Sunday, April 13, 2008

My Dad, the Spy (redux)

(WTR note: Since a few of y'all have asked, here's a re-post of the story about my Dad and the back story on the SACO flag. I've fired up a new blog to post any more information I unearth-like I don't have enough to do already!-And part 2 of the story can be found there as well. Clicky here to view.)

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." 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.


Blogger Cookie..... said...

Sumthin has just occurred to Cookie. After re-reading your account of your Dad's adventures, I couldn't help but wonder if he somehow fit into the article I have posted today regarding the 1942 Doolittle raid on Tokyo and how these brave men were helped out of China by pro-American folks...might be worth yur while to go to the Doolitlle website link I have posted at the end of the article, go there and check all the pix of the men in China and those assisting them....

4/13/2008 1:21 PM  
Blogger white trash republican said...

I saw your post over there, Cookie, and there could be a remote connection. SACO is more closely associated with the Flying Tigers, tho, and I'm not to sure if they have any connection to Doolittle. Seems I want to say yes, but I'm not certain.
"Officially" SACO was in China after '43-after the Tokyo raids- but my research is proving otherwise-they may have been there even earlier in some form or another.

But I will check out those links! Thanx!

4/13/2008 5:07 PM  
Blogger Cookie..... said...

I've located a piece of information regarding a missionary in China named John Birch who helped Doolittles raiders, but later, he was made an Intelligence Officer by Gen Chenault of the Flying Tigers...AND...SACO.... :-)

4/13/2008 10:08 PM  
Blogger Walker said...

I actually remember reading at least parts of this before. Thanks for the update. I think the flag is way way way cool.

4/14/2008 7:47 PM  

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