator and performed a very nice flight before greasing in his landing. Of course, he does have his private license!
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