Off the coast of China and other adventures in taking an F4 to Taiwan

In October 1973, I had the opportunity to ferry an F4 to the depot in Tainan, Taiwan China, as a member of the 13th TFS.    The Air Force used a system of central depots to perform upgrades that couldn’t be performed at our base.   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

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.

In many ways it was an odd feeling flying so close to China.  Although our relations had improved somewhat with Nixon’s visit in 1972,  things were still dicey: especially regarding Taiwan which the Chinese regarded as a breakway province of the main land.  It was uncertain how they might react to F4s flying so close to their coast and we had been warned in an intel briefing to be prepared.  As we headed north, I kept the front seater briefed on any thing unusual.  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  shortly after our arrival,  he went off to Peitou City, the infamous red light district, in pursuit of  the “special pleasures” the orient had to offer.   The special pleasures were available on almost any street in Taipei, as we discovered the first night as we went to dinner, and called out to us “Hey Sarg, you want a good time.”   My pilot knew about Peitou, which I had never heard about until we got there, but he was a hardened major who a lot of time in the orient and he knew where he could get a bit of “I&I” — intoxication and intercourse as some called it.

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  the second day of our layover, late in the day watching Gilligan’s Island with Chinese subtitles on a small black and white tv, when a news bulletin interrupted the program and there was Vice President 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.

So many times during that long year of 1973 that began in combat and ended in training, I often felt adrift.

Yes “Out of the World” really captured it.

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, American History, F-4 Phantom II, F4 emergency, F4 Phantom II, F4 PhantomII, Fighter Aircraft, U Dorn RTAFB, Udorn RTAFB and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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