News from Afar: With Gilligan and Spiro Agnew in China

In the fall of 1973, as a member of the 13th TFS,  I had the opportunity to ferry an F4 from Udorn RTAFB in Thailand to Tainan, Taiwan, China.   The Air Force used a system of central depots to perform upgrades that couldn’t be performed at our base. F4 Phantom II  We were at the time beginning the era of laser guided munitions and several of our F4s were being outfitted to drop laser guided bombs.

Flying there required a stop over at Korat RTAFB, in Central Thailand, where we spent the night and then picked up the birds to go to Tainan, which was located in southern Taiwan on the Strait of Taiwan.

View from the back seat of tanker

View from the back seat of tanker

From Korat we flew north, refueling several times and constantly monitoring any air activity from Mainland China, in case we were being tracked (of course we were) by Chinese radar.  I could tensely see the coast of China on the radar, but nothing happened and we landed safely.  From Tainan, we took a helicopter north to the capital Taipei where we had a boondoggle good deal – a Chinese national celebration — Double 10 day– would keep us there  three days .  Then we would catch a C-130 back to Clark Air Base in the Philippines, pick up F4s there and return to Thailand.

My pilot was a real fighter pilot if there ever were one.  He didn’t come to Taipei to visit the museums, and  on the first day he went off to Peitou City, the infamous red light district, in pursuit of  the “special pleasures” the orient had to offer.  I was more straight arrow; I had heard too many stories about VD that couldn’t be cured and other bad things that happened to GIs on the loose in a strange city.  Taipei , however, was a safe city to tour and I went off on my own with no problems.   I simply held up a card with a destination printed in English and Chinese to the taxi driver, we called it a Pointee Talkee, and off I went.  I think now that it was a very trusting thing to do, but the country was under martial law at the time.  I guess the red light districts where my pilot chose to go were not a problem either, and if he contracted something he never let on.

I was sitting in my hotel room  on October 10, 1973, the second day of our layover, watching Gilligan’s Island with ch6Chinese subtitles on a small black and white tv, when a news bulletin interrupted the program and there was Spiro Agnew.

The announcers explained the story in Chinese, but I had no clue what was up.  For all I knew he might have become President of the United States, although there were no pictures of Nixon, so that thought quickly faded.     Many, many questions swirled through my mind.

Was Agnew dead?   Would the Professor finally develop a way to get Gilligan and the crew off the Island?  Where did the sexy Ginger get all those amazing dresses?  Why did Thurston Howell III sound like Mr. Magoo?  Why would they interrupt Gilligan’s Island to talk about Spiro Agnew?   Was nothing sacred to these people?

Several days later, back in Thailand I would finally get the news of Agnew’s resignation.

When you are overseas, you are “Out of the World,”   no way around it.  You are not in your own world and not part of the world you are in.  Yes “Out of the World,” clearly captures it.

I guess that’s how Gilligan felt as well.

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About jenorv

John E. Norvell is a retired Air Force Lt Colonel, decorated air combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and former Assistant Professor of American and Military History at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has written freelance for the Washington Post, the Middle Tennessee Journal of Genealogy and History, and for several newspapers around the country.
This entry was posted in 13 TFS, Air Force, American History, Combat, F-4 Phantom II, Fighter Aircraft, Military history, SEA, Thailand, U Dorn RTAFB, Vietnam War and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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