Michigan War Studies Review
Reviews, surveys, original essays, and commentary in the field of military studies.
21 March 2011
Essay by Jiu-Hwa Lo Upshur, Eastern Michigan University
Black Cat Brigade: The Republic of China and U-2 Spyplanes
Descriptors: Volume 2011, Cold War, Espionage, Biography Print Version

Nations have spied on one another since the beginning of history, only the methods have changed, in part due to advances in technology. Aerial spying began with the deployment of balloons during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) and had progressed to satellite surveillance a mere century later.

Much is known about the role of American U-2 surveillance planes and the information they obtained about Soviet bloc countries during the 1950s. However, less is known about the U-2 flights by the air force pilots of the Republic of China (henceforth ROC or Taiwan) and the data they obtained about the People's Republic of China (henceforth PRC or China). The top secret collaboration between the United States and the ROC remained closely guarded until around 1990, after which the nature, duration, and extent of their cooperation gradually became known. Three recent books, one in English and two in Chinese, provide extensive, hitherto unavailable details about the ROC's U-2 missions and the pilots who flew them.

Lost Black Cats:[1] Story of Two Captured U-2 Pilots[2] was written by H. Mike Hua, himself a former U-2 pilot who completed ten reconnaissance missions over mainland China. He later rose to the rank of lieutenant general in the ROC Air Force, earned a doctorate at Purdue University, and worked in aircraft development after retiring from active service. Hua was the roommate of the first surviving Black Cat pilot to be shot down by the PRC, Yeh Changti, and his book largely recounts the fate of the captured pilot. Chang Liyi, the second surviving U-2 pilot brought down by the PRC, recalls his experiences in a memoir[3] narrated to writer Tieh Fu. A third book,[4] by Sheng Li-wen, a journalist and the daughter of a U-2 pilot, presents information from interviews with her father and some of his colleagues, including Chang and Yeh, whose fate remained unknown outside China for almost two decades. Drawing on these recent sources, I will discuss the role of the ROC in the overall history of the U-2 espionage program.

*  *  *
Spies in the Sky: The United States' U-2 Program

Sophisticated aerial spying progressed rapidly during the Cold War, as the United States and the USSR matched each other's advances and countermeasures. Given the difficulty of planting human spies on the ground in Communist countries, the United States and its allies initially relied on converted bombers (RB-29s, RB-36s, RB-47s, and RB-50s) for intelligence gathering inside Soviet-bloc airspace. The vulnerability of these planes to Soviet air force attacks prompted the development of aircraft that could fly above the range of existing enemy planes or rockets.

In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower authorized a secret program—code named "Bold Eagle"—to design an aircraft that could operate above 70,000 feet with a range of 3,000+ miles, making it secure from interception by Soviet fighter planes and ground missiles. Designers at Lockheed Aircraft answered the challenge with a winning design originally dubbed "Dulles's Folly" after Allan Dulles, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The finished product was named the U-2.[5] Other categories of aircraft also had letter designations, for example B for bomber, F for fighter and T for transport, but it was hardly appropriate to use S for "spy," so U was chosen to camouflage the craft's purpose. U-2s were deceptively designated as "high-altitude meteorological information gathering" planes and their tails were painted with the NASA logo. Because of the urgent need to gather intelligence on innovations in Soviet weaponry, U-2 planes were neither extensively tested nor mass-produced. The first ones were ready for service by January 1955.

The original U-2s had an eighty-foot wingspan and carried 1,320 gallons of special-grade aviation fuel. Later models, such as the U-2R, had a 103-foot wingspan and carried 3,000 gallons of fuel. Each was fitted with sophisticated imaging gear, including infrared cameras suitable for night photography, and cameras that took pictures at acute angles and thus did not have to fly directly over targets being photographed. This feature was especially useful if the subject was near a coastline, because photographs could be taken outside territorial waters, that is, without violating the target nation's airspace. U-2 missions operated under the joint direction of the US Air Force and the CIA and were flown by air force officers who were transferred in for the duration of their assignments and then resumed their former ranks in the air force for other missions.[6]

U-2s began over-flying Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries in 1956. The USSR knew about the flights but lacked weapons that could challenge the intruders. President Eisenhower also ordered U-2 flights over the Chinese coast, beginning on 19 June 1958 during the Quemoy crisis, caused by PRC artillery bombardment of Quemoy and Matsu, offshore islands of the ROC. Their mission was to assess whether the shelling was the prelude to an imminent invasion. The intelligence thus acquired indicated that the PRC had not assembled a force capable of invading the offshore islands or Taiwan itself. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles nevertheless issued a statement warning the PRC that the United States would use force to defend Taiwan from attack, invoking the 1954 Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries. He added that the United States regarded the defense of Quemoy and Matsu as related to the safety of Taiwan. In October, the PRC backed down and finally stopped bombarding the islands and relative quiet returned to the Taiwan Straits.[7]

ROC Involvement in the U-2 Program

Up to 1959, only Great Britain had participated in the U-2 program besides the United States, although the Royal Air Force also made its own intelligence-gathering flights over Soviet-bloc countries. Between 1958 and 1961, British pilots flew U-2 planes on missions in the central Asian regions of the Soviet Union from bases in Peshawar, Pakistan. British piloted U-2s also overflew Soviet territories bordering the Middle East and the Mediterranean.[8]

As the CIA had predicted, the Soviets developed missiles capable of reaching about 100,000 feet and, in 1958, shot down a U-2 plane over Soviet territory. Its pilot, Gary Powers, was captured, tried for espionage, and sentenced to ten years in prison, to the huge embarrassment of the US government. Powers was repatriated in 1960 in exchange for a Soviet spy and a tacit promise that the United States would discontinue U-2 flights over the Soviet airspace. By that time, American U-2 pilots had flown thirty-eight missions over the USSR and Eastern bloc nations, photographing over 1.7 million square miles of territory, and thirteen missions over China and Tibet, gathering information about troop movements, military bases, and army operations during the 1959 Tibetan rebellion. An area over 1 million square miles was photographed.[9]

Neither President Eisenhower nor CIA director Richard Helms wanted to shut down the U-2 program in 1960 because of the valuable information it provided and the time that would be needed to reactivate the program were it to be mothballed. As Helms explained, "The U-2 overflights of the Soviet Union provided us with the greatest intelligence breakthrough of the twentieth century. For the first time, American policy makers had accurate, credible information on soviet strategic assets…. It was the greatest bargain and the greatest triumph of the cold war."[10]

It was clear in the 1950s that Soviet scientists and technicians were helping China develop missile and nuclear capabilities. Since reliable data could only be obtained by aerial photos, the State and Defense Departments, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and CIA agreed to delegate overflights of China to a reliable ally, the ROC, because both nations were highly interested in the PRC's nuclear program and its military installations. They envisioned US-trained ROC Air Force pilots flying U-2s from a base on Taiwan. Eisenhower agreed to the proposal in March 1959, as did ROC President Chiang Kai-shek, who appointed his son, Chiang Ching-kuo, deputy secretary-general of the ROC National Security Council, as liaison with the United States, represented by the CIA chief on Taiwan, Ray Cline. The CIA would supply (initially, three) planes, and other equipment, as well as support and maintenance staff; it would analyze information gathered and share it with the ROC. The operation was so secret that even the ROC Ministers of Defense and air force leaders were kept out of the loop (Sheng 40).

Taoyuan, twenty miles from Taiwan's capital, Taipei, and already an ROC Air Force installation, was selected as the base for U-2 operations on 14 December 1960.[11] The sleepy little town was soon transformed by new roads and facilities including living and recreational quarters for ROC pilots and their families and US support personnel (who were given civilian titles, wore civilian clothes, and went by aliases). The ROC U-2 unit, officially designated the 35th Reconnaissance Squadron, became known as the Black Cat Squadron after the insignia painted on their planes. Already in 1959, the ROC had chosen a first group of twelve candidates for U-2 pilot training, of whom six made the cut and traveled to Laughlin Air Force base near Del Rio, Texas. Besides learning to fly the unique planes, they honed their English language fluency, and were trained in survival skills in various hostile environments. They were fitted with individual pressure suits for high altitudes before returning for duty (Sheng 40-41).

Candidates were chosen from ROC Air Force fighter pilots with at least 2,000 hours of flight experience, which meant they were thirty- to thirty-five-year-old majors or lieutenant colonels. Married men were preferred and all had been evaluated for loyalty to the government and commitment to their careers. Personal interviews and physical exams followed. Though candidates could opt out, none did, regarding their selection as an honor. Most of the ROC pilots in the 1950s had begun preparation for military life at age thirteen by passing the entrance exam for admission to the Air Force Preparatory School. This institution had been established in the late 1930s at the suggestion of Soviet Air Force advisers assigned to the Chinese government in defending itself against Japanese aggression. The training of future air force officers required more than ten years of rigorous education and adequate nutrition, at first during difficult wartime conditions.[12]

Upon graduation, many of the young men entered the air force academy, often earning engineering degrees before joining the ROC Air Force. Thus a strong bond existed among ROC Air Force officers, who had grown up together and, in many cases, been separated from their families during World War II and the civil war. In thirteen years (1961-74) of the U-2 program, twenty-eight men made the final cut to become pilots.

ROC U-2 Missions over Mainland China

The principal goal of the Taiwan's U-2 missions was to find out the nature, extent, and progress of the joint PRC-USSR nuclear program in China. The Soviet Union provided multifaceted aid to its official and ideological ally, China: its military assistance included building heavy water reactors, first near Beijing, then elsewhere in the country. There followed construction of weapons-testing facilities in Jiangxi province in central China and at Lop Nor in the Taklamakan Desert region in Xinjiang, a diffusion plant at Lanzhou in Gansu province, and a reactor and plutonium processing plant in Paotow in Inner Mongolia.[13]

Pilot Chen Huai (later Chen Huai-sheng) flew the ROC's first mission in January 1962; Lanzhou was his destination. A round trip of 3,000 kilometers took eight hours and forty minutes, and yielded 6,000 feet of film that showed rocket proving grounds in the desert in northwestern China. By July of that year, China had become aware of the U-2 flights over its territory and offered a prize of US$280,000 to any pilot who defected with his plane—none did. Chen's plane was shot down on 9 September 1962 over Nanchang in Jiangxi province by a Soviet-supplied SA-2 missile; severely injured, he died in a Chinese hospital shortly afterward. Chinese premier Zhou Enlai ordered demonstrations to celebrate Chen's capture and death. He broadcasted a message over the state radio soon after: "Dear Chinese U-2 pilots … stop risking your lives to sell the secrets of your motherland to the American capitalists for that bloody money…. Your motherland welcomes you back…. If you fly back with a U-2, we will reward you with 8,000 ounces of gold…" (Hua 6). Chen's mother and siblings on the mainland were later "struggled against" because they were related to him. On Taiwan, he was honored as a hero and martyr; schools and a hospital were named after him (Sheng 78-81).[14]

The U-2 photos showed Chinese nuclear installations at Lanzhou and Paotow modeled on those at Tomsk in the Soviet Union, an atomic energy complex under construction at Yumen (part of the later prefecture-level city Jiuquan), and a research facility at Tuoli, southwest of Beijing. On a later mission, Chang Liyi was shot down over Paotow; he was injured and captured.

The 1950 Sino-Soviet Treaty enabled China to purchase sixty-two SA-2 missiles. Positioned near Beijing and other important sites, they downed several U-2s. But the later split between the two nations removed China's source of additional missiles and, because the launch pads were hard to relocate, for a time the Black Cats gained the upper hand in their forays over the mainland. This respite ended in 1965, when the PRC debuted the improved MiG-21F fighter jet (based on Soviet prototypes), which could target the U-2s with air-to-air missiles. China also began producing its own version of the SA-2 missile, the Jian-7.[15]

Although the U-2s provided valuable information, the human element remained indispensable to intelligence gathering. For example, photographs taken in 1959 revealed that construction of facilities being built with Soviet aid had suddenly come to a standstill. The reason became clear only later: a break in Sino-Soviet relations had led to the withdrawal of Soviet technical aid and advisers with their blueprints of ongoing projects.[16] The lockdown of aviation in China for several days in 1971 puzzled analysts until they learned of the attempted flight by Mao Zedong's former "closest comrade in arms and successor," Lin Biao. After Lin's plan to assassinate Mao and seize power failed, he, his wife, and son had fled in a jet headed for the Soviet Union, which crashed in Outer Mongolia after it ran out of fuel. To cite another example, analysis of U-2 photos showed that China was about to detonate its first atomic device, which the US government proceeded to publicize, thus lessening the propaganda advantage China might have enjoyed when the event took place.

The original U-2 was replaced by newer models with enhanced technology; for example, the U-2R's bigger fuel tanks allowed for longer flights and route changes to evade enemy missiles. (The original U-2s usually had only fifty gallons of fuel in their tanks after completing their missions.) The U-2C's infrared cameras could take accurate nighttime photos of nuclear plant activities, recording more accurately than daytime photos the amount of steam created as high temperature water was released into the Yellow River at China's nuclear materials processing plant. Comparison with the amount of steam released from the Tennessee River at a similar installation in the United States allowed analysts to gauge the quantity of nuclear materials being produced at Lanzhou and therefore the number of nuclear weapons China could fabricate (Sheng 140).

Taoyuan had its disadvantages as a base: its proximity to the Chinese coast allowed PRC radar to detect U-2 flights taking off from there, and it was very far from destinations in northwestern China. The Black Cats sometimes used Kunsan, a US base in South Korea, but it was only marginally closer to targets deep in the interior of China. Staging flights from Pakistan was excluded by its good relations with China. In 1964, India allowed several missions from its air base at Charabatta to monitor China's progress toward developing an atomic bomb. Though India feared China's growing military power and wanted information about Chinese military installations near its borders, it ceased to allow these CIA spy missions due to domestic political considerations.[17]

In 1965-66, Black Cats flying out of Taoyuan also tracked Chinese aid to North Vietnam, as did others flying from US bases in the Philippines and Takhli in central Thailand. The pilots using the Thai base had been flown there from Taiwan on CIA transport planes; they wore civilian clothes on base in Thailand, masquerading as Asian-Americans from Hawaii flying for Air America, a CIA "proprietary company"(Sheng 147).[18]

Events in the late 1960s dampened the US government's enthusiasm for U-2 flights over China. President Lyndon Johnson was concerned about the military consequences of missions deep into Chinese airspace. China's installation of new missile sites near its major cities and strategic targets had made the flights more dangerous. Moreover, the successful launching of the KH-4 and KH-7 satellites effectively eliminated the need for U-2 missions.[19] During his visit to China in 1971, President Richard Nixon promised to end U-2 missions flown by ROC airmen. The final Black Cat mission occurred on 24 May 1974 and the last U-2 planes at Taoyuan returned to the United States. On 1 November 1974, the Black Cat Brigade was dissolved and its members reassigned to other units.

Two Lost Black Cats

During thirteen years of U-2 deployment (1961-74), twenty-eight ROC Air Force officers finished training to fly missions over Chinese and Vietnamese airspace from bases in Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Thailand. Seven of those pilots died in training mishaps or while on mission. Three shot down by SA-2 missiles were either killed immediately or soon died of their injuries. Two others were captured after being brought down: Maj. Changti (Robin) Yeh on 1 November 1963 near Nanchang in southern China and Maj. Liyi (Jack) Chang[20] on 10 January 1965 near Paotow in Inner Mongolia. China announced the downing of the planes but kept secret the fate of the two pilots until 1982.

After his plane was downed only forty minutes before he would have cleared China's airspace, the injured Yeh was taken to a nearby military hospital. Fifty-nine fragments from the crash were removed from his body but some remaining small pieces bothered him throughout his life. After his release from the hospital, he was taken to a PRC military "hostel" in Beijing and kept under observation in a small room with a barred window and a glass-paneled door. Four soldiers guarded him day and night and he was subjected to threatening interrogations by a cadre (Communist official). In a program designed to "re-educate" him Yeh was given two newspapers to read every day, the Liberation Army Daily and the People's Daily, and required to write about their contents. For one year, he was confined to his room except for interrogations. The food was bad and he always felt hungry, tasting meat only once, on New Year's Day. He was then moved to a house in Beijing where his political indoctrination, based on Mao Zedong's Little Red Book, continued for two more years. Each session began with bows to Mao's picture. Later, when the Cultural Revolution was in full swing, Yeh was taken to a room in a building near Tiananmen Square to watch Mao review the Red Guards.

Yeh learned to sense shifts in the political winds. For example, his minders' behavior indicated great joy in 1969 after Lin Biao was proclaimed Mao's successor, which they showed by wearing military uniforms rather than "Mao suits." Then, one day late in 1971, his minder came into his room, demanded his "Little Red Book," and angrily tore out the first page, which contained a preface written by Lin. Clearly Lin had fallen from power. Another clue came that same year, when Yeh's minder asked whether he knew how to play table tennis; when he said yes, he was taken to a building where jailers and prisoners played the game. It was his first physical exercise in many years. Table tennis or ping pong was very popular in China. The beginning of better relations between the PRC and the United States, after two decades of hostilities, began inadvertently when the Chinese and American table tennis teams were competing in a tournament in Japan. An American player, having missed his bus to the hotel, boarded the Chinese team bus. The Chinese thought this chance event carried a message. One thing led to another and the American team was invited to play in Beijing. What followed, called "ping pong diplomacy," began the thawing in Chinese-US relations

Whenever Yeh asked when he might be allowed to return to his family on Taiwan, the answer was always "not yet," because his was a special case. Around the end of 1971, he was sent to the Red Flag Commune near Wuhan in central China for a further year's re-education; he would get plenty of physical exercise in the form of hard manual labor. Life was extremely difficult, especially for someone who had never farmed and was debilitated from long incarceration. Food and other essential items were rationed based on work points, and inmates averaged two ounces of cooking oil and a foot of cotton cloth per month. Even that was reduced by the pilfering of cadres.

Besides their back-breaking work regimen, each person also needed to attend daily ideological indoctrination classes. Then, after nine years in captivity and a year in the commune, Yeh was told by a cadre from Beijing that his wife had remarried. Having been married for barely a year when he was shot down, Yeh had longed to reunite with his wife, Betty. He was so distraught that he took all the sleeping pills he had hoarded in an unsuccessful suicide attempt. As a punishment, his "reeducation" was extended for another three years. The suicide attempt also made him a pariah among others in the commune, because they had to bear collective responsibility for his action. He was made to repent publically. He finally found peace in the example of his roommate, who had himself suffered terribly under the regime and told him that God had a plan for him and that he must bear whatever life brought.

A new beginning came in 1972 when Yeh was transferred to a machine-repair factory where conditions were somewhat better. During his two years there, he also tutored a cadre's son in science and math in preparation for a college entrance exam;[21] the young man's grateful parents pulled strings to get Yeh relocated to a factory that repaired Soviet- and Chinese-made vehicles. The cadres in charge recognized his English language skills and ability to translate technical articles and soon he was appointed English instructor at the nearby Engineering College of Central China at Wuchang. He was later promoted to the rank of engineer and associate professor and given better housing and a higher salary, which made him the envy of his colleagues.

Yeh never lost hope of leaving China and regularly asked his superiors when he would be permitted to visit his parents and siblings in Taiwan. The answer was always that his "special case" posed problems. By 1982, he realized he had become too valuable to be allowed to leave. This suspicion was confirmed when a cadre told him that he needed a guarantor in China to ensure that he would return after a visit home; in other words, he needed to marry a local woman. The authorities introduced him to a thirty-two-year-old female factory worker (he was just short of fifty and had been a captive for nineteen years); arrangements were made for their marriage and his new wife moved into his apartment at the college. Yeh soon discovered she was already pregnant, which explained why she was so willing to marry on such short notice.

In August 1982, a news item in the People's Daily announced that Yeh and another U-2 pilot, Chang Liyi, would be allowed to travel to Taiwan. Yeh and his wife were then brought to a hotel in Beijing where he met Chang, a colleague but not a close friend. Each now learned that he was not the only surviving Black Cat in China (Hua 1-119).

Chang's family came from near Nanjing. His father had been killed by the Japanese early in the war but his mother and her four children managed to flee with the government to free China. Chang's two older brothers, in their mid-teens, joined the Chinese army and were thus able to help their mother and younger siblings. One of them took Chang to apply to the Air Force Preparatory School. He passed the entrance exam and, at age thirteen, enrolled in the boarding school. Unsettled conditions during the war and later the civil war between the Communists and Nationalists meant that Chang would not see his mother and siblings again for over thirty years. After finishing Preparatory School, he enrolled in the Air Force Academy, moved with the Nationalist government to Taiwan in 1949, graduated in 1951, and began a career as an air force officer. He was selected as one of the first batch of ROC Air Force flyers sent to the United States for training and was among those chosen to fly US F-84 Thunderjets to Taiwan. He received further flight training in the United States in 1952 and flew for the ROC Air Force between 1952 and 1963. Chang, married with three children, then joined the elite group selected to fly U-2 missions.

On 10 January 1965, Chang flew a night mission from Kunsan Air Base in South Korea to Paotow in Inner Mongolia to photograph a Chinese nuclear installation. His plane was hit by a missile and he ejected and parachuted to the desert below. Though injured, he walked till he reached a Mongol nomad's yurt (tent). A woman notified the local militiamen who had been looking for him and they drove him to the local army center for a flight to Beijing. Chang was treated in a special unit in the military hospital; his injuries included frostbite, shrapnel wounds, and intraocular bleeding caused by the extreme altitude at which he ejected from his plane. Later he was placed under guard at an air force "hostel" in Beijing where his companions were four soldiers and a cadre, who was also his interrogator. His reading materials were, of course, the People's Daily propaganda rag and the works of Mao Zedong. He was also occasionally interrogated on technical matters and required to watch propaganda films; once he was taken to visit the Military Museum where four damaged U-2s, including the one he had piloted, were on exhibit. He was told his mother was still alive and living in Nanjing, but his requests to write to her were always rejected. He was, however, permitted to attend study sessions. From his room, Chang heard propaganda broadcasts blaring from loudspeakers during the Cultural Revolution, but his hostel escaped the rampages of the Red Guards.

One day in 1970, Chang was told to pack his few things and proceed to a commune to work and study with Red Guards who had by now outlived their usefulness to Mao. But just before departure, word came from Zhou Enlai that because of his good attitude he would instead be sent to a commune close to his hometown, Nanjing, and allowed to visit his mother and brothers after a thirty-three-year separation. He stayed at the commune for the next five years. Life was hard, food short, and conditions primitive. Unused to manual work, having been confined to a small room for years, he could not perform as much heavy work as the other men and thus earned fewer work points and thus less food than most others in his unit. His weight fell from between 150 or 160 pounds to 120. He nevertheless saved some money to help his aged mother. As he told Yeh when they met in Beijing in 1982: "Ever since I was shot down over Inner Mongolia eighteen years ago, the only meaningful thing I had been allowed to do was to help my mother to go through the last phase of her life, to see her peacefully leaving this miserable world" (Hua 136). But he did not take his mother's advice to remarry, because he still hoped one day to be reunited with his wife, Chiachi, in Taiwan.

Chang next worked in a small machine factory for five years, until 1981. Living conditions were better than in the countryside, he was paid more, the work was less arduous, and meals were available in the factory canteen (he had had to cook for himself in the commune). The factory made and repaired small tools and farm machinery; there were recreational facilities and workers could play basketball and occasionally see a movie after work.

In 1981, Chang was told to report to the Aeronautical College in Nanjing, an elite institution for future leaders in the aviation industry, and given the rank of engineer. He received classroom instruction and worked in the factory to gain practical experience in the field. He was soon promoted to deputy dean of instruction for freshman students. Besides eating at the college cafeteria, Chang was also allotted a nice apartment complete with modern facilities he had not seen since captivity. He could again engage in activities that he had enjoyed since boyhood, such as swimming, running track, and playing basketball. Under these circumstances, Chang's brother and others began urging him to consider remarrying, but he resolutely refused to do so.

Like Yeh, Chang had never stopped asking when he would be allowed to return to Taiwan, but (again, like Yeh) had never received an answer, being told that his was a special case. In May 1982, however, a cadre from the Air Force visited and advised him to prepare for new developments. On 25 August, a People's Daily article revealed that Chang was a U-2 pilot who had been shot down and kept captive for nineteen years and would now be permitted to visit his relatives on Taiwan.

Early in September, Chang and Yeh met in Beijing for the first time since their days working on Taiwan. Each was given some money and new clothes, followed by two weeks of sightseeing, accompanied by their cadre-guides, that focused on model factories and newly built structures. They also had to attend propaganda sessions and listen to lectures glorifying the Chinese Communist Party. They were invited to lavish banquets with food not dreamed of since their captivity. Both thought this was their hosts' last attempt to brainwash them and leave a good impression after all they had gone through.

Yeh had long known that his wife had remarried. Now Chang learned that his wife, too, had remarried; this was a great blow that made him very depressed. Yeh's new wife had accompanied him to Beijing and participated in the sightseeing and banquets but she did not go with him to Guangzhou, the last stop before leaving China. Although neither talked about this at their final parting, Yeh had left his belongings and savings with her, preferring to depart China with nothing. She wrote him several letters after his arrival in Hong Kong, the last one to tell him that she had obtained a divorce from him and married her lover, the father of her child. Chang was relieved by this severing of his last tie to China.

Early in November 1982, several PRC air force officers accompanied Chang and Yeh to Guangzhou by plane. After several days of sightseeing, they were taken to the border between China and British-controlled Hong Kong and handed over to an officer of China Travel (the PRC government travel agency), who gave them entry permits allowing them to stay in the British colony for six months. The travel officer took them to Hong Kong's Imperial Hotel, where a room had been reserved for them and handed each man HK$7,500 (approximately US$1,000) as one month's living allowance. They were told the monthly allowance would continue for six month and that, if they wished, they could apply to return to China (Chang 15-83, Hua 122-56).

Freedom, Limbo, and Final Vindication

Chang and Yeh felt exhilarated to be in free territory and immediately bought new clothes that did not signal to all that they had just come from China. Next they proceeded to the ROC Liaison Office in Hong Kong to apply for entry permits to return to Taiwan. Little did they imagine that the next round of their ordeal was just beginning; their permits never came through and no explanations were given, which left them in limbo, facing a return to China when their visas expired. Walking along the street one day, they spotted some men in uniforms of China Airlines (the ROC flag carrier). Chang recognized one of the men, Li Chingyeh, his classmate at the Air Force Preparatory School and the Air Force Academy, and later a colleague in the ROC Air Force. "[Li] stared at Chang speechless for a while, and then said: 'It's impossible! Could you be Chang Liyi? We all know that you were shot down over the mainland. Our Air Force declared you died in that mission and built a tomb in the Air Force cemetery for you many years ago. How come you are here?'" (Hua 159).

Li began a process of connecting Chang and Yeh with a network of former colleagues, some of whom had moved on to piloting commercial airplanes, while others were still serving in the ROC Air Force. Through them they met US Consulate personnel in Hong Kong and CIA officers in both the Consulate and the United States. They now learned why they had been unjustly snubbed by their own government. First, Taiwan feared the PRC and suspected its motives. Why was China freeing two men secretly kept captive for so long? Had they been brainwashed and then freed to subvert and demoralize the armed forces of the ROC? Such worries were justified considering China's constant threats to forcibly bring Taiwan under its control. Moreover, Chang and Yeh had been promoted to high positions in institutions linked with China's military. Had they been turned or at least compromised? The timing of the release was also suspicious. The United States, having abrogated its Mutual Defense Treaty with Taiwan in late 1978, recognized the PRC as the only legitimate government of China one year later, transferring its embassy and other formal government offices from Taipei to the mainland. And, too, the United States had, as it promised the PRC, limited its sale of weapons to the ROC to those with only "defensive" capabilities—an ambiguous designation. Fearing subversion, the ROC deemed it dangerous grant entry to let Chang and Yeh (or anyone from its armed forces who had stayed for some time in China). Even before their application for entry permits, a law had imposed restrictions on the repatriation of members of the ROC military who had lived in China: "All military personnel captured by the Communists must stay in a third country for more than five years before applying for an entrance permit" (Hua 168). This law obviously affected Chang and Yeh.

There was also the embarrassment factor: two ROC officers, missing in action and presumed dead, had suddenly shown up! Soon after the downing of each plane, the commander-in-chief of the Air Force had personally visited the pilots' wives to express concern and to ensure their financial and other support. Chang and Yeh had been declared dead after the requisite time and their "widows" had been awarded financial compensation and other assistance. For example, because Chang's wife, a school teacher, did not wish to remain on the job near their base housing, the Air Force had relocated her and her three children to Taipei, provided them with housing in a compound for military officers, and found her work in the China Airline office. Mrs. Chang had later married an army colonel but continued to hope her first husband was not dead and might one day return. Her second husband tacitly agreed at the time of their marriage that he would step aside should that happen. After Chang reappeared, he honored this understanding, gave her a divorce, and moved into a home for retired officers. Yeh's wife had gone to the United States, where she had relatives, and remarried. By the time of Yeh's release, she was the mother of two teenaged sons.

Tradition and long-held cultural values also figured in the ROC's attitude toward Chang and Yeh. Chinese moral teachings stressed loyalty to cause and extolled men who preferred death to surrender or captivity. Believed to have died martyrs' deaths, Chang and Yeh had been eulogized as heroes and "buried" in the Air Force cemetery. After their return, the "living heroes" visited their grave mounds (the headstones had been removed). Still, their "surrender" drew the implicit judgment that they should have taken their own lives.

After their fortunate accidental meeting, Li went to work contacting their former fellow officers. Many rallied to help their onetime comrades-in-arms. Yang Shihchu, once the highest ranking Black Cat, sent a letter to General Kuo Julin, commander-in-chief of the ROC Air Force, requesting a meeting to appeal their case, but was refused (Hua 159-68, Chang 83-90). Yang then contacted Bob Ericson (alias Russ) a former CIA officer who had worked with the Black Cat Squadron in Taipei. Ericson and another CIA officer, now retired, agreed to help and advised Chang and Yeh to write letters explaining their case. They instructed Yang to take them to "Charlie," a CIA operative at the Hong Kong station.

Since the U-2 missions flown by the Black Cats had been joint US-ROC operations, higher authorities in the United States must have decided to intervene on behalf of Chang and Yeh, possibly at the ROC's request. CIA men questioned and polygraphed Chang and Yeh, a routine procedure. Charlie then gave each $3,000 for living expenses and instructed them to surreptitiously leave their room in the Imperial Hotel and move to less conspicuous quarters. On 19 May 1983, Chang and Yeh left Hong Kong, flying first to Los Angeles, where they were met by John Raines, a former CIA security officer who had worked with the Black Cats, then to Washington.

At Dulles Airport, Chang and Yeh were surprised to see Gen. Jim Cunningham and Frank W., a current officer, who was placed in charge of both men. Soon Maj. Gen. Lin Hsiche, Deputy Chief of Staff of the ROC Air Force, also arrived to negotiate with American authorities about the two men's future. Lin also questioned them about their life in China and told them that the ROC government had reservations about their returning to Taipei, because they had surrendered to the PRC. He also said his government would give each his back pay and ask the United States to grant them permanent resident status. Both men were upset by the accusation that they had surrendered to the Communists, because it impugned their integrity and diminished their long years of suffering. Lin cited difficulties facing the ROC, which was isolated internationally and menaced by a many-fronted, PRC-orchestrated offensive (Hua 169-79, Chang 89-94).

The United States granted Chang and Yeh political asylum and began processing their immigration visas, on condition that they sever all contacts with the PRC, which neither hesitated to do. The CIA gave each man $200,000 to be invested in lifetime interest yielding bonds. Both men had relatives living in the United States. Yeh's parents were living in Taiwan, as were Chang's former wife and two of his three children. Chang's oldest daughter had come to the States to attend graduate school. Father and daughter, who had not seen each other since she was seven years old, re-established contact. Chang's wife, still married to her second husband and working in Taipei, flew to the United States to visit her daughter during her annual vacations and would meet her former husband on those occasions. Yeh's younger siblings had migrated to the United States and Canada after his captivity. He visited them during vacations and family reunions. He also saw his first wife, Betty, but discontinued communications with her to spare her new husband discomfort. After receiving permanent resident status in the United States, both men found work. Chang worked in a senior retirement housing center near Washington. Yeh moved to Texas, where he successfully managed a fast-food restaurant owned by Betty's relatives and later a jewelry store. As reminders of his past, the many small bits of shrapnel remaining in his body continued to pain him (Hua 180-85, Chang 95-103).

Immediately after their five-year mandatory stay in a third country, both Chang and Yeh applied for ROC passports but were denied with no explanation. The turning point came at Christmas 1988, when Yeh, visiting his family at Los Angeles, received a telephone call: "Mr. Yeh, this is Chris Pocock from England. I have a friend who used to work for the CIA [John Raines]. He told me your unique story of U-2 missions and later being captured and confined in Communist China for nineteen years. He gave me your telephone number and recommended that I contact you. I think your miserable experience should be made known to the public. Could we get together sometime tomorrow to have a talk?" (Hua 192).

Pocock was writing a history of the U-2 planes.[22] After meeting with Yeh, he flew to Washington to interview Chang. His book’s sixth chapter, "Parting the Bamboo Curtain," dealing with the ROC's role in the U-2 program, was reprinted in the United Daily, a large-circulation Taiwanese newspaper. A reporter interviewed Chang and Yeh and published two articles in The Chinese World Weekly, a subsidiary of the United Daily. These pieces aroused deep public indignation in Taiwan over the mistreatment of the two pilots. The Minister of Defense, questioned in the legislature on the subject, replied that the process of their repatriation had been set in motion (Hua 193-94).

When Chang and Yeh boarded a China Airline flight from Los Angeles on 3 September 1990, the captain of the aircraft saluted them as "Instructor" (senior officer), because he had also been a Black Cat. A large crowd, including members of the press, greeted the returned heroes at the Taipei airport with welcome banners and flowers. They stayed in special quarters at the Air Force club as official guests. The next day, they were received by Gen. Lin Wen-li, commander-in-chief of the ROC Air Force. That evening, they were guests of honor at a large reception in the presence of many high-ranking air force officers, former colleagues of the Black Cat Brigade, and classmates from the Air Force Preparatory School and Air Force Academy. It was here that Yeh reconnected with his onetime roommate, H. Mike Hua, exchanging poignant memories of the old days. Hua, now an Air Force lieutenant general, resolved to write an account of the two lost Black Cats.

The following days were spent sightseeing around Taipei, a city they could hardly recognize after their decades-long absence. They visited their two graves, empty except for their uniforms and personal effects. There were also whirlwind visits with the premier, the chief of staff, and current and retired leaders of the armed forces, with several parties and receptions in their honor. A guided tour of Taiwan island gave special emphasis to Air Force bases and facilities.

After two short and disappointing marriages, Yeh remained single until sometime before 1990, when he met a woman in the United States whose parents still lived in Taiwan. When the couple decided to be married on the island, Yeh's former colleagues insisted on hosting his wedding. Gen. Wang Shuming, retired commander-in-chief of the air force presided; there followed a lavish dinner reception for over two hundred people.

One major disappointment marred the two men's return. Both wished to be reinstated to active service, but Air Force rules mandated that majors retire after twenty years service, and more than twenty years had elapsed. As compensation, a special retirement ceremony, presided over by Commander-in-Chief Lin and attended by senior officers, featured laudatory speeches and the awarding of medals. There were inevitable painful reminders that their careers had been cut short—many of the senior officers who now wore the insignias of generals had once been their classmates and equals. According to regulations each man was given a one-time severance pay (approximately ROC$35,000 for Chang and ROC$15,000 for Yeh), a paltry sum compared to the lifelong stipends other retiring officers enjoyed. Several legislators lobbied for equal financial treatment for them, to no effect. Thus both men had to return to work in the United States.

Chang's former wife and her second husband, a retired army colonel, divorced as they had agreed to, allowing Liyi and Chiachi to remarry in 1991; later that year, they held a reception for friends in Taipei. Financial constraints prevented Chang from moving back to Taiwan permanently until his retirement in 1993. He and Chiachi had ten happy years together before her death in 2003. Yeh retired as manager of the jewelry store in 1998 and he and his wife often returned to visit her parents in Taiwan (Chang 105-26, Hua 193-200).

*  *  *

In September 2003, the USAF Cold War Reconnaissance Organization hosted a meeting called "Recon Rendezvous 2003" in the USAF Museum near Dayton, Ohio. Mike Hua and Yeh Changti were among the surviving ROC Black Cats in attendance. Hua gave a power-point presentation on ROC-US joint operations over China and nearby countries; it included an account of Yeh's mission, the downing of his plane, and his nineteen years of captivity in China. Yeh received a long round of applause (Hua 208).

A special exhibition, "Heroes of the High Skies," which opened at the Armed Forces Museum in Taipei on 8 October 2010, commemorated the heroism and sacrifices of the 35th Reconnaissance Brigade. President Ma Ying-jeou gave the opening address and personally greeted each of the Black Cats and their families. The minister of defense, chiefs-of staff, and almost all senior officers of the armed forces attended but ceded the front rows of the auditorium to the surviving heroes and their family members. President Ma paid special tribute to Black Cat pilot Chen Huai-sheng, the first to die on a mission. On behalf of the whole nation, he thanked all members of the squadron for their dedication and sacrifice, including the two "lost" Black Cats, Chang Liyi and Yeh Changti, who were among those present. Asked by reporters after the ceremony whether he felt vindicated, Chang looked emotional as he replied: "Yes, after waiting for twenty-eight years."[23]

[1] "Black Cats" is another name for the ROC Air Force 35th Reconnaissance Squadron responsible for U-2 missions and, by extension, their pilots.

[2] Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2005. Hereafter, Hua.

[3] I-kuan-chung wai-ti-wo [I was not in the tomb that buried my clothes] (Taipei: Wen-shi-che, 2007). Hereafter, Chang.

[4] Hei-mao chung-tui, ch'i-wan ch'ih fei-hsing shih chi [Black Cat brigade, account of planes that flew above 70,000 feet) (Taipei: Ta-kuai, 2010). Hereafter, Sheng.

[5] "U" for "utility"; "2" because other aircraft were already designated U-1 and U-3.

[6] See Michael O'Leary and Eric Schulzinger, Black Magic: America's Spyplanes, SR-17 and U-2 (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks Int’l, 1989) 91-103.

[7] Dino Brugioni, Eyes in the Sky: Eisenhower, the CIA, and Cold War Aerial Espionage (Annapolis, MD: Naval Inst Pr, 2010) 261-65.

[8] Norman Polmar, Spyplane: The U-2 History Declassified (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks Int’l, 2001) 198.

[9] Brugioni (note 7 above) 356.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Polmar (note 8 above) 201.

[12] Ibid., 54-55.

[13] Chris Pocock, Dragon Lady: The History of the U-2 Spyplane (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks Int'l, 1989) 100-101.

[14] See also ibid., 91-93.

[15] See Polmar (note 8 above) 206 and Pocock (note 13 above) 104.

[16] Brugioni (note 7 above) 310.

[17] Pocock (note 13 above) 98-99.

[18] Polmar (note 8 above) 203.

[19] Brugioni (note 7 above) 311-12.

[20] To make communications with their American colleagues easier, Black Cat pilots' names were westernized by the addition of an English name and the reversal of the traditional Chinese "surname–given name" order.

[21] Colleges, closed during the height of the Cultural Revolution, were reopening by 1971. Competitive entrance exams were held, but only for children of Communist cadres and those with poor peasant or working class backgrounds.

[22] See note 13 above.

[23] World Journal (9 Oct 2010) A9.

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