The Cold War in Asia
By Michael Haydock
(from VFW Magazine)

The Cold War in Asia took place in a vast theater. It stretched from the icy waters north of Japan—where a downed flier could freeze in six minutes to the muggy jungles of the Philippines and beyond to the desert wastes of the Australian outback.In many instances the duty, necessary and often dangerous, was little-known or even secret from civilians at home.

 While the conflict between the West and the Communist Soviets, North Koreans, Chinese, Vietnamese and their allies flared into full-fledged wars in Korea (1950-53) and Vietnam (1961-75), the much longer twilight struggle consumed Its first casualty, Army Air Force Capt. John Birch, an OSS operative, was killed by the Communist Chinese on Aug. 25, 1945 even before WWII ended. The civil war that raged in China would claim other American casualties, almost unnoticed at home except to the grieving loved ones they left behind. The Marines lost 12 killed in action (KIA) and 42 wounded in 26 separate engagements in North China by 1948. (See 'Walking a Tightrope in China’ VFW magazine, October 1991 and 'Singed by the Red Dragon', VFW magazine, April 1997)

When the mainland fell to the Communists, Nationalist forces withdrew to Formosa (Taiwan). They also occupied smaller islands offshore—the Tachins, Pescadores and Quemoy and Matsu, both of which were within range of Red artillery. A Red invasion of these outposts on Oct. 1, 1949, was beaten back, but trouble over them would flare again and again.


Throughout Asia, Communist-inspired and led insurgents took advantage of nationalistic movements to cause conflict and attempt domination.

One such country was the Philippines, a fertile ground for the rebels of the Hukbalahap (Huks), the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines. For the most part, Huks avoided U.S. troops such as those of the 86th Infantry Division. But on one occasion, in December 1945, a group of MPs was hit in Manila one American was killed.

"During the time I served aboard a patrol craft escort around Subic Bay in early 1946, my crew was put on alert for a Huk attack...’ said Robert H. Hull. "We were issued sidearms and rifles, and the watch was doubled. But the assault never came."

According to Norman W. Schefstad, an MP with C Company, 738th MP Battalion in Manila, 1948-49, "A sentry on our main gate was shot at by Huks. Patrol jeeps also were often fired on. But worst were the accidental deaths due to terrible road conditions."

By 1949, the Huks were waging an all-out guerrilla war and government forces were losing ground. The assignment of Air Force Maj. Edward Lansdale, renowned counter-insurgency expert, to the 58-man Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG), marked the beginning of the reversal of the government’s misfortunes.

Helping establish battalion-sized combat teams and an effective intelligence organization, JUSMAG was essential to the rejuvenation of the Philippine army.In 1951, the Air Resupply and Communications Service (ARCS) stationed the 581st ARCW at Clark Air Base. It was equipped with four H-19 helicopters for inserting and extracting operatives behind enemy lines.

After the 581st left the Philippines, tragedy struck. In September 1955, a B-29 was lost over water off Okinawa. All 13 crew members aboard perished in the crash. The cause is unknown.

"I served in the Air Force at Clark Field during 1951-52 at the height of the Huk rebellion’" recalled Bob G. Thrash. "Our checkpoint was once demolished by Huk small arms fire. Our waterworks was overrun and captured, too, but it was quickly relieved by the Philippine army."

With the outbreak of war in Korea in 1950, U.S. aid to Manila increased. JUSMAG advisors began to train and equip Philippine airborne infantry troops. In 1953, U.S. advisors were allowed by the Pentagon to take the field with Philippine forces. Within two years, less than 1,000 Communist insurgents remained at-large.


Red Chinese pressure on the Nationalist forces on the offshore islands intensified in 1950. The carrier USS Valley Forge took up station in the 130-mile-wide Formosa Strait to deter a Communist invasion. As the Taiwan Patrol Force (TF-72), elements of the Seventh Fleet would serve there for more than a decade.(Also, a U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group set up on Formosa in 1951, training Nationalist units.)

Flying patrols over the Formosa Strait was a risky business. Former Master Sergeant Phillip H. Warren was with the U.S. Air Force Security Service. He recalls some close calls: "We were chased at least once by MiG- 15s off Shanghai, but after they could not get position they broke off and then returned to base."

As a radioman with VP-28 in 1952 things got closer to home. "During this deployment, one crew was fired upon by MiG-15s during the early patrol. They succeeded in at least damaging one of the MiGs when the upper forward turret gunner got a few hits. The MiG reportedly staggered off the intercept curve and turned toward Shanghai trailing smoke."

 "Later on this tour’ said Warren, "our No. 8 aircraft was shot up by a disguised junk which opened fire with a 40mm gun. It put several holes in the plane, including the No. 3 engine and through the wheel well, but somehow missed the engine. Also, a large hole was found just over the radio operator’s station."

As Korea wound down, Red pressure in the Strait escalated. An attack on two American aircraft in mid-1954 left the navigator of one plane dead.

Then on Sept. 3, 1954, 5,000 shells descended on Quemoy. MAAG Lt. Cols. Frank Lynn and Alfred Medendorp were among the dead. The shelling grew heavier; during the campaign, an average of 10,000 Red rounds were fired daily

In January 1955, heavy air and amphibious raids were launched by the Reds against the Tachin Islands. Ships of the 7th Fleet evacuated 42,000 Nationalist soldiers and civilians from the islands.

Lester D. Ross was an aircrew member of VC- 11, which was aboard the USS Yorktown in February 1955. Task Force 702 operated around Taiwan during the evacuation of the Tachens. "Chinese aircraft would fly in large circles and every once in awhile they would come toward us’ he said. "We flew air cover for supplies being moved to the Nationalists.

"From Feb. 8-12, the crew was on alert. All flights in the area were logged as combat missions. We saw shelling. The Chinese Communists even fired their artillery at U.S. planes, using proximity fuses, but failed to do any damage."

As a sailor aboard the USS Kidd, LeRoy Graves also was a part of the action off the Tachens. "Unidentified planes were picked up on radar during the evacuation, but would back off before getting real close to the ships" he said. In all, 50 ships were involved, along with a battalion from the 3rd Lt. Col. Alfred Medendorps Marine Division. The Air Force’s 18th Fighter Bomber Wing was hastily deployed to Taiwan to provide additional air cover for the operation. Marine Air Group 11 also joined the Formosa Defense Command, with its Sidewinder-missile-armed F4Ds. Congress responded to this latest crisis by passing the Formosa Resolution. It authorized the President to employ U.S. forces in any way he saw fit to ensure the safety of Formosa and the Pescadores.

GI's stationed on Okinawa were caught up in the 1954-55 fracas, too. That included the Army’s 29th Regimental Combat Team. Jack J. Woods was with its Heavy Mortar Company. He vividly remembers "unrolling the new maps they were not for Okinawa, but instead for Quemoy and Matsu. At this point, I was in a state of mild shock."

U.S. troops, of course, never invaded the islands. And, in early 1955, the colors of the 29th were sent home to be replaced by those of the 75th RCT of Ranger fame.

The Communists ratcheted up the pressure on Aug. 23, 1958, by slapping a blockade on Quemoy and beginning an artillery bombardment. The most vivid memory of Edward Fahey, a radioman on the USS Twining in the Strait at that time, is "steaming with a lot of ‘heavy metal’ flying overhead."

Nationalist convoys, escorted by ships of the Seventh Fleet, which were reinforced by a carrier and four destroyers from the Sixth, resupplied the islands

William J. Bennett recalls that any fire that came in the direction of his ship was "pre-judged to be accidental "Accidental, my ass;’ he goes on. "For two days, we found ourselves within 25 yards of some hundreds of rounds of ‘accidentals.’ "Several hundred machine-gun holes dotted the superstructure of his ship, the USS McGinty.

The carriers patrolling the strait included the Ticonderoga, Midway, Hancock, Essex, Bon Homme Richard, Shangri -La, Princeton and Lexington.

 . Ron Johnson served aboard the USS Owen in 1958. Near the end of a 30-day patrol, he remembers: "Suddenly, a Russian MiG came toward us real low in the water. He sneaked in under our radar. All guns were loaded we were manned and ready. Our orders: Fire if fired upon! But he never fired at us. For 92 days on patrol, we rated the China Service Medal."

The Air Force deployed the 511th Tactical Fighter and 63rd Fighter Interceptor squadrons to Ching Tuan on Formosa. Meanwhile, the 354th Tactical Fighter, 27th Tactical Fighter, 363rd Tactical Reconnaissance wings and 354th Bomb Group went to Okinawa.

The Army, besides members of MAAG, contributed 703 men of the 2nd Missile Battalion, 71st Artillery, with its Nike-Hercules missiles on Formosa. It remained there until August 1959.

"During Red Alert, half the crew manned the Herc Air Defense System and the other half manned ground defense positions," recalls Dave O’Connell, a 71st veteran. "There was a constant grinding in the stomach from the daily anticipation of eminent attack from a million massed Red Chinese troops.

"Added to the stress of constant heightened alert was mud, rain, vermin, mildew, extremes of heat and raw, bone-chilling cold and the constant battle to keep light weapons clean"

"Air defense was strictly a U.S. role during the critical period of the crisis. Eventually, though, the 2nd just melted away; dissolved like a snowball in hell; lost in the silence of Cold War security."

Marines from Okinawa also made it to Taiwan. Some 500 Leathernecks protected the perimeter around the airfield at Ping Tung. Richard I. Feeney was a corporal with the 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, at the time. According to Feeney, some Marine jets were damaged by Red infiltrators who used blowguns to blow metal objects into the afterburners of the aircraft.

Faced with the resolve of the Nationalist Chinese and the massive show of U.S. strength in the Strait, the Communists ceased shelling Quemoy, 44 days after they began. The American presence in the area lasted on high status until 1963.

Intermittent shelling by the Reds continued as well. Richard Walsh spent his 19th birthday on patrol around Quemoy in waters so shallow that soundings were taken by lead-line. "The ‘accidental’ ordinance was always a threat," he recalls. "Chinese junks and sampans, hugging the coastline, would send out sprays of machine-gun fire. When you’re close enough to hear the enemy breathe, you know you’re close."

William Brunskill had a unique and sobering experience during the Taiwan scare. As a Chinese interpreter with the Army Security Agency (ASA) on Taiwan in 1959-60, he witnessed a Nationalist ambush set for raiding Reds. "A flare went off;’ he recorded, "then several more. All the machine guns opened up, pouring a very heavy volume of fire into two large boats full of people. It seemed like the continuous fire lasted a long time. When it went silent, there was nothing left human or boat that was more than an inch square.

When the crisis was over, head Red Mao Zedong remarked: "Who would have thought that by firing a few shots at Quemoy and Matsu we would have created such an earth-shattering storm."


After Mao’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) pushed the Nationalists off the mainland of Asia, it consolidated its gains and assaulted peaceful neighbors.

A former Army Air Forces officer, CIA agent Douglas MacKiernan, led a 1,000-mile trek from the closed U.S. consulate in Tinwa, China, to the Tibet border, arriving on April 29,1949. There, in spite of a safe conduct from the Dhali Lama, nervous border guards fired on the party. MacKiernan was killed. The exact nature of his mission remains a secret. But his death represents the first star on the CIA Memorial in Langley, Va.

Using minor border skimishes as a pretext, 80,000 PLA troops invaded Tibet in the summer of 1950, while the world’s attention was focused on Korea.

By 1956, large-scale drops of arms and ammo Operation Stbarnum were being carried out by Det. 2, 1045th Operational, Evaluation & Training Group under Maj. Harry C. "Heine" Aderholt.

Flying out of Okinawa, the C-130s staged to an emergency SAC recovery field at Kermitola near Dacca, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). They flew 40 materiel drops to freedom fighters on "the roof of the world." Flights took place over terrain 13,000 feet above sea level.In addition, selected Tibetans were flown out of the country to train in guerrilla operations at bases on Saipan and at Camp Hale in Colorado.

Like many actions of the Cold War in Asia, the one in Tibet remains shrouded in mystery. The CIA case officer who met clandestinely with the Dhali Lama’s brother, to arrange the escape of the religious leader to India, was frank about that. "I’m sort of trained to forget about the operational detail," he said.

Operation Stbarnum ended, suddenly, in 1960. The Eisenhower Administration canceled all clandestine overflights of foreign territory in the wake of Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane being shot down over the Soviet Union.


The U-2 incident spotlighted a heretofore secretive aspect of the Cold War—aerial reconnaissance and other forms of intelligence-gathering.Morse code intercept operators, cryptologists, traffic analysts and linguists plucked Communist communications from the air waves. The Army Security Agency (ASA) operated field stations in Japan (10th, 12th and 14th), Okinawa (3rd), the Philippines (9th) and on Taiwan (Shu Lin Kou).

"By 1949, we had broken the operational codes of the two principal Soviet Air Force units 9th and 10th Russian Air Armies in the Far East," recalled John Milmore who was assigned to Army Security Agency Pacific headquarters at Oji, Japan, in 1949-51 as a cryptanalyst.

"After meticulous analysis, I demonstrated that traffic emanating from Siberia was dummy traffic" he said. "This was the first instance of Soviet fabrication or bluffing during the Cold War."

Operators of the Naval Security Group (NSG) waged electronic warfare at far-flung bases from Japan (Yokosuka) to Australia’s North West Cape and the broiling hot outback post at Pine Gap, near Alice Springs. Just being overseas could prove fatal. On Sept. 24, 1965, 12 men of the NSG stationed at Kami Seya, Japan, perished in a tragic fire.

The Navy also operated intelligence ships close to hostile shores. The tiny USS Banner (AKL-44, laterAGER-1), 176 feet long, arrived at Yokosuka in October 1965 with orders to "conduct tactical surveillance and intelligence collection against Soviet naval units and other targets of opportunity."

In days, she was on her first patrol a mission within four miles of Siberia’s Cape Povorotny Bay, where the Soviets insisted their territorial waters extended out 12 miles. During the next three years, Banner conducted eight patrols off the Soviet naval base at Vladivostok and a further eight in the East China Sea. She was harassed, with Soviet and Chinese destroyers and patrol boats coming within 25 feet of the tiny trawler, on nearly every mission.

Banner was joined by the larger USS Pueblo (AGER-2) in late 1967. On Jan.23, 1968, radio monitors in Japan read a terrifying message from Pueblo, then on her first mission off the coast of North Korea.

"Please send assistance, SOS, SOS, SOS, we are being boarded." By nightfall, one American sailor was dead and the remainder of the ship’s crew had been captured. Pueblo was being towed into the North Korean port of Wonsan, where it remains today as a museum. The crew was held captive for nearly a year. Classified as "detainees" rather than prisoners, Pueblo crewmen were not awarded the POW Medal until 1990.


The Air Force was perhaps most deeply involved in the electronic war. "Floor stations," operated by the U.S. Air Force Security Service, monitored Communist radio communications, radar emissions and missile tests from many locations along the Pacific rim.

The largest, with over 1,000 airmen, and controlling center for the Pacific, was the 6920th Electronic Security Group at Misawa AFB, Japan.

"Russian MiGs from the airfield on the Kurile Islands buzzed our station often," remembered Harold H. Hutchinson, a vet of the 6986th Radio Squadron Mobile, based at Misawa in 1958. "No actual encounters occurred, though, because U.S. fighters scrambled quickly." It was operators at this facility who recorded the Soviet air force shoot-down of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in 1983.

Other security service units stationed in Japan included the 6926th and the 6922nd Radio Squadron Mobile (RSM). Gene Milligan, who spent two years with the 6922nd in the early ‘50s, proudly recalls its receipt of the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award at that time.

As a Russian linguist with the 1st Radio Squadron Mobile at Misawa in 1954-55, Nick Toyeas says his "task was to tape Soviet air force voice traffic:" "The purpose of our regular flights;" he said," was to provoke the Soviet air force into activity to determine how well it might perform. Whenever the B-45 flew near Vladivostok, it always brought out a flight of MiGs. Our tail gunner always got a look at them. With F-86 Sabre jet escorts, things could get exciting; terrific aerobatics and interesting aerial creativity."

On Okinawa, the 6990th Electronic Security Group monitored both Soviet and North Korean radio traffic and radars. The 6903rd and 6915th operated in Korea and the 6922nd occupied a site at Clark Air Base in the Philippines.

In the air, Navy and Air Force aircraft continually probed borders, even penetrating Communist countries to seek electronic intelligence. Communists intercepted and fired on many of the flights.

Air Force flights came under the 91st and 55th Strategic Recon Wings. The latter’s motto was "We See All." Navy flights were conducted by squadrons of Fleet Air Recon "The World Watchers."

Navy Patrol Squadron (VP-22) lost a P2V in the Formosa Strait on Jan. 18, 1953. The entire crew of six died.

VQ-1, operating out of Guam, lost a P4M to Red fighters off the China coast on Aug. 22, 1956. Four of the crew of 16 were confirmed dead immediately, the remainder have been officially classified as missing in action, but presumed dead. The Sea of Japan was a virtual shooting gallery for the Communists during the Cold War. The 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Wing lost three planes there. VQ-1 lost two and VP-19 and VP-6 each lost one. So did the Air Force’s 343rd SRS.

The EC-121 of VQ-l flying over the Sea of Japan on April 15, 1969, carried a crew of 31. All died when it was shot down by North Korean planes. In all, 80 American fliers were shot down into those icy waters.

Moreover, men continued to die along the border separating North and South Korea. Between 1966 and 1969, 44 Americans were killed in action and 111 wounded in Korea’s DMZ. (See "Fighting Brush Fires on Korea’s DMZ," VEW magazine, March 1992.) In the entire period since the cease-fire in Korea, 90 Americans have been killed on that Asian frontier of the Cold War.

This includes the last American to die as a result of hostile action in Asia, Army aviator CWO2 David Hilemon, shot down over the DMZ on Dec. 17, 1994.


Despite all the sacrifices, service in Cold War Asia has been quickly forgotten.

As William Bennett, under hostile fire on the USS McGinty, noted, "By the time we got back to America, Quemoy and Matsu were dim memories in the fickle American mind."

Taiwan remembers the hostilities all too well: It erected a memorial on Quemoy to Lt. Col. Medendorp, who was killed there in 1954 and was posthumously awarded the Order of the Cloud and Banner.

Duty in North China and the Taiwan Strait was recognized by the China Service Medal (Extended) for service there between Sept. 2, 1945 and April 1, 1957. (See Membership page for details.)

The Armed Forces Expeditionary medal is authorized for those who served in the Taiwan Strait (Aug.23, 1958-Jan. 1, 1959), Quemoy and Matsu (Aug 23, 1958-June 1, 1963) and Korea (Oct. 1, 1966-June 30, 1974.)

Recognition will finally come to some veterans of the Taiwan Crisis this year. In Boston, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office will present 410 vets with a "badge of honor" on Aug. 23. Those who served with the 71st Artillery will receive the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal in a ceremony at Fort Bliss, Texas.

"Revisionists may downplay the threat that China represented, but it was very real;’ wrote Blair Case in an article on the deployment. "For a few months at the height of the Cold War, American soldiers of the 2nd Missile Battalion, 71st Artillery, stood on freedom’s front line, and won a small but important victory in the fight against tyranny"

Eugene Kaiser, whose Matador-missile-equipped 17th Tactical Missile Squadron was rushed from Florida to Taiwan in November 1957, feels dismay at the lack of recognition the U.S. government gives Cold War veterans. He adds, "At least I know I was there and am proud to have been part of it."

What the Republic of China said of Lt. Col. Medendorp is true of each of all 187 Americans KIA in Cold War Asia: "He died at the edge of freedom’s perimeter at a moment in history when the forces of oppression were seeking to impose their will:’"

Editor’s Note: VFW magazine would like to thank all those members who contributed accounts to this article. Your personal experiences made the story