STRATCOM / ROC ID Card
Cable Route to Linkou Air Station
T a i p e i M i l i t a r y
Home Away From Home
I served in the US Army from August of 1966 until July of 1968. This was at the beginning of the troop buildup during the Vietnam War, when the draft was still in effect.
I was assigned to Fort Bragg, NC for basic training. My first morning in the Army was spent taking a group of aptitude tests. The saying was that when you were drafted, “if you were a mechanic the Army would assign you to be a cook, and if you were a cook you would be assigned as a mechanic”. While there was probably some truth to this, in my case it was not. I had worked for the telephone company (AT&T) before being drafted and I was assigned to the Signal Corps upon completion of basic training.
Following completion of Basic Training I moved on to Advanced Individual Training (AIT). I was trained as a wireman at Fort Dix, New Jersey and as a lineman at Fort Gordon, Georgia. While at Fort Gordon, a civilian instructor suggested I volunteer for a unit called STRATCOM (Strategic Communications). I was a little hesitant at first, another saying in the Army was “never volunteer for anything” but finally decided to volunteer. I filled out the paper work but never heard anymore, so I forgot about it.
In April of 1967 I had finished all my training and was stationed at Ft. Bliss, in El Paso, Texas. I was assigned to what was referred to as a “holding company”. Basically it was an assignment to keep you busy while you awaited orders for a permanent duty station assignment. Everybody in the company was waiting on orders to go overseas, probably Vietnam. One day I finally received my orders, to STRATCOM APO (Army Post Office) 96263. I had no Idea where it was, nor did anyone else in the company. So I went over to the base Post Office and asked where it was and they said Taiwan. Well, I still didn’t know where it was, so I went over to the library to try to find a map to see where the heck I was going! After a little research I finally discovered that Taiwan was the new name for Formosa, an island off the coast of China. I had accumulated around two weeks leave so I went back home before reporting to Fort Lewis, WA for transfer to my new duty station.
I departed the US from SeaTac (Seattle-Tacoma Airport) aboard a Northwest Orient commercial flight along with a couple of Navy guys. Following an overnight stop in Japan, the flight continued to Taipei. We arrived in Taipei at Sung Shan Airport’s commercial terminal on a Sunday afternoon. We had all assumed that we would be met at the airport, but not so. None of us spoke any Mandarin. After wandering around in the terminal for a while we finally located an information desk manned by a person that spoke a little English. They dialed the telephone and handed it to me. What a relief it was to hear an American voice answer! After explaining the situation, the voice on the other end said to go outside and they would send a vehicle to pick us up.
Outside, what is that SMELL? That first time really catches you by surprise, nothing quite like it. A little time passes and a grey Navy vehicle shows up with a Chinese driver and he tells us to get in. We are driven to the Headquarters Support Activity (HSA) East Compound on Chung Shan North Road and put up in the Enlisted Men’s barracks. On the way into the compound, the driver points to the STRATCOM Operations Battalion admin building and tells me to report there the next morning.
Talk about culture shock! I was “US” (a draftee), only been in the Army for about eight months, still a PFC (E-3), half way around the world from home, trying to figure out what the heck is going on. The next morning I get up and go over to the admin building and start processing in. When I went by the mail room I discovered I have mail waiting for me, orders from my old company at Ft. Bliss promoting me to Specialist Fourth Class (E-4). I have been promoted while I was on leave pending transfer!
The first thing you need to do when you receive a promotion is to change the rank insignia on all your uniforms. The people in the admin office told me I could get that done for no charge at “Mister Loo’s East Compound Tailor” which happened to be located in the lower level at the rear of the admin building. Mr. Loo had a huge selection of fabrics and always had several catalogs and magazines on hand to select styles from. If you could provide a photo, sketch, or description of what you wanted, they would make it for you. I had not brought any civilian clothes with me since I had no idea what to expect at my new assignment. So while I was at Mr. Loo’s I had a couple of pairs of pants and shirts custom made. I was so pleased with them that I went back later and had a suit and sport coat made. The prices were incredibly cheap and I could wait to pay for them on payday! I had spent what little money I had while I was on leave so this was great news.
I continued to live in the barracks for a few day while I was processing into the new unit. This was by choice since as long as I lived in the barracks I could eat in the FASD Mess Hall located in the Signal Compound.
My promotion turned out to be good luck. Since I was a freshly minted non-comm, I was eligible to live in a hostel operated by the Taiwan Foreign Affairs Services Division (FASD) instead of having to live in the barracks. When payday arrived, I moved to the hostel on Chung Shan North Road, adjacent to the HSA East Compound.
Since the hostel was not within the military compounds nor operated by the US military I qualified for a housing allowance and seperate rations. The extra money from the housing allowance paid for the base cost of the hostel. The seperate rations allowance meant that I could no longer eat in the mess hall but had to purchase my own meals. Some times, it could be rather hard to streach the money to the end of the month. There was a snack bar with a limited menu at the rear corner of the entrance lobby. You could go to the desk in the lobby and get a “Chit Book” that could be used to pay in the snack bar. The value of the chit book then had to be paid along with the rent at the end of the month.
This is the entrance to the building I lived in. There was a parking lot and entrance in the rear, but since I didn’t have an automobile I used the front entrance. The rooms in the hostel were semi-private, and two adjacent rooms shared a connecting bath. There was also a small screened porch, but given the heat and humidity it was rarely used.
The rooms in the hostel were not air conditioned, which was a big deal given the heat and humidity in Taipei. One of the first things I did when I moved into the hostel was purchase a window air conditioner and a refrigerator at the PX and have it installed. It sure was nice to come back to a nice cool room after a day out working in the heat and humidity! The previous occupants had installed a woven straw mat that covered the majority of the floor so I was able to purchase that to dress up the room a little bit.
Actually, I didn’t buy the air conditioner and refrigerator. I purchased them with money provided by my “house boy”, Sgt. Schen. He provided the money for the purchase with the understanding that he would take possession of the items when my tour was completed and I left Taiwan. Since I really didn’t have the cash on hand to purchase the items, I took him up on his offer.
I assumed that Schen had served in the Nationalist Chinese (ROC) military. Schen took care of the laundry, shined boots and shoes, and cleaned the room. I think the house boys were responsible for 8-10 rooms each. I received a housing allowance ($72 I think) that covered the cost of the hostel room. There was an additional charge for electricity if you had an air conditioner. I also had to pay Schen each month for his services.
After a little swapping around, my roommate was Jim Sharp from Houston Texas. That’s Jim in the tee shirt in the photo on the left. Jim had worked for an electric power company in Houston, Texas before being drafted. The room sharing the connecting bath was occupied by Frank Fellers from Columbia, South Carolina and Craig Pauley from Los Angeles, California. All of these guys were in the same outfit I was assigned to. Jim and Craig worked with me on outside maintenance and Frank worked in supply in the Sugar Building most of the time, but would give us a hand outside if we needed it.
That’s Frank sitting on my bed holding a copy of Flying magazine, with me in the background. We had both been pilots before we got drafted so we hit it off well.
Notice the piece of furniture to the right of the tape recorder. That is one of a pair of stereo speaker enclosures I had built by Ricardo Lynn Furniture. They also made the turntable base and cover. You could take them a photo or sketch of whatever you wanted and they would build it for you. And the prices were very reasonable! Most of the GI’s that were accompanied by their familys ended up with one or more pieces of furniture made by Ricardo Lynn.
This photo must have been taken a few months before I left, notice the “short timers” calendar sitting on the headboard with the days marked off! It was considered poor form to have a short timers calendar until your time left in country got down to two digits.
The guy sitting on the floor is Mike Masters from Seattle, Washington. Mike was in my outfit also. All the rooms were basically the same, just a bed, desk, dresser, and chair for each person. All the bedding, sheets, blankets, pillows were provided with the room. As you can see, the rooms weren’t anything special, but it sure beat living in the barracks!
You may have noticed that both Frank and I had tape recorders. A lot of the GI’s had them. You could buy records from local vendors at incredibly cheap prices. As soon as a new record showed up in the PX, within a few days copies would be available. While they were inexpensive, they were not durable. They were made from brightly colored, translucent plastic. So the procedure was, the first time you played the record, you recorded it to tape and there after used the taped copy. It had the added benefit of being able to take the tapes back to the US, while we were not allowed to take the records back since they were pirated copies.
This is me, back in the day. I think I had been called out to go to work on a trouble and was sitting around, waiting on the driver to come pick me up. I remember it was a weekend. I know I hadn’t been outside yet because my clothes aren’t soaked with perspiration and covered in salt stains! Note the stereo equipment on the table. State of the art at the time! The girl in the picture on top of the Fisher stereo receiver was my fiance at the time. One of the reasons I was always short of money was I was using about half of my monthly base pay to pay for the engagement ring I had bought while I was on leave. We got married shortly after I returned to the world.
I was assigned to the Taipei Military telephone system. Everybody just called it “Taipei Military”. The unit was part of STRATCOM Long Lines Battalion, based at Grass Mountain, in the mountains outside of Taipei. They operated the Joint Over Seas Switchboard (JOSS) which served various sites in the Pacific. But since the telephone exchange was located in the Sugar Building in downtown Taipei the unit was assigned to STRATCOM Operations Battalion, with headquarters at the rear of the HSA East Compound (sometimes called the Signal Compound). We provided telephone service for everybody in the Taipei area that had anything to do with the US, including all branches of the military, Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG), and various embassies. If, when you picked up your phone and dialed Operator, a Chinese voice said “Taipei Military” that was one of our phones. While most other GI’s worked inside one of many sites in the Taipei area, we worked all around the greater Taipei area: East and West HSA compounds, Linkou, Sung Shan Airport, various MAAG compounds, Grass Mountain, Tien Mu, as well as the cable routes connecting the various sites. We spent most of our time out on the cable routes, working among the civilian population.
That’s me, on the left side of the cable reel. Trust me, it was heavier than it looked! The guy on the right is my roommate, Jim Sharp. The last name of the fellow on the left was Mitchell or Mitchum, I can’t remember. Everybody just called him Mitch. He was one of the few “RA” (regular army) in the unit.
Mitch’s wife was in country with him. I remember we were having a going away party for them when we heard the news about the USS Pueblo being captured by the North Koreans. Mitch and his wife had already packed up all their household belongings and he was concerned he would be extended, but it worked out that they got to go back to “the world” as scheduled.
That’s Michael Hagan from Asheville, North Carolina in the rear on the photo. We were working on a cable route that went out to Linkou Air Station. Working in the rice paddies was hot and dirty work.
Linkou was an intelligence site. There was a forest of antennas for picking up and translating radio broadcasts from mainland China. The guys that worked there would never say what they were doing but it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure what all the antennas were for.
There were usually 2 or 3 GI’s that worked at the Sugar Building, maintaining the exchange and ordering supplies, and anywhere from six to eight of us that worked outside, installing cabling and telephones, and fixing troubles. Our switchboard was also located in the Sugar Building, in the room adjacent to our offices. All of the switchboard operators were Taiwanese civilians.
When Frank gave me this photo he said it was one of the operators. I had to take his word for it, since I was rarely at the Sugar Building. The operators would act as a dispatch service for us. Remember, this was a time before pagers or cell phones. We didn’t even have two way radios.
The switch room techs would take the trouble reports and pass the information on to the operators. When we called in, they would let us know what troubles we had and who to contact. If it was your week to be on call, every where you went, you had to call the switch board and leave a number where you could be contacted.
The Armed Forces Network Taiwan (AFNT) studios were also located in the Sugar Building. Frank Fellers hosted an evening show called “China Night” for a few months. You can listen to one of his programs by clicking here.
In the picture to the left, the building with the red vertical sign is the First Company Department store. If you look closely behind it you can see a much shorter building (4 or 5 stories) extending to the left, that is the Sugar Building. The photo on the right is a another view of the First Company with the corner of the Sugar Building visible on the left side of the image. During my assignment, the First Company was the only “department store” that I was aware of in Taipei.
This area around the Sugar Building was, and still is, called Ximending. It covered many blocks with small shops selling every conceivable item. The shop keepers seemed to take pleasure in haggling over the price of an item. I remember the shops being open late into the evening. I was able to buy all the components for my custom stereo speakers and turntable enclosure from the shops.
There were also several theaters in the area. Many of the movies shown were from studios is the US but had Mandarin sub-titles. It made for an interesting experience watching them!
The outside group would met each morning in the motor pool, close to the rear entrance of the East Compound. From the hostel I could walk south on Chung Shan North Road, go past the Chinese guard and into the main entrance to the East Compound, walk past the Navy Exchange and theater, and thru a little alley and come out next to the motor pool. We would meet in the motor pool office and call the switch board to get a list of troubles and work out our schedule for the day.
Quite often, when we would be returning to the motor pool in the afternoons, we would encounter a large group of young children on Linsen Road, near the intersection of Minquan Road. The sidewalks and intersection would be full of young children in all directions, wearing what I assumed were school uniforms. It was my understanding that there was a school located nearby.
Since we spent so much time driving around from place to place, the Nationalist Chinese Army provided drivers for all of our vehicles. I don’t believe the US military wanted to take a chance on a GI being involved in a traffic accident. One of the benefits of having the Chinese drivers was that if we were anywhere close to the 63 Club around lunch time we would get the driver to drop us off and go back to the motor pool. We could have a leisurely lunch, enjoy the air conditioning, and maybe play a little pinball afterwards. Then we would catch a cab back to the motor pool.
This was the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) Non Commissioned Officers Club. When I was stationed in Taipei, everybody knew it as the 63 Club. Even though it was an NCO club, membership was available to enlisted men as well, since the total number of GI’s stationed in Taipei was so small. For most of those stationed in Taipei, this was THE place. There was a huge dining room with good food at decent prices, a good band, a couple of smaller bars with pool tables and pinball machines, and a room full of slot machines. There was also a member’s night once a month with a live show and a free steak dinner. And most importantly, they would give you credit when you were running out of money near the end of the month! An updated version of this building is now home to The American Club in China.
The FASD operated a mess hall in the East compound, across from the motor pool. I ate there a few times when I first arrived and I would occasionally eat at the Linkou Club Annex, which was located a few blocks south of the hostel. Mostly, I ate at the 63 Club or the snack bar in the West compound (bowling alley). They had a large seating area and a grill that served burgers, fries and other fast food items. I remember there was a small snack bar at the rear of the lobby in the hostel. Sometimes I would get a sandwich there after work if I didn’t feel like going to the 63 Club. There was also a really small snack bar off the rear lobby of the Sugar Building, just enough room for the grill and a couple of tables. We would eat there if we happened to be picking up supplies around lunch..
Occasionally, some of the guys would frequent one of the roadside vendors, especially if we were outside of Taipei. You would see carts like this set up on the sidewalks in many areas. They usually sold noodles and some type of meat, usually pork or fish. The carts had a small charcoal burner to keep the food hot. Fruit and flavored shaved ice vendors were also common. Mostly, I would limit myself to fresh fruit or drinks.
When I first arrived, pedicabs like the ones pictured above were still common, but the government had begun a drive to abolish them. Sometimes, when we had been out on the town at night, we would get the drivers to let us pedal and them ride and we would race each other down the street, back to the hostel. I guess it just proves if you get bored enough you will do just about anything for fun.
By the time I left the pedicabs had all but disappeared from the streets, replaced by Bluebird taxi cabs. I still remember that the fare from the 63 Club back to the East Compound gate was 5 New Taiwan dollars (NT $5), roughly 13 cents US at the time. I didn’t have a car, so if I wanted to go anywhere in my off time it was either take a pedicab or taxi or walk. Since I didn’t have that much money, most of the time I walked! I remember one night I walked from the Ximending shopping area back to the hostel. I don’t know how far it was, but it took several hours!
On the hill above the 63 Club stood The Grand Hotel. It was, and still is, an imposing structure. Featuring red walls and a gold roof, it was styled after an ancient pagoda. The grounds were expansive and covered most of the hillside. On a nice evening I would often walk back to my room at the hostel from the 63 Club. Sometimes I would walk up the hill to the grounds of the Grand and look out over the city spread out before me.
This is the Grand Hotel as it appears today. In the early 70’s a large addition was completed that expanded the hotel greatly and obscures the original structure. In this photo taken from Google Earth you can clearly see the position of the original structure and the addition.
If you have been trying to figure out what the song that has been playing is I will tell you. Its called Sukiyaki, by Kyu Sakamoto. And yes, I know it is Japanese, not Chinese. But during the time I spent in Taipei, no matter what bar or club you might be in, I guarantee somebody would play it. So, for me it will always be tied to my memories of Taipei. There is an old saying “you can never go home again”. The Taipei I lived in for almost a year and a half no longer exists. In it’s place has risen a modern metropolis. Not far from where I watched a multi-story building being constructed using bamboo scaffolding and materials delivered on pedicarts now stands Taipei 101, one of the tallest buildings in the world! Pedicabs have given way to a modern mass transit system and high speed trains extend to most areas of the island nation. The largely agricultural economy has been replaced by an economic giant, with heavy emphasis on manufacturing and electronics. I hope to return to see the many changes that have taken place.
Thanks for visiting. Please leave a comment below in our guestbook.