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Re: The Col. Arnold story
It was an honor to have met the late Jack Arnold and to hear first-hand
the haunting story of his imprisonment in China. What a remarkable man
Ed Evanhoe wrote:
> List has been kinda quiet recently so thought I'd post this 1998 news story
> by AP writer (and friend) Bob Burns.
> There is lot more to this, and some other POW accounts than meets the eye.
> Air Force Unit Kept Secrecy
> By ROBERT BURNS
> Associated Press Writer
> On an autumn afternoon in 1952, John K. Arnold Jr. was walking to
> American military headquarters in Tokyo with two undercover CIA officers
> when one offered a jarring word of warning. "You're a marked man now,"
> he said. People who moved in CIA circles did not go unnoticed by enemy
> agents, but Arnold felt no threat. He was not a spy. He was an obscure
> Air Force colonel, commander of an even more obscure flying unit tucked
> away among sugarcane fields in the Philippines. Why would the
> communists bother with him?
> He learned why just a few weeks later -- from behind bars in a
> Chinese prison.
> China had discovered that the newly created Central Intelligence
> Agency and the Air Force were collaborating on a new Cold War weapon --
> an "unconventional warfare" group whose connection to the CIA was so
> sensitive that it remains an official U.S. government secret to this day.
> Arnold commanded one arm of this clandestine group, making him an inviting
> It was minutes before midnight on Jan. 12, 1953, when Arnold and 13
> of his men in a B-29 bomber -- its belly painted black to match the
> night sky -- were shot down over China's border with North Korea. They
> made headlines around the world when Washington eventually negotiated
> their release. But the story behind their ordeal -- the hidden CIA
> connection --
> is only now emerging from behind a veil of official secrecy.
> To his captors' surprise, Arnold knew few details of the CIA link. He
> knew enough, though, that the Chinese were convinced they had cracked an
> American espionage operation. And he knew enough to make his 2 1/2 years
> in prison a living hell of interrogations, torment, deprivation, abuse and
> It remains unclear how much China knew about Arnold and his unit before
> was captured and convicted of spying ("plotting to undermine the state" was
> the exact charge), but evidence reviewed by The Associated Press suggests
> the Chinese knew enough to lay an ambush.
> That, in turn, implies a breach of security that compromised one of the
> CIA's earliest Cold War collaborations with the Air Force. Best known of
> partnerships was the U-2 spy plane program, whose CIA link was exposed when
> Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union in May 1960.
> Newly declassified government records support Washington's original claim
> that Arnold's plane was dropping propaganda leaflets over North Korea when
> it was attacked, not spying as China insisted. But the papers reveal China
> was right on a more telling point: Arnold's group was part of a far-reaching
> CIA assault on communism, and China was a target.
> Born in February 1951 and christened with the innocuous-sounding name Air
> Resupply and Communications Service, the group supported the CIA with
> specialized aircraft and crews that included air commandos trained in
> sabotage, demolition, hand-to-hand combat and other guerrilla warfare skills
> at a secret CIA facility at Fort Benning, Ga., called Training Center One.
> They helped the CIA in clandestine operations designed to subvert communism
> in its grand contest with capitalism -- and not only in the Far East, where
> ideological conflict was playing
> out in war on the Korean Peninsula.
> The Air Resupply and Communications Service's acronym, ARC, was fitting.
> Three ARC subgroups, known as wings, formed an arc around America's main
> foes -- the Soviet bloc and China -- with bases in England, Libya and the
> Philippines. A fourth base in Alaska was planned but never opened. The idea
> was to combat, not just contain, communism in ways short of "hot war."
> Thus, the ARC wings operated on two levels -- a publicly admitted
> of psychological warfare such as leaflet dropping, and a secret mission to
> conduct "unconventional warfare" in support of the CIA. That included
> delivering CIA-supplied weapons for storage in parts of Europe for
> resistance groups to be activated in the event of Soviet invasion. Fear of
> Soviet attack at the time can hardly be overstated.
> The acknowledged part of the ARC's work served as a convenient cover for the
> secret part.
> "It was felt to be important that the real purpose of these units not be
> made public," says a declassified Air Force history. It was for this reason
> the name Air Resupply and Communications was chosen --"a name which has
> since served to confuse all" not privy to its real mission.
> Each of the three ARC wings had about 1,000 men and an extraordinary
> complement of aircraft. Besides B-29s outfitted for air-dropping agents and
> communicating with them behind enemy lines, they had amphibious SA-16
> "Albatross" planes for covert landings on land and at sea, C-119 "Flying
> Boxcar" transports and C-118 transports -- with their national markings and
> serial numbers erased -- for use by CIA -supplied crews. The ARC's men were
> sworn to secrecy, and some still won't talk.
> "I'm not interested in divulging anything more about this," said John W.
> Thompson II of Hampton, Va., who was a "scanner," or lookout, aboard the
> Arnold plane.
> Eugene Vaadi of Sarasota, Fla., pilot in command of the B-29, says the
> accepted rule was "you don't mention this, even in your sleep."
> Vaadi, who has the rare distinction of being shot down and imprisoned in
> two wars (he was downed over Germany during World War II and initially
> declared killed in action), recalls being asked to acknowledge in writing
> before deploying to the Far East in the summer of 1952 that in the event of
> capture by the communists, "we wouldn't be recognized by our government."
> And they weren't, publicly, until China provoked a U.S. response by
> announcing 22 months after their capture that Arnold and his crew had been
> convicted and sentenced to prison terms of up to 10 years.
> Washington called the spying charges "utterly false" and the prison
> sentences "a most flagrant violation of justice."
> With the Cold War long over, some ARC veterans are now willing to reveal
> glimpses of their "special operations" -- risky, dark-of-night flights
> behind the Iron Curtain to pick up defectors and infiltrate spies, for
> example, and covert air support for French forces in Indochina before the
> American public knew the extent of U.S.
> involvement in an anti-communist struggle for Vietnam.
> Norman Runge of Bear, Del., who flew C-119s and SA-16s from an ARC base
> in Libya, said he ferried supplies to secret U-2 bases in Turkey and
> Pakistan in the mid-1950s. At the time, the cover story for the CIA's U-2
> spying was high-altitude "weather research."
> McElvin "Mac" Swah of White's Creek, Tenn., was among ARC pilots who flew
> C-119 transports to Vietnam in 1953-54 in support of French forces against
> the communist and nationalist Viet Minh. The planes first were spirited
> through a
> hangar at Clark Air Base in the Philippines to replace their U.S. Air Force
> markings with French national insignias.
> The ARC also trained CIA-hired civilian pilots for C-119 missions into
> Vietnam in support of French forces in the decisive final months of the
> French-Indochinese war, according to George Pittman of Palm Bay, Fla., a
> former ARC squadron commander who conducted the training.
> Details of actual ARC operations are hard to find. ARC veterans say
> their units did not always make written records. If they exist, the
> has kept them under wraps. "It was a matter of keeping it secret from the
> enemy, and in doing so we kept it secret from everybody," said Edward
> Joseph, of Arlington, Va., a retired Air Force colonel who commanded a
> super-secret squadron of the
> 580th ARC wing that trained guerrillas in the Libyan desert and dropped
> CIA-supplied weapons into the Balkans in the 1950s.
> There is little doubt the CIA masterminded the ARC. A top secret 1953
> Pentagon report said Air Force "unconventional warfare" operations,
> including such covert activities as guerrilla warfare and "subversion
> against hostile states," gave "maximum support to the Central Intelligence
> The partially declassified Pentagon report says that in peacetime,
> "targets" of unconventional warfare were designated by the CIA. "During
> wartime, target groups will be the USSR satellite countries and friendly
> countries overrun by the enemy," it said.
> Michael Haas, a retired Air Force colonel who wrote a
> government-sanctioned report last year on the history of Air Force special
> operations, cited a document that said the ARC program originated with a
> 1949 request by "an agency outside the Department of Defense." His review of
> Air Force records, including some still secret,
> left no doubt which agency made that request. "It could only have been the
> CIA, and it was," he said in an interview.
> The CIA apparently believed its hand was well-hidden. It maintained only
> a small number of contacts or operatives in the three ARC wings. One was
> James Darby, who in World War II had served in a clandestine unit, "the
> Carpetbaggers," which air droppedagents in Nazi-occupied France for the
> Office of Strategic Services,
> forerunner to the CIA.
> Darby, now retired in Vero Beach, Fla., was director of operations for
> the 58lst ARC Wing at Clark Air Base in the Philippines at the time Arnold
> commanded the unit. He said CIA money helped finance some 581st operations.
> A CIA officer he recalled only by the name "Hall" would accompany Darby
> regularly to the unit's finance office to make cash deliveries. "There were
> just a few of us who knew," Darby says.
> Arnold says he only recently learned of the extent of CIA involvement
> from former colleagues in the 581st, including Harry M. Benjamin Jr., whom
> the Air Force listed as a B-29 gunner but who revealed to Arnold before his
> death in March 1998 that he was one of the unit's CIA contacts.
> "I had known that some had associations with the CIA, but I didn't know
> which ones they were -- and I didn't want to know," Arnold said in an
> interview at his home in Tallahassee, Fla. By shielding himself from such
> details, Arnold believed he was staying "clean" to fly some ARC missions and
> take the risk -- slight though he believed it to be -- of falling into enemy
> hands. It was a fateful judgment that cost him
> dearly. But it was based on a principle he holds dear: Don't ask others to
> take risks you won't.
> Arnold was born and reared in Washington, D.C., son of a government
> bureaucrat. He has a modest manner, a dry wit and a remarkably sharp memory
> of events now four decades old. At 84 years old, he is not eager to discuss
> the past. You see pain in his haunted eyes as he recalls his years in
> captivity -- "visiting the Chinese for such a long period of time," as he
> put it in his understated way.
> A West Point graduate, class of '36, Arnold was trained in meteorology
> and spent the decade of the 1940s -- including the World War II years -- in
> the unglamorous Air Weather Service. He yearned for a chance to command a
> fighting unit. So while the 581st did not promise actual combat, he saw it
> as a step in the right direction.
> After training for a year at desolate Mountain Home Air Force Base in
> southern Idaho, the 581st with Arnold in command quietly deployed to the
> Philippines in July 1952. Shortly afterward a second wing, the 580th,
> headed to Wheelus Air Base in Libya; it was responsible for operations
> in the Middle East and the southern flank of the Soviet Union. Third to
> deploy was the 582nd, to RAF Molesworth in England; it was responsible
> for much of Europe, including the Soviet satellite states of the Baltics
> and Eastern Europe. The 581st's area of responsibility was the communist
> areas of Asia, including the Russian Far East.
> In a coerced statement to his captors, put on public exhibit in Beijing
> Dec. 7, 1954, Arnold described his unit's mission: "The main functions
> of the wing, in time of war or at such other times as may be directed by
> higher headquarters, are to introduce special agents and guerrilla units
> into communist countries and communist-held areas; to supply by air delivery
> these personnel
> and the guerrilla units originally operating there, and to keep in contact
> with them
> by radio for CIA. It operates under the cover of psychological warfare."
> Arnold and others from his captured crew say they had trained for such
> covert missions against China and the Soviet Union but had not yet conducted
> any by
> the time they were shot down.
> Raindrops spattered the tarmac at Yokota Air Base outside Tokyo at dusk
> Jan. 12, 1953, as Arnold and 13 other men in Air Force flight suits climbed
> aboard a refitted B-29 bomber, tail number 44-62217, callsign "Stardust
> The mission plan on that Monday night called for Arnold's crew to spend
> 28 minutes over six leaflet-drop targets in North Korea, then slip out of
> Korean airspace and return to Yokota. Arnold intended to fly back the next
> morning to the Philippines, where his wife , May, awaited him.
> As it happened, the crew dropped Korean- and Chinese-language leaflets on
> each of their first five targets and were at 22,000 feet approaching the
> sixth at Cholsan, just south of the Yalu River dividing China from North
> Korea, when searchlights from the ground suddenly lit up the big bomber.
> With no fighter escort and only a pair of .50-caliber tail guns for
> defense, the
> plane was easy pickings for MiG-15 fighters positioned --by design or
> coincidence -- for the kill.
> At 11:16 p.m., the plane made its last radio transmission: "Mayday."
> With the engines aflame, Arnold rushed to the rear to grab his parachute .
> There he spotted the tail gunner, shot and apparently dead. The others
> managed to bail out as the plane plummeted to the frozen earth.
> By daylight, at least 11 of the men had been captured by Chinese troops
> and taken to the river city of Andung, China, where the main Soviet military
> force in the Korean War -- the 64th Air Defense Corps -- was based. After
> brief questioning at Andung, they were taken north by train to Mukden, where
> they spent 16 days in prison. Next stop, Beijing-- known then as Peking --
> where they remained behind bars until their release at a Hong Kong rail stop
> on Aug. 4, 1955.
> An Air Force intelligence officer, Delk Simpson, who was stationed in
> Hong Kong, was the first to greet the released men. Close behind,
> Simpson said in an interview, were CIA officials. A few days later, in
> Japan, the men would be interviewed by an Air Force team that included
> CIA psychologist John Gittinger; Arnold later was debriefed at CIA
> headquarters. In a cruel twist, Wallace Brown, the pilot on Arnold's
> plane, said the debriefings upon their return felt more like an
> inquisition. "We were considered potential saboteurs," Brown said, for
> having been so long under the thumb of communists. For China, the
> Arnold crew offered a propaganda bonanza. They could be used not only to
> expose sensitive U.S. secrets but also to humiliate the hated CIA.
> An added bonus for the Chinese: An officer aboard the downed plane,
> Maj. William Baumer of Milton, Pa., was operations chief for the 91st
> Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron -- not an ARC unit. He had flown
> previous secret missions to monitor military sites in China and Russia.
> Baumer refused to be interviewed for this story.
> Moscow saw opportunity, too. A secret KGB message dated 17 days after
> Arnold went down and addressed to the highest levels of Soviet security
> in Moscow said the Chinese asked for help in organizing the crew's
> interrogations. The Soviet military intelligence adviser in Beijing was
> "ordered by us to render such help," the note said. Another message
> four days later informed the Soviet air chief in Moscow that he was
> receiving the English text of Arnold's interrogation and other materials.
> "We managed to take these items from our Chinese comrades," the note said.
> As a colonel and wing commander, Arnold was a rare prize for his captors.
> But to exploit this opportunity, the Chinese needed confessions , and that
> meant torture.
> Although he and his fellow prisoners were sometimes physically abused
> by guards, Arnold says the Chinese pressure was mainly psychological.
> Most effective was solitary confinement. He was isolated for nearly all
> his 31 months in prison, awakened at odd hours to undergo questioning
> and made to stand rigidly for dozens of hours on tightly bound feet. He
> was fed only minimally and, for a time, held in manacles that slowly
> forced both shoulder joints out of their sockets. In the early weeks of
> his confinement, guards aimed cocked pistols at him during interrogations.
> "They threatened me with every kind of torture," he told debriefers
> just days after his release.
> Often he was in handcuffs that were so tight they cut off his blood
> circulation. "One of the things they did was come up behind me and press
> my fingers," in the motion of milking a cow, Arnold said. "I can't
> describe the pain." The abuse became too much. "I was in a state that I
> would classify as a complete nervous breakdown," he told the debriefers.
> In a classified assessment of the Arnold crew's conduct in captivity,
> the Air Force concluded that they endured "more brutality, tricks and
> contrivances" than was encountered by any Americans held prisoner during
> the three-year Korean War. The secret Air Force report praised the men's
> "courage and staunchness of resistance" but none ever was given an
> official commendation. Some were kept on active duty. Some left. Arnold
> was assigned to Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., but he never was given
> another command. "Arnold was an early casualty of this business," says
> Darby, the former 581st operations chief.
> Even President Eisenhower offered little more than "all good wishes"
> in reply to a private letter Arnold wrote one year after his return from
> China in which he thanked the president for gaining his crew's release.
> In drafting the reply for Eisenhower, an aide cautioned that "laudatory
> remarks" would not be appropriate, given Arnold's "previous actions."
> Arnold is not bitter, but he and his men paid a steep price as secret
> warriors in the Cold War.
> The fate of three crew members -- 1st Lt. Henry D. Weese of San
> Bernardino, Calif., 1st Lt. Paul E. Van Voorhis of Ozone Park, N.Y., and
> Airman 2nd Class Alvin D. Hart Jr., of Saginaw, Mich., -- has never been
> determined. China claimed they died in the shootdown, although it never
> returned their bodies. Arnold believes Hart died on board.
> One surviving crew member, Steve Kiba, told the AP he saw Van Voorhis
> several times in prison months later. Arnold said he believes Weese and
> Van Voorhis, the plane's radar operators, were given to the Russians. In
> a letter to Van Voorhis' parents after Arnold and the others returned to
> the United States, the Air Force said of Van Voorhis, "Although he was
> observed to bail out of the aircraft, ... he was never seen or heard from
> It may never be known just when Beijing caught wind of the ARC secret
> . George Pittman, a retired Air Force colonel who served with Arnold in the
> 581st, recalls that when the wing moved -- supposedly in total secrecy --
> from its Idaho training base to Clark Air Base in the Philippines in July
> 1952, Chinese and Russian periodicals that the wing's intelligence officers
> had been receiving turned up at Clark
> before the men had even arrived.
> "That tells you they knew what was going on," Pittman says.
> How they knew is unclear. Joseph, the 580th squadron commander, said
> the CIA concluded in its assessment of the damage done by the defections
> of British spies Donald MacLean and Guy Burgess in May 1951 that they
> had passed ARC secrets to Moscow. The two Britons apparently had
> received this information from Harold "Kim" Philby, Britain's top
> officer in Washington, who later defected to the Soviet Union.
> The Air Force began to dismantle the ARC program in September 1953.
> Three years later, it was gone -- or, perhaps, quietly transformed under
> cover in a new stage of the Cold War.
> Ed Evanhoe, PO Box 916, Antlers, OK, 74523