Sunday, June 04, 2006

My Dad, The Spy (???!!!***) part 1


Ok, so that title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek and misleading. In fact I was never 100% sure just what Dad had done during his time in the Navy.

It bugs me that I don't know anything about what my Dad did in the Navy. It bugs me that he never would elaborate, never volunteer information, never give any memories. It bugs me that I never really ever asked.

But even if I had, I really don't think he would have told me. That's just the way he was. He would have probably found some way to change the subject, blow me off with a "Ah, you don't wanna hear all that, it's the past anyway." and then asking if I had seen that boxing match on ESPN the other night or did Ma tell me about what happened at their last doctor's appointment? Dad was a master at playing close to the vest, keeping secrets, being discreet, keeping alot in. Maybe that's why he was so drawn to and custom wired for the outfit that he spent a chunk of his Naval career in. That outfit was SACO. The acronym for the Sino-American Cooperative Organization.


The ship pennant above has a most curious history. While trying to figure out just what in the world my old man did in the Navy before and during WW2, I came across this site, delsjourney, where he has this story. Being a good little blogger, I swiped it, but at least I'll give his site credit. The story is as follows:

"The American SACO commander during WWII, Milton Miles, created the pennant in 1934 when he was a junior officer on the destroyer U.S.S. Wickes in the Pacific Ocean. Occasionally during tight maneuvers, one of the ships in the fleet would do something unexpected and, during such instances, Miles wanted to send a pennant up the mast saying "What the Hell?" Miles asked his wife "Billy" (Wilma) to create such a pennant without using obscenities. Billy suggested using characters like exclamation points, saying that when newspaper writers wanted to use an obscenity, they did the same. Soon afterwards, Billy created a pennant that included question marks and exclamation points.

Miles enjoyed using the pennant for the next several years in light-hearted situations. However, in 1939, two years before the U.S. entered World War II, the pennant proved to be useful in a potentially serious situation with the Japanese Navy. Miles was skipper of the destroyer John D. Edwards that August and was ordered to Hainan Island, off the coast of China, where the Japanese Navy was threatening a coastal village, including American missionaries. When Miles arrived at Hainan, he saw several large Japanese naval ships bombarding the village. The Japanese flagship hoisted a flag warning the American destroyer to leave, which put Miles in a quandary, since his orders were to protect the American missionaries in the village. After considering the situation, Miles decided to ignore the Japanese threats and hoisted a pennant of his own -- his "What-the-Hell?" pennant.

Upon seeing the American destroyer hoisting a pennant, the Japanese halted their bombardment, giving Miles time to nestle his destroyer between the Japanese Navy and the village. The Japanese commander was puzzled about the pennant, though, since it wasn't in any of the Japanese code books, but he decided to err on the side of caution and backed the Japanese fleet away from the village. Milton Miles went ashore that afternoon, gathered up the missionaries, and departed the following morning. The Japanese Navy, meanwhile, sat offshore, still wondering about the meaning of the curious pennant.

Throughout World War II, Milton Miles' "What-the-Hell?" pennant was the unofficial emblem of SACO and was often found flying at SACO camps throughout China."


What a great story! And the flag is funny. Heck, even if I didn't know the history of it, I'd want one just hoist on the flagpole here. Seeing the times we're in now, this 'what the hell?!' flag would be appropriate.
Alright, I'm veering off course, like I always do.

Anyway, here's some more backstory from delsjourney :

"One of the most interesting stories about the Chinese theatre in World War II involves the Sino-American Cooperative Organization, also known as SACO. SACO (pronounced "socko") [note by WTR: my Dad always pronounced it "sack-o"] was a unique and unprecedented joint military effort between the U.S. and the Chinese Nationalist forces during World War II. It consisted of about 2,500 Americans, mostly from the U.S. Navy, who lived, led, trained and fought with tens of thousands of Chinese Nationalist troops in China. Often stationed behind enemy lines and hundreds of miles from supplies, they were not only amazingly brave, but they were incredibly resourceful, as well.

American SACO soldiers totally immersed themselves in Chinese culture: they lived in Chinese huts, spoke Chinese, ate Chinese food, and began to think "the Chinese way." Together, the American and Chinese military forces effectively battled the Japanese in China from 1943 until 1945. This was the first and only time in U.S. history that an American military unit had been completely integrated into a foreign military force and placed under the command of a foreign leader. SACO was an amazing and unique military unit -- and it was also one of the most effective combat forces in World War II."

Wow...so how come we never hear anything about this operation? Probably because it was covert. Special Ops before such a phrase became mainstream. Probably because they were a bunch of guys in it just like my Dad, tight lipped, keep-a-lid-on-it types, who were sworn to never speak of their involment with SACO for at least 25 years after the fact. Maybe because the government seeing China fall to the Commies shortly afterwards figured it best not to really mention the subject that they had our guys there blowing crap up and creating all manner of mayhem as we tried to stave off the Japanese. Who knows. But there's not alot out there on them. A few books, at least one out of print now. A couple of websites. Google or Yahoo SACO or Sino-American Cooperative Organization and you won't get alot of true hits, but you will get a gob of pages for cities and towns name Saco. It's as if as the servicemen who were in SACO die off, so does the history.

(In the next post, I'll explain as to why, as a child, I thought my Dad just had to be a spy and what all I have been able, as an adult now, to piece together about the old man's past.)

14 Comments:

Blogger Cookie..... said...

Liz...that one of the most interesting stories I've read in some time...very very intrigueing. I'm an old Navy man and I've never heard of this afore this post of yours...but as you say...it was undoubtedly "Special Op's" before there was such a name....lookin forward to yur next post on this topic....Cookie

6/04/2006 9:37 AM  
Blogger Cookie..... said...

...Just an addendum to the above post....that was the same thing we did in Nam before the real fighting began...

6/04/2006 1:44 PM  
Blogger white trash republican said...

I knew that there had been some hankypanky (and I use that in an UNderogatory way)going on in 'Nam prior to 'official' start of our involment and you're right, that ain't bandered about too much either. Makes one wonder just what all is going on in Iraq (and possibly Iran) now. I'd rather not know until after the fact, myself...call me "old fashion".

6/04/2006 1:57 PM  
Blogger sig94 said...

Very interesting WTR, I've never heard of this SACO until now either. I know that there were aviation units staioned there, the Flying Tigers for one, and it only makes sense that there would be ground forces also.

6/04/2006 4:02 PM  
Blogger Cookie..... said...

Liz...BTW...I don't think it was the Deviled Eggs...didn't have any...but I shook alot of old Vets hands at "The Watch Fire" and I believe thats where I got whatever it was that kicked the livin you know what outta me...

Also...in the early 60's...we were sending our Special Op's people (mostly Green Berets) in to South VietNam to live with and militarily train their people. The was also much Recon/Surveilence (Spy) of the enemy...so I'm almost certain that is probably what your Daddy did...that or something very much like it....

6/04/2006 7:27 PM  
Blogger white trash republican said...

Yes, Sig-The Flying Tigers were the air support for the SACO boys. Now the Tigers are about the only thing that Dad was willing to talk about freely.I guess cuz by the mid-70's everyone was, thanks to that dreadful (in my opinion) TV series,loosely based on the Pappy Boyington story. (well, ok-the 1st season was alright, I'll give it that.:) ) Of course, the setting was his post-Tigers days, but still it made a whole new crop of folks aware of them.

6/04/2006 8:01 PM  
Blogger Cookie..... said...

Liz...just a maybe interesting side note about the "Tiger's"...I began learning how to fly when I was 12 years old...and the man that owned the small airport I flew out of...and was my first instructor was a man named Billy Michaels...an old "Flying Tiger"...what stories he had...

6/05/2006 6:38 AM  
Anonymous John Climacus said...

This couple of posts is really interesting, WTR. I have to travel today but hopefully will be able to dig in to it tonight. My dad also lived pre-Internet so it is just about impossible to find any information online save for the obituary.

6/06/2006 9:00 AM  
Blogger white trash republican said...

What makes it so exasperating and yet, so intriguing, John, is that alot of the stuff my Dad was involved in militarily is still classified! Geez.. some 60 plus years after the fact! One can find info about the Kennedy assasination easier than finding out what some good ol' boy hillbilly swabbie did in the middle of China in the 40's!
But, I guess because it was China, at a most critical time in its history, that the feds feel it's best not to jostle the cart with info about our actions there. So I'll be content to get what crumbs I can.

6/09/2006 9:34 AM  
Blogger 2ndSACO said...

My dad was in SACO also. When he passed away, I came across some wild photos of Navy men in rice paddies. I put the photos in an album and began going to the reunions that I knew my father would have attended. I've been going since 1997 and meeting the 'greatest generation'!

This year's reunion is in Wisconsin. Next year in Iowa. If you want to learn the story behind the story, attend a reunion.

9/18/2006 5:47 PM  
Blogger 2ndSACO said...

I leave tomorrow for a SACO reunion. You are right. They were the best kept secret of WWII. Check out the National Archives under 'Admiral Miles' or 'Mary Miles'. A great book has been written by Mauchun Yu of Annapolis. "The OSS in China". It is almost exclusively about the SACO men. Keep digging. You're gonna love this story!

9/19/2006 1:15 AM  
Blogger white trash republican said...

2ndSaco-
I have managed to dig up some interesting stuff which I wrote about in the second part of this post-which was my Father'd Day post this year-
http://whitetrashrepublic.blogspot.com/
2006/06/my-dad-spy-part-2.html

Have fun at the reunion. My Dad always loved going to those.

9/19/2006 7:14 AM  
Anonymous SACO associate member said...

I just came across your article looking for info on SACO. My father was also in SACO and I was at the reunion in Appleton, WI. Next year it's in Des Moines, IA in early June.

11/13/2006 9:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am looking for information on a relative Milton Miles who lived in Iowa in 1926. Did your father live in Iowa at that time?

11/14/2006 9:48 PM  

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