FORMOSA ALERT

by BOBBY F. WALLS

We began the move on 3 October 1954, leaving K-55 in Korea (Osan AB), bound for Kadena, Okinawa The 18th FBG moved everything from both squadrons, the 12th and 67th FBSs, which were equipped with F-86F-30 Sabres retrofitted with the '6-3 hard wing'.

At Kadena, we briefly enjoyed individual rooms, flush toilets, hot showers, and stateside-type facilities. Then we moved to Yontan, an abandoned WW2 airstrip. It was quite a letdown, moving back into tents after tasting the 'good life' at Kadena. The good news was that the 18th was once again a normal three squadron wing, when the 44th FBS rejoined us after having been at Clark since the early days of the Korean War.

On 11 December 1954, the wing moved back to Kadena and hot showers. Hot Dog! But we were there only a short time when the hooch maid calmly told me "Soon you go-fly away, ne?". But no one had told us anything, so I assured her that we weren't going anywhere. We had just returned and we were here to stay!

WRONG! Lo and behold, not long after the maid's announcement, we started getting rumbles about an impending operation. But you know how rumors go. So we paid little attention. Wrong again!

One night in late January 1955 we were in the O-c1ub when wing staff officers started coming into the club and whispering to the pilots to report to their squadrons. We were told to begin planning for an early morning departure for Formosa. FORMOSA!? We were going to fly top cover for the evacuation of the Tachen Islands, currently held by the Nationalist Chinese. However, Red China had made it clear they weren't going to allow the evacuation.

We departed the next morning, 27 January 1955, with all the flyable aircraft, in flights of four. Our destination was Chai-Yi AB, Formosa, arriving without incident. As a flight leader, I was told to immediately report to the Chinese commander's office, where I joined the 67th FBS CO, the Operations Officer, and all the other Flight Commanders. We learned exactly what our responsibilities were going to be, and given a brief intel briefing on the situation. Then I was told to take my flight and get airborne as quickly as possible to show our rapid turn-around ability, and that we were ready for action immediately. No problem!

A few days after we arrived, the weather turned into crap, 50-100 foot ceilings, with visibility of about 1-2 miles. We still had one flight of four inbound from Kadena, which really puzzled me as to why they launched in the face of the weather. Later we found they'd been given a forecast of 500-1500 foot ceilings for the entire day!

I went down to mobile control to talk them down. The flight arrived overhead and I advised them of the weather, asking if they could go back. The flight commander informed me they had to get on the ground fast as they were all at 'Bingo' fuel, and they had no alternates.

They started an ADF approach, but when they had station passage at 500 feet they were still above the cloud deck! They executed a missed approach and started looking for holes in the cloud deck. Shortly thereafter, Griff Mansfield announced that he was down to 100 lbs., and he was going out over the water and eject. Griff was flying My aircraft. On an earlier flight he'd experienced a brake failure in my aircraft, nudging the barrier. I told him if he ever scratched my airplane again, I'd kill him! Griff ejected successfully, and was picked out of the drink shortly thereafter. I could hardly wait to tell him it was OK about my scratched I really felt bad until I found out he was OK.

The rest of the flight saw a hole and came down through it. Unknowingly, they had skimmed right down the side of a very large mountain, thankfully heading in the right direction. They roared over the base at about 50-100 feet, made a 90-270 turn, and landed safely. It's always better to be lucky than good, anytime, anywhere. Of course, my jet was now a submarine.

At Chai-Yi, we lived in a bombed-out building, slept on cots and ate out of mess kits. Just like Yontan, except we didn't even get hot food for several days. We ate cold cans of lima beans, spaghetti, etc. for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Most of us existed on bananas, tangerines and oranges the Chinese locals brought out to us as we sat strip alert right in the airplanes. They also had plenty of beer.

Strip alert started an hour before sunrise. Security was really tight, and communication between the guards and our pilots was almost non-existent. The Chinese couldn't understand us, and we sure as hell couldn't understand them. With almost no communications, we had little confidence in their being able to understand the system we developed.

The system involved different colored flashlights, red, white, blue or some combination thereof. Sounds like it would work, right? Wrong again! So we started going to the flight line singing at the top of our voices and yelling "DING HAO". That they understood and we had no problems afterward.

We flew missions every day that weather permitted. All the flights were uneventful, as the Chinese Reds played the part of "the Paper Tiger". We were really disappointed with the lack of engagements, as we had hoped to run into some MiGs. We saw them, or at least their contrails, but they were several miles inland over the Chinese mainland. And they never came out to fight A few of us started patrolling three miles or so off the coast in the hopes the Migs would come out But our own radar caught us, and we were told we were there to STOP a war, NOT START ONE! So we stopped 'trolling' along the coastline. The Chinese commander and his staff threw us a party soon after we arrived. It was a "Kom-Pei Party", the idea being they would get us so drunk we would 'lose face'. Being good, young, aggressive fighter pilots, we accepted the challenge with gusto, even 'warming up' by drinking a lot of bourbon and scotch before going to the party! We held our own fairly well, and even caught the Chinese cheating by tossing their drinks into the plants. With that we announced that we had won.

On 17 February, the squadron was alerted to go back to Kadena. The first 'Formosa Crisis' had ended. Almost as soon as I arrived back at Kadena, I rotated back to the States. The unit returned to Formosa again, as did several others over the next 10 years. But my time was done. It had been an interesting month, albeit a little boring while in the air. But we didn't lose anyone and the evacuation of the islands went as planned. And that's what counts.


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