Friday, May 28, 2021

USN covert ops in China: Part 1, War Plan Orange and SACO

The US Navy (USN) began planning for war with Japan in 1897. Edward Miller’s book, War Plan ORANGE: The US Strategy to Defeat Japan, 1897-1945. This naval war planning was done mostly in secret. In the early decades US relations with Japan were at various stages of friendly and not-so-friendly. 

There was virtually no senior American official who could contemplate a war with Japan. 

But the navy planners could. They simply looked at the map of the Pacific islands, studied the Japanese penchant for economic development and expansion, and deduced that there was a likelihood somewhere down the line Japan might attack some or all of these islands, many of which were under some sphere of US influence, many of which were under European spheres of influence.

Military planners recognized shortly after 1900 that Marine expeditionary forces capable of rapid deployment would be necessary in the future. By 1920 the Navy had decided it would build for the future in accordance with War Plan ORANGE. It ordered the Marine Corps to be ready to launch expeditionary forces on short notice from the West Coast for a naval campaign in the Pacific. It then added the East Coast for Atlantic and Caribbean contingencies later.


Amphibious warfare became a firm new wartime mission for the Marines: amphibious assault to seize and defend advanced bases.

In line with the idea of “War Plan Orange,” a Navy commander named Milton Miles emerged as a key figure in covert operations in China. He had served with the Asiatic Fleet in China aboard the gunboat USS Pecos and four others along the Yangtze River between 1922 and 1927. During this time, he picked up basic Cantonese, Fujianese, and Mandarin language skills and learned to appreciate Chinese culture. He admired the Chinese. 

In 1939, Miles wrote a paper advocating a US Navy presence in China as a means to obtain intelligence on the Japanese, especially their technologies. This turned out to be an important paper. Miles turned out to be a most important figure, as you will see.

The USN had a long history of interests in China that dates back to as early as 1818, employing US gunboats to keep Chinese rivers, river ports, and ocean ports open to free commerce. USN Asiatic Fleet ships covered the Chinese coast and rivers and Chinese ports in the North and South. In the 1930s, US Navy ships were seen routinely in Chinese ports. US commerce with China was of huge importance to the US, as was freedom of the seas.

US sailors and Marines witnessed the Japanese invasion of China and observed Japanese naval activity in Chinese ports. Reporting associated intelligence upstream proved increasingly important to the Navy and US policy makers. Watching Japanese naval activity in Chinese ports became a hallmark of covert Navy operations as time went on.

The US had refused to recognize the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931. The US also refused to accept Japanese domination of China and the Asian mainland following the invasion of China in 1937. The US estimated that fully 80 percent of Japanese ground forces were in China during WWII. In effect, the Japanese invasion of China had reached a stalemate by the late 1930s. Therefore, it was critical to keep these Japanese pinned down and engaged.

In 1941 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) announced the defense of China was vital to the defense of the US.

The Japanese ended up attacking the Hawaiian islands on December 7, 1941. The US declared war on Japan on December 8, and against Germany on December 11. Global warfare was on.

On December 18, 1941 the USN re-established the position of Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet, Admiral Earnest J. King in command. He was given operational command over the Atlantic, Pacific, and Asiatic Fleets, and all naval coastal forces.

In early 1942, Rear Admiral Willis “Doc” Lee became King’s chief of staff. He had read Commander Milton Miles’ paper of 1939 advocating a US Navy presence in China as a means to obtain intelligence on the Japanese, especially their technologies.

Once Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Admiral Lee told Cdr. Miles to plan the operation he had recommended, largely because of his faith in Miles’ knowledge of China. Miles worked with Major Xiao Bo (Bao), the Chinese military attachĂ© in Washington, to develop such a plan. Their plan set three goals:
  • Monitor weather in China as a predictor of Pacific Ocean weather
  • Recruit coast watchers to monitor Japanese shipping traffic in and out of coastal China
  • Prepare for a possible US invasion of China to defeat the Japanese who were occupying it which in turn would enable the US to attack Japan from China
At the time, the Kuomintang (KMT) was the political party governing what was known as the Republic of China (ROC) on the mainland, led by Generalissimo Chang Kai-shek. At the time, Mao Tse Tung and Chiang were locked in a civil war, one that began before WWII, another that started up again after the war.
Chiang Kai-shek and the US had already agreed to cooperate shortly after the start of the war. Chiang named Chinese General Tai Li (also Dai Li), the Chief of the KMT secret service in China, to lead from the Chinese side. Tai Li is shown here. The program was to be held closely, secretively. Its cover name was the “Friendship Project.

Major Xiao Bao, who was working with Miles, actually worked for General Tai Li, making him an agent of Tai Li.  

Miles set out for China in April 1942 with his plan, arriving there in May. Just days before, Tai Li announced the US would replace the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) as the foreign intelligence operator in China.

Significant US Navy covert efforts in Asia emerged in 1942 with the establishment of Naval Group China (NGC) and the Sino-American Cooperative Organization (SACO). Viewed broadly, NGC was the USN’s intelligence gathering unit in China, while SACO was a combined US-Chinese intelligence gathering organization. 

One more organization must be highlighted here, the US Office of Strategic Services, the OSS. It was the predecessor to the CIA. General William Donovan, shown here, was its leader.

The OSS was formed in June 1942 as an agency of the to coordinate US espionage activities behind enemy lines for all branches of the US military. It was the predecessor to the CIA.
In sum, and just skimming the surface, what you have here is SACO, designed as a Chinese-American intelligence gathering organization, the OSS, a US intelligence gathering organization subordinate at the time to the US military JCS, and NGC, a USN intelligence gathering organization in China. NGC for the most part worked under the SACO umbrella.

It took about four months to get an agreement for the Friendship Project. Prior to achieving agreement, the Chinese dropped a bombshell on the Americans. The agreement was in Washington awaiting approvals from President FDR and General George Marshall, the Army’s chief of staff. Tai Li cabled Washington and told the brass he would accept no revision to the agreement draft, there would be no British involvement, and SACO must have command and control over all OSS activities in China. 

This latter requirement was a huge surprise to the Americans because it meant Tai Li would control the OSS in China, even if it were through Capt. Miles. Donovan desperately wanted to get his agents into China, but under his direct control, not Tai Li’s. Despite protests from manhy quarters, FDR and Marshall gave their agreement.

The agreement officially established SACO. Here you see Capt. Miles and General Tai Li signing the formal agreement on July 4, 1943. 

The Chinese general had some issues, though:  

  • Tai Li did not like anything about British intelligence methods, or the British for that matter, perhaps with good cause. The British, some believed, were more interested in the Chinese than in the Japanese.
  • Chiang and Tai Li detested what were known as “Old China Hands.” Having heard of the formation of the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) with General Donovan, at its lead, and knowing of Donovan’s respect for British intelligence, both Chiang and Tai Li were sure Donovan would hire up “Old Hands” who would work against the Chinese leadership. 
  • And, as indicated above, Tai Li distrusted anyone other than those under his direct control conducting intelligence activities in China. That included the American OSS.
Tai Li would control the OSS in China, even if it were through Capt. Miles. Donovan desperately wanted to get his agents into China, but under his direct control, not Tai Li’s.

There was considerable negative reaction among senior American officials to this latter Chinese requirement. Miles made it patently clear to all hands that if the OSS control concept were dropped from the agreement, there would be considerable upheaval within China, specifically with Tai Li and Chiang. The net result was the SACO agreement so stipulated the latter point and the OSS in China would be under Chinese control.

General Tai Li would lead SACO, Capt. Miles would be his second. This was crucial to Tai Li, and Chiang. From what I have read, the US at the highest levels had few if any problems with this. This is at least partly because Admiral King viewed obtaining the weather intelligence to be crucial to fleet operations in the Pacific. 

Furthermore, everyone understood this agreement was more than reporting the weather. Washington wanted to be a part of the covert activities that would ensue. 

The agreement established the need for a Navy component as the military means of organizing and managing the men assigned to conduct the training and any other activities required of them. This duty belonged to the NGC. NGC became synonymous with SACO among those involved.

The political intrigue surrounding SACO, NGC, OSS and the Chinese leadership is absorbing. The OSS especially wanted to know what the Navy was doing on the ground in China. I will discuss this intrigue in a separate second part to this report, to be published soon.

This Part One report highlights some stories about the SACO sailors out in the field, including those who participated in the expansion of the SACO mission list to include combat operations against the Japanese in China, mostly covert.

It all started with the weather, high on Admiral King’s “to-do” list.

The Chinese had three weather agencies which agreed to provide SACO timely weather. But communications were unsatisfactory. So SACO set up its own weather net, and trained Chinese and Thais to be weathermen. This photo shows SACO men training Chinese in operating the radios.

By the end of 1942, SACO had set up a “Weather Central” near Chungking. It was sending regular weather reports from multiple occupied areas in the Far East to the US fleet. China assigned many undercover forces to protect the Americans. SACO’s initial focus was on the weather, with five weathermen assigned.

The Americans were flown into China from Calcutta, India. SACO’s men set up weather, communications and intelligence stations all the way from the border of Vietnam to the northern Gobi Desert. Much of the activity was behind enemy lines along the Chinese coast. The Americans disguised themselves often as coolies. With the help of the undercover Chinese forces, they were generally able to transit enemy lines undisturbed.

Most of the sailors belonging to SACO were Seabees and many came from the Navy’s Scouts & Raiders because of their experience in covert operations. They served all over China and became known as the “Rice Paddy Navy.”

As expected by the Americans, the SACO mission expanded greatly and quickly. Linda Kush, writing “The fighting’ forecasters: The US Navy in China in World War II,” wrote:

“Their (US-ROC through SACO) cooperation evolved into a multifaceted operation. In addition to weather monitoring, SACOs spied on Japanese troops and ships, blew up enemy supply depots, laid mines in rivers and harbors, rescued downed American pilots, and trained thousands of Chinese soldiers in guerrilla warfare. Navy aerologists thus found themselves in multiple roles, engaging Japanese forces and training Chinese recruits both as soldiers and weather technicians.”

The Chinese would exercise considerable authority over the Americans. But the Americans would get what they wanted --- good weather reporting, good intelligence on the enemy and ultimately covert combat operations harassing the enemy and infrastructure he was using. 

Miles wrote about his US Naval Group in the Navy’s Proceedings Magazine, July 1946 when he was at the rank of Rear Admiral. He wrote that while the US was most interested in weather and intelligence, SACO had to set up a series of training camps to train the guerrillas. He wrote:

“The course of instruction in the camps included the care and use of weapons, guerrilla tactics, amphibious tactics, scouting, patrolling, mapping, and general field work. Our students came from the columns of the Chinese Commando Army.”  


Tai Li and Miles agreed the US Navy would train a 50,000-strong Chinese guerrilla force under the combined command of both nations, under the cover “Friendship Project.” This photo shows a SACO-trained Chinese guerrilla unit, date unknown, I believe in Foochow

The Americans usually went out with the Chinese units since the best advice they could provide would only come if they were in the field with the Chinese. Sabotage units conducted raids against Japanese forces and installations.

Let’s meet Dayton L. Alverson, then a Radioman First Class, USN, a PhD in this later photo.

He was trained to intercept enemy communications. Alverson was trained in Morse code, Japanese Morse code intercept, and radio direction finding (RDF), and was told he would be working on a secret mission.

After attaining the rank of petty officer, he was put on a train to Chicago, then to a top secret radio intelligence facility in Wisconsin. He then learned he was being shipped to a “special navy group in China.” He was not to discuss anything with anyone. After some stops in Washington and a few family visits, he was given “a set of green khaki work clothes, several pairs of dress khaki pants and shirts, army shoes and socks, and a standard GI knife.”

He was allowed to keep his Navy dungarees but was told to ship all the rest of his navy uniforms home. Then he got some knife, hand-to-hand combat, and small arms training and a few words of Chinese. He was told he would be doing work other than Radio Direction Finding (RDF). He was told to inform the family it would not hear from him very often.

He sailed to Bombay, took a train to Calcutta, and flew on a C-47 aircraft across the Himalaya Mountains, known as “Over the Hump,” to the base camp at Kunming, China. Kunming had become a training hub for the Chinese Nationalist Army. He was then told of his mission.

Alverson was told he was going alone, not with his colleagues with whom he had been traveling. He hopped into a jeep the next day, went to a nearby airfield, met a couple other guys from the general communications group, boarded a C-46 transport and was told by the skipper they would fly “about 800 miles over enemy territory with no fighter escort.” Alverson was given a Thompson sub-machine gun.

They landed at a 14th AAF airfield at Changting. This was the only 14th AAF field the Japanese had not closed. Actually, the pilot had to abort his first landing attempt when he spotted two Japanese Zeros landing at the field --- the skipper had the wrong airfield, so he had to give his C-46 everything it had to climb rapidly and somehow make it over the mountains. He then found Changting and landed safely!

He volunteered for duty near Amoy Island, which was occupied by the Japanese, and was flown to Zhangping, about 65 miles northwest of Amoy (now known as Xiamen). He traveled to a small encampment 25 miles north of Amoy. This camp was called Camp Six. The camp had recently opened about 45 miles from the coast of China, in the mountains, behind enemy lines.

 The photo shows Camp Six in August 1944, shortly after construction.

His description of the travel to Camp Six is a real eye opener: met at the airport by two SACO-trained Chinese guerrilla officers, then put on a bus winding up and down mountains, sometimes having to get out and push the bus up the hills, through lots of villages, then a hike on a trail to a river, then on a sampan, over some impressive rapids to Changting, where he was met by several SACO-trained guerrillas; back on the river, clearly heading downstream toward the western Pacific to the River of Nine Dragons, into a village, then into a smaller sampan and back on the river, over some more rapids and to the river bank. 

There he was let out, met by some khaki-clad Americans, taken up a steep trail and there she was, Camp Six, situated next to a river and rice paddies. The camp was bamboo fenced, about 100 by 60 yds, an ancient temple, a few other buildings for enlisted, officers, and a four “hole” toilet facility. They used a bamboo piping system to bring water into the camp. It took him six days to get here from Changting. There were about 20 Americans, 18 Navy and two Marines. 

Alverson said, “Camp Six was one of a series of navy facilities built in a no man’s land between Japanese coastal forces and those that occupied much of central China.” 

He wrote further:

“In cooperation with Chiang’s forces, the US Navy had managed to establish guerrilla units from north of Shanghai to south of Hong Kong. In west China, the Navy worked with Chiang’s forces in Kunming and Chunking and, to the north, in the Gobi desert. The number of Americans in each camp was small. In total, there were perhaps six hundred to eight hundred SACO American navy men scattered behind Japanese lines, training Chinese guerrilla forces, monitoring the weather, collecting intelligence data, rescuing downed pilots, and harassing Japanese forces wherever possible. In addition, the SACO units deployed coast watchers that spied on Japanese garrisons and reported troop movements and shipping activities in the major Chinese harbors.”

Alverson’s job was to intercept encrypted Japanese radio transmissions. He set up an intercept and radio direction finding (RDF) facility, operated it, and sent his intercepts and bearings back to Chunking, always with his carbine and a .45 pistol at his side. He helped train the Chinese with their weapons, shooting, breaking them down, cleaning them, and reassembling them. Others trained them on the use of explosives. There was also a plan to set up a weather station there.

There were rumors the Japanese intended to come up and get them, but they would have to come a fairly long distance upstream, a costly endeavor. 

There was a large contingent of SACO Chinese soldiers guarding the area. 

There were two Marines in Camp Six. They led more than 100 Chinese guerrillas to the south and attacked a number of Japanese facilities, killing and wounding several dozen enemy.

Alverson would later learn one of his colleagues, a fellow radioman, Alfred W. Parsons, was captured while spying on coastal activities. He was sent to a small island with Chinese Captain Lin in the estuary to observe Japanese activities in Amoy Harbor. After the war, Alverson found out that Parsons had been interrogated, beaten, then transferred to a prison camp on Formosa where he was again beaten, tortured and confined. He was then sent to the Tokyo POW Camp Shinjuku Tokyo Bay Area 3 prison camp in Japan and experienced the same routine.

Admiral Miles wrote about an event that occurred, I believe, in 1945:

“A young naval officer, Ensign John N. Mattmiller from Commander Halperin's Unit Six, learned that a Japanese freighter of about 1,000 tons had put into Amoy Harbor for repairs. Mattmiller’s task was to attack that freighter.”

Mattmiller was also at Camp Six and asked Alverson for some help training Chinese swimmers how to use explosives and destroy enemy ships. The Chinese had to tie five-to-ten-pound rocks to their wastes using a slipknot.

Admiral Miles continued:

“With four Chinese guerrillas he commandeered a junk, got hold of a supply of explosives, and set out under cover of darkness to sink the freighter. Mattmiller used the swimming abilities of his trainees. In a secluded part of the Amoy Harbor shore line they stripped, tied the explosives charges around their necks, and swam out to the freighter. In darkness they moved around the ship, placing magnetic mines and charges of the soft ‘Comp C’ explosive on the hull, the rudder, and the propeller. Then they swam back to the junk.” 

The ship was seen the next day lying on its side. They then mined the river estuary. 

It turns out that Alverson swam with Mattmiller and the Chinese to help them if someone got into trouble. If they did have a problem, they could pull on the rope and jettison the rocks.     

Lt. Commander Halperin was Robert Sherman “Buck” Halperin, USN, a former football player with Notre Dame and Wisconsin, and the Brooklyn Dodgers in the NFL. Once WWII broke out, he joined the Navy and was put onto a secret program in the first class of what became known as Navy Scouts & Raiders. War correspondent William H. Stoneman wrote of Halperin: 

"His job is to mark beaches for the assault, infantry, a daring, intricate job, calling for as much brain as courage, and barrels of both."

He served in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific. As commanding officer of US Naval Unit Six he and his SACO men served behind enemy lines in Fujian Province.

As an aside, Halperin was an American Star class sailor, and Olympic bronze medalist and Pan American Games gold medalist. He was one of Chicago's most-decorated World War II heroes, co-founder of Lands End, and chairman of Commercial Light Company. It has been written, "While out-numbered and facing an enemy with superior equipment, he attacked the enemy with ambushes and in pitched battles, significantly depleting their forces. He was located in Chongqing, Kunming, Camp 6, Huaan, Zhangzhou, Gulangyu, and Shanghai." He received the Navy Cross, Silver Star and the Nationalist Chinese government's Yun Hui "Cloud Banner", its highest honor.

SACO had many agents covering a wide area, some of whom got into the court of Hirohito, secret Diet meetings, and into Japanese headquarters. Communicating the take was hard, and often required using Americans dressed as coolies to operate as runners. 

The Americans directed 14th AAF fighters against a multitude of targets. US submarines would surface three times a day to get intelligence on Japanese shipping and naval movements. They helped rescue downed airmen and briefed aircrews on the best places to put down if they ran into trouble. Almost all SACO work was done behind enemy lines and close to Japanese forces.

Miles set up at Hankow (now Wuhan), on the Yangtze River about 420 miles west of Shanghai. I want to highlight the Yangtze Raiders, designated by SACO as Unit 13, Lt. Joseph E. Champe in command. In his book History of United States Naval Operations in WWII: The Liberation of the Philippines, Samuel Eliot Morison wrote about them. The following was drawn from his book.

Champe and his team of five men set up shop 50 miles south of the Yangtze River in July 1944. His men trained some 500 Chinese in guerrilla operations. 

In December 1944, in the cold of winter, his men headed out and by mid-February came to a lake near the Yangtze.

 It turned out they were surrounded by 2000 Japanese troops and 8,000 “puppet” troops, a few shown here in Shanghai in 1941. The “puppet” troops were members of Chinese collaborationist armies, many of which were located in northern China. Japanese troops commanded them.

The Japanese knew Champe’s men were where they were. The Chinese guerrilla commander sent out a squad to create a disturbance which drew off enough Japanese to create a gap in their main body. The rest of the guerrillas snuck through that gap, blew up bridges, cut telephone and telegraph lines and harassed the Japanese forces. 

In March, a second Yangtze team overcame Japanese guards and destroyed their warehouses. There were also three Yangtze Raider teams of saboteurs, teams of three men each. One of these blew up an ammunition train in April 1944, smart enough to wait for the reconnaissance train to pass in order to blow up the tracks needed by the ammunition train. The explosion blew off the locomotive and seven cars. Another team sank two steamers using a clever explosive installation design of Champe’s. 

I also want to highlight the coast watchers. SACO began training Chinese coast watchers in June 1944. The coast from Shanghai to Hong Kong is about 800 miles. The headquarters for tracking Japanese shipping was at Changchow, about 25 miles inland. SACO divided that sector into five intelligence divisions, or nets. Each net had 5-12 Chinese coast watchers and guerrillas equipped with small radios. I have read that the teams also included two USN men each.

In his book History of United States Naval Operations in WWII: The Liberation of the Philippines, Samuel Eliot Morison wrote that USN men were with the Chinese starting in fall 1944. Miles said they “wore Chinese clothes and sandals, ate sitting on their heels and walked with the bounced cadence common to the Chinese with their spongy yo-yo poles.” The Chinese needed the Americans as they had a tough time identifying ships without US help.

This is an interesting story about then Commander E.B. “Gene” Fluckey, who commanded the USS Barb (SS-220). His group had worked against a Japanese convoy off Formosa but could find no more targets. SACO had been reporting the Japanese were using Lam Yit Bay, about 80 miles northeast of Amoy. SACO also said the Japanese were moving their shipping close to shore in shallow water in daylight.

After thinking this through, Fluckey ran his submarine along with a group of junks, through some very shallow waters. Then one SACO coast watcher, Sgt. William M. Stewart, USMC, reported 11 Japanese transports anchored two miles south of his location. Stewart sent a couple pirates out to see what was going on.

In the mean time, Fluckey maneuvered into position through suspected minefields and found the transports anchored in three columns over two miles. He ordered his crew to fire a spread of 10 torpedoes at what Fluckey called “the most beautiful target of the war.” He hit at least eight, sinking one (other sources say four), setting fires to many others, and then rushed out to deeper water where he could submerge!

Fluckey, nicknamed “Lucky Fluckey,” received the Medal of Honor and four Navy Crosses as one of the top USN submarine commanders of the war. He rose to the rank of Rear Admiral. I have found a source that says Fluckey would not admit to receiving SACO intelligence. Morison wrote that instead he intercepted SACO coast watcher messages to HQ at Changchow and from there to Chungking. He did intercept the report that set him up for these kills!

I've done a more in-depth story on the Barb and Fluckey. It's "USS Barb, WWII: "Galloping Ghost of Chinese Coast."

One final story about the SACO men.

This is a photo of Specialist First Class W. Ellsworth “Smitty” Smith, USN, trained as a Seabee, in China during the last months of the war. Smitty provides some interesting insights in his letters. 

He said in July 1945 LCdr. Robert J. Schoettler, USN, was sent to Kunming to recruit a group for the SACO Intelligence Unit, his group called “PACT Shot.” PACT Shot was tasked to get into Japanese occupied territory on China’s east coast, and prepare hydrographic surveys of the coast in preparation for Allied landings in Fukien province. The group, all Navy, was flown from India over the Himalayan Hump to Kunming, then traveled by foot and truck over the Ledo Road to set up their training facility at Camp Gibbins, south of Kunming, in August 1945.

The photo is of the group at Gibbins. There were 50 of them.

SACO people trained them. General Tai Li’s troops guarded them. They were then to fly to Kienow, but encountered storms. Six planes had to turn back, one was lost with the crew successfully bailing out, and the other, on which Smitty was aboard, ran short of fuel. His pilot managed to land at a Japanese airstrip. 
It was now August 31, 1945. The Americans were awaiting Japan’s surrender in China. The Japanese at the airfield apparently did not recognize the surrender or did not know about it, so they moved against Smitty’s colleagues heavily armed. The senior officer in charge, Lt jg Frank McKenzie surrendered and all were taken prisoner except Smitty and two others. Smitty was armed. After quite an ordeal, these three too surrendered though Smitty insisted on keeping his weapon pointed at a Japanese officer, to which the Japanese agreed. In any event, they were able to get their C-47 refueled and fly out. 
I am not sure why the Japanese let them go except to say there was a Chinese guerrilla force approaching.

The entire PACT Shot united in Kienow and went on the Min River towards Fuchow in local sampans piloted by Chinese with the Americans hiding below deck. Many of the SACO groups were ordered to make their way to collection points and were then flown to Shanghai to prepare to return to the US. 

The PACT Shot Group was told to survey areas around Fuchow to Amoy, both in Fuian Province, China, the area across the strait opposite Formosa, now known as Taiwan. Admiral King envisioned an Allied landing here to attack the Japanese inland. Now it was being surveyed again with the idea in mind that Chiang Kai-shek and his people might have to leave China in a hurry given strides made in the Chinese civil war by Mao Tse Tung and his communist forces.

At the end of the war, Japanese forces surrendered and at the time they held Formosa. Chiang Kai-shek’s ROC claimed Formosa as a Chinese province. In 1949 the Communists overthrew the ROC and Chiang’s government, military and some 2 million Chinese fled the mainland to Formosa, an island inhabited by many thousands Japanese. American military and State Department planners had, as early as 1943 or so, realized Chiang would lose the civil war to the communists and an exodus to Formosa would clearly be a possibility. The problem was it was verboten to talk of the possibility of Chiang’s downfall.

So the PACT Shot survey turned out to be valuable.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Treat wounded combatants with respect, not as victims

The price of battle in Afghan's Sangin Valley

"A hero doesn't have to flaunt his courage"

By Ed Marek, editor

The Battles of Sangin Valley, Afghanistan were many, and they remain many to this day, one of the most difficult and lethal aspects of the Afghan War. The valley is in the southern Helmand province, long a center for opium trade. Politically, Sangin held little sway in Kabul, a “minor backwater." The Taliban enemy viewed it differently, largely because of the opium.  

Ferocious fighting has been in train there daily, often many times in one day, between the Allies and the enemy, largely the Taliban reinforced by fighters from other Islamic countries, since 2006. 

British forces have called it “Sangingrad,” after the tortuous battle of Stalingrad in WWII. Others have called it the most dangerous place in the world. Others have called it “No Go Valley.”

Sgt. Dean Davis, a US Marine correspondent, described Sangin this way:

“Sangin is one of the prettier places in Helmand, but that’s very deceiving. It’s a very dangerous place; it’s a danger you can feel.”

Julius Cavendish reported for Time magazine on March 10, 2011 that one western diplomat viewed the current situation this way:

"Basically in Sangin they have lots of guns, lots of heroin infrastructure, key distribution points, and zero interest in 'government' — which may just want to control the heroin ... It's not always useful to look at things as 'government' versus 'Taliban' rather than a hotch-potch of interest groups — cut along tribal, political, historical lines — fighting for control." 

 The fighting here over many years has been so fierce and deadly that British forces called it “Sangingrad” after the WWII Battle for Stalingrad.

In Mary's blog at H&B Forge, Mary (Huston) Barber Scherer said this. It struck me in the heart: 

"A hero doesn’t have to flaunt his courage. That’s part of what makes him a hero. But I wanted to tell you all so you would know that there are still people out there who give all they have."

Let's drop back to roughly 2010 - 2012 or so, and meet some heroes who fought in Sangin, Afghanistan, and survived, suffering great trauma, pain, and anguish, yet they survived and have worked hard to make a comeback. Acquaint yourself with their sacrifices, their courage, and their attitudes, convictions, and perspectives.

Before I start, please pay your respects to those who lost their lives in Sangin. Putting an accurate total number of those British and America Fallen is out of my reach, but the number is somewhere in the several hundreds. You might watch a video entitled, "Marines say goodbye to Fallen Brother."

Stand ready and firm as your heart aches and fills with pride at the same time.


Editor's note: You will see several photos taken by Anja Niedringhaus for AP in the stories below. Anja was killed in April 2014 while on assignment in Afghanistan for the presidential election. She previously had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her reporting about the Iraq war.

Christine Longère reported on the killing, "In Commemoration of the Photographer Anja Niedringhaus (1965 – 2014)" The article was presented by PBS.

Anja explained her desire to photograph in Afghanistan:

“One tries to understand and take photos of what one sees, reporting on what happens in a war on behalf of all those thousands who suffer. If I do not take photos of this or that it will not get known. Tanks do not solve problems.”


Lance Corporal Christopher Bogner, USMC (Ret.), 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, the 1-7 Marines

Lance Corporal Christopher Bogner was hit by an IED on July 11, 2012 in Sangin. Bogner sustained shrapnel injuries which required surgery: two collapsed lungs, swelling of the brain, and shrapnel in the body. The collapsed lungs presented the greatest threat. He would end up getting pneumonia as a result. As of September 15, 2012, he has made a remarkable recovery and was released from Walter Reed and sent to San Diego. He sustained lacerations to his neck, loss of a sizable amount of skin from his one forearm, his ear drum in the right ear, and a loss of sight in his right eye.


You can hear part of his story at YouTube. There is another story showing him hunting deer with two friends - he bagged one!


Corporal Kionte Storey, USMC (Ret.), 3-7 Marines

Corporal Kionte Storey was with the 3-7 Marines in Sangin. On September 7, 2010, while on patrol, he stepped on an IED in a hallway of a building they were inspecting. He lost his right leg below the knee but doctors saved the rest of that leg. He, like so many, has made a remarkable recovery and participated in the Warrior Games.

At the Warrior Games held in May 2012, he ran 100 meters in 12.32 seconds. 

You can hear part of his story at PodBean.

Corporal Kevin Dubois, USMC (Ret.), 3-4 Marines

Corporal Kevin Dubois went out to replace a Marine wounded while guarding a hastily set up landing zone near Sangin. Dubois was a scout sniper by trade. He recalls leaving a residential compound his unit had occupied and reaching the edge of the landing area. The helicopter was approaching. He then stepped on a well hidden IED and lost both legs up to his pelvis.

In this photo from the Andover Townsman in 2014, you see Dubois, with his wife Kahyla and their dog, raising the flag in front of his new all-expenses-paid home presented by Homes for Our Troops. At the time Kayla was expecting.


Corporal Ricky Fergusson, 4 Rifles Infantry, British Army

Corporal Ricky Fergusson risked death four times to help rescue colleagues before he was also maimed by an IED in Sangin. He had tried to save a fifth soldier but that soldier died. He lost both legs above the knee, an eye and five fingers. His face had to be rebuilt.

 In this photo he is standing on prosthetic legs usually used to train soldiers with leg amputations before moving on to the longer legs.

Fergusson joined the Army at the age of 16. He served in Northern Ireland, Iraq and then Afghanistan. He spent six months in a medical rehabilitation unit for treatment of his injuries. His recovery has been described as remarkable. He eventually received the long prosthetic legs.

Here you see Corporal Fergusson receiving the Military Cross from Queen Elizabeth for acts of bravery and risking his own life to save his comrades.

While in the Headley medical rehabilitation unit in England Fergusson was introduced to training on Total Gym units. He has become a full time C-Leg user. His face has been reconstructed. 

He carried the Olympic Torch in Broseley, England in May 2012, saying: “with prosthetic legs, they gave me the only hill of the journey to get up!”


Lance Corporal Adam Devine, USMC (Ret.), 3-7 Marines

Lance Corporal Adam Devine works out in physical therapy with daughter Amya on his back. A machine-gunner with the 3-7 Marines in Sangin, he stepped on a 7-10 pound pressure plate, causing an IED explosion. His battlefield comrades saved his life until he got to a hospital, where they completed that work. He lost both his legs.

This photo shows Devine with General James F. Amos, USMC, commandant of the Marine Corps, after receiving the Purple Heart.

This shows him walking into his new home, presented by

There are two internet pages showing wonderful photos of Adam Devine, his time in the hospital, his family and some distinguished visitors.


Cpl. Jordan Williams, USMC (Ret.), 1st Marine Division

Cpl. Jordan Williams was a radio operator for his 1st Marine Division recon battalion commander. He was sitting in his commander’s light armored vehicle (LAV) repairing the radio when an IED exploded under him. He had multiple fractures to both legs and his pelvis.

Brian Kelly re[portyed for the Bainbridge Island Review:

"The bomb hit the LAV’s lower armor plate, which rammed into the vehicle exactly where Jordan was sitting. The blast lifted the 28,000-pound vehicle and threw it forward, where it bounced and then shot forward again. Four of the LAV’s eight tires were blasted off and there was a 5-foot hole in the ground from the explosion. ""  

Williams spent two and a half months hospitalized in Bethesda, Md., and four months in a VA hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., after which he was assigned to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, Calif.

While at Bethesda, Jordan had surgery three times a week on his pelvis and left leg, both of which were placed in a “cage” that prevented movement. He has undergone more than 20 surgeries since the incident.  

When he was finally unplugged from the various life-support machines, activity began with a wheelchair, then a walker, a cane and then his own two feet. 

This photo shows Williams, left center, with his parents, to his left, at Island Church on Bainbridge Island, Washington on Saturday, January 7, 2011. Williams received a Purple Heart.


Lance Corporal Juan Dominguez, USMC (Ret.), 3-5 Marines

Lance Corporal Juan Dominguez was on a foot patrol in Sangin, a rifleman on the front line safeguarding the way for the others. He slipped down a small embankment and landed on a pressure-plated 30 pound IED that threw him 15 feet into the air. He lost both legs above the knee and later his right arm above the elbow. He has since been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress. Since that day, he has endured more than twenty-five surgeries. His corpsman, working to stop the bleeding, refused to give him morphine fearing he would go into shock and he would not be able to revive him. It took 18 minutes for the medevac helicopter before he could get any relief for the pain. 
This photo shows Dominguez and his family, along with Fred Siller, left, and Gary Sinise, right, both of whom work for wounded warriors and, in this case, are working to raise money to build the Dominguez family a home.

There is a gallery of Dominguez in the hospital, and out, and his wife and his daughter Victoria at the Huffiungton Post. This is one photo from that gallery.
Corporal Burness Britt, USMC, (Ret.), 2-12 Marines

These next three photos taken by Anja Niedringhaus, AP, are of Corporal Burness Britt, USMC, 2-12 Marines. The first is shortly after he was placed on an Army “Dustoff” medevac helicopter after being seriously wounded on June 4, 2011 by an IED while leading 10 Marines through a wheat field near Sangin. 
 Niedringhaus, who was embedded with the Dustoffs, explains, 
“He was thrown into the air, and landed with a thump in the field, a searing hot pain raging in his neck. He had been hit by a huge piece of shrapnel from a bomb and a major artery was cut. Britt believes the improvised explosive device was hidden and somebody triggered it from a distance, though he can't say for sure.” 
Part of his skull had to be removed because his brain had swollen to nearly twice its size. He has been through multiple surgeries, with more to go to rebuild his skull. During one of his surgeries, he suffered a stroke and was partially paralyzed on his right side. He was placed in rehabilitation in Richmond, Virginia and regained his speech. While walking, he wears a protective helmet. 
Niedringhaus found him and visited him in Richmond. Britt told her this: 
"The love for the Marines is deep in my heart, they are my family. I want to return immediately back to Afghanistan to help them keep fighting."

The Daily Mail published an article along with photos of Britt. This one shows Britt with his wife, Jessica, while in rehab in Richmond. 
Lance Corporal Jacob Romo, USMC (Ret.), 3-5 Marines
LCpl Jake Romo, 3-5 Marines “Darkhorse Battalion,” lost both legs in an IED explosion in Sangin February 2011. He did physical therapy at the Naval Medical Center, San Diego. Photo credit: David Gilkey, NPR.


This photo shows his wife, Michelle.

This photo shows Romo in physical therapy in San Diego. He said he knew he had lost both legs as soon as he was hit. He comments, "(It) was straight up miserable."

Here you see him with Michelle and his two children.

Jake Romo in this photo is pressing ahead with life, practicing to be a mixed martial artist instructor while in a wheelchair.

There is a wonderful video of him and his wife, along with demonstrations showing how homes for our wounded troops are designed with a wheel-chair bound veteran in mind. The video is presented by Homes for our Troops.

Lance Corporal Jorge Ortiz, USMC (Ret.), 3-5 Marines

Lance Corporal Jorge Ortiz, USMC, lost both legs above the knees, four fingers on his left hand, and the thumb on his right hand while taking photos of a weapons cache in Sangin. He then stepped on an IED, January 15, 2011. His fellow Marines found him in the IED's bomb crater. Initially conscious, he then lost consciousness and woke up as the Marines coming to his aid did whatever they could to prevent shock. A British helicopter came in and airlifted him out to the Camp Bastion Hospital. 

Ortiz commented:

“I heard the boom and then I was lying there in a crater with dust everywhere and the voices of people starting to come in slowly. I blacked out for a second and when I woke up I could see my legs were gone and the bones were protruding … At first I thought ‘how the hell did this happen to me?’ But somebody was going to get hit that day and fortunately I was the only one injured, so it wasn’t a bad day.”
He was determined to recover. A few days after his doctor refused him any more pain medication, Ortiz put on his "stubby" prosthetic and took a step. He commented, "Damn, today was the first day I walked since January 15th this year. I could still remember that day as if it was yesterday. The future is bright for those who try, I guarantee you that because I’m witnessing it myself."

There is a video with Ortiz and his then girlfriend Aiyanna Lynn Coleman, now wife, presented by Homes for our Troops. Aiyanna is an Army veteran.

Ortiz said:
“Some guys lose their confidence when this happens but my confidence went up higher. It isn’t my nature to feel self-pity because of my injuries. I’m not one of those to drown in my sorrows. I just like to keep a positive attitude.”

Lance Corporal Blas Trevino, USMC (Ret.), 1-5 Marines

Lance Corporal Blas Trevino, USMC (Ret.) is holding on to his stomach where he had been shot outside Sangin. A C/1-214 Army Aviation medevac helicopter that had come to get him had been hit as well. The pilot quickly pulled up to see if he could fly, decided he could, and returned to the exact spot where he had been hit. The crew saw no one. But then one of the Marines named Campbell jumped out to look around, then all of a sudden Trevino jumped out of the bushes and sprinted to the helicopter, and another Marine followed him. Campbell hugged him and shouted, “You made it! You made it.” The skipper took off and got him to the hospital. Anja Niedringhaus took the photos used here for AP.

This photo shows Trevino yelling at his fellow Marines to climb on board the helicopter as he clutches the gunshot wound to his stomach.
On board the medevac rescue helicopter, Trevino clutches his Rosary. 

Lance Corporal Jerome Hanley, USMC (Ret.), 3-2 Marines

Lance Corporal Jerome Hanley, USMC, wounded in an insurgent attack north of Sangin, is loaded on a medevac helicopter from the US Army's Task Force Lift "Dust Off", Charlie Company 1-214 Aviation Regiment at a "hot" landing zone that was under fire, May 15, 2011. AP Photo/Kevin Frayer, presented by The Atlantic

Hanley was wounded in the leg when insurgents attacked with mortar and grenades.

Hanley was hit with shrapnel and broke his left leg. The doctors repaired his leg, removed some of the shrapnel that ripped into his body, but had to leave some of it in. 
He later began law studies at Suffolk Law School hoping to build a legal career in intellectual property.

Corporal Andrew Smith, USMC (Ret.), 3-2 Marines

Corporal Andrew Smith, USMC was a member of Jerome Hanley's (previous photo shot) sniper team. He was seriously wounded by enemy shrapnel in the same insurgent attack north of Sangin. In this photo he is being treated by Sgt. Jaime Adame, an Army medic on May 15, 2011. 

He suffered a life-threatening arterial bleed, losing blood at an alarming rate. The medics and the helicopter and its crew were under fire when they picked up Hanley and Smith.

Following his discharge from the Marines, Smith attended  theCharleston School of Law, graduated Summa Cum Laude, and is an attorney in Charleston.


Fuselier Thomas James, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers

Fuselier Thomas James, 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, watches the coffin of his comrade Fuselier Shaun Bush. Smith was killed trying to save another colleague. James was hit by the blast that killed Bush. 

He lost his right eye, his right arm was blown away as were the fingers on his left hand. His face has been scarred bits of flying shrapnel, mainly his forehead, cheeks and nose. 

Anton Antonowicz quoted James saying: 

"I'm alive. I'm on the mend. And I can contribute again. Maybe I can't be on the front line. But the Army is my home. The blokes are my mates. And, I miss 'em. It's so strange. We (James and Shaun Bush) were walking alongside a canal. Taliban were hiding on the other side. They pulled a wire to detonate that bomb as I passed.

"I remember it all. I just got blown up. I saw my arm was gone. Blood. Shouting. And sometime in the middle of all that I thought it was lucky that I was the only one injured in that blast. I just didn't know about the others."

This photo shows James with stepson Brandon, girlfriend Kelly and baby Evie. He has said, "Having a daughter is the best thing ever, and if I’d never been in the army, and if I hadn’t stepped on the IED, I wouldn’t have met Kelly and I wouldn’t have had Evie, so I don’t regret it for a second.”

James commented further:

"There are hundreds of people right now who are going through what I did. What I’d say to them, is never give up - perseverance is the key. I believe the greatest way to honour those killed in Afghanistan is to live the life you have, to the full. And that’s what I’ve done since I came back and what I will continue to do.”


Lance Corporal David Richvaslky, USMC, 1-5 Marines

Spc. Jenny Martinez, left, talks to injured Lance Corporal David Richvaslky, 1-5 Marines, after he is placed onto a medevac helicopter from the U.S. Army’s Task Force Lift “Dustoff,” Charlie Company 1-214 Aviation Regiment. He suffered shrapnel wounds to his head, outside Sangin. 

 Elliott Woods, writing for The Sun, said: 

"Richvalsky took a dime-sized chunk of metal to his temple and so much shrapnel on the right side of his body that he looked, in his words, as if he 'fell off a skateboard and slid for about ten feet.' His face, he said, was like 'a nasty burger.' The IED blast shattered his eardrums and compressed his skull, leaving him severely concussed and nearly deaf. These injuries could have won him a trip home for good, but Richvalsky said he pushed to come back — not because he wanted revenge but because he couldn’t stand the idea of leaving his squad mates behind."