Patchy History

I received an email from Mark, who lives in the United States and is currently sorting through his father's World War II memorabilia. He's trying to piece together a time line.  Mark wrote: "My father is a Veteran of WW2. He served for the US Navy in the Pacific Fleet during the War. He has some patches that he got during his service. One patch is written in Chinese . . ."

"The other patch says 'WANT FREE' 'BACK TO TAIWAN OR DIE.'

Both have blue, white and red insignia with the Taiwan's flag's star in the middle. My father can't remember who or how he got them but he thinks he traded some of his insignia for them. I would appreciate any info or advice you could give me about the origin of these patches."

I don't think either of the patches date back to World War II. First of all, Taiwan wasn't called Taiwan at that time. It was Formosa. Second, the Formosan (Taiwanese) people served in the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy up until September of 1945. Formosa's (Taiwan's) flag was the Japanese Rising Sun. After World War II, Taiwan was occupied by the KMT / R.O.C. (Republic of China) soldiers. The white sun on the top patch comes from their flag. 

The first patch reads: "Fight the Soviet (Russian) Communists" and gives the soldier's ID number, 2906 (there might be a record for this man somewhere) across the bottom. By the way, soldier 2906 served in the Love Battalion. During World War II, the KMT's R.O.C. and the Soviet Union were allies. The Soviet Union didn't even declare war on Japan, hence Formosa (Taiwan), until August 9th, 1945. Three weeks later, Japanese officials were sitting down on the USS Missouri to sign the terms of Japan's unconditional surrender to the United States.

I've mentioned it before on this blog: From October 1945 to February 1947, thousands of Taiwanese men returning from WW II were recruited and redeployed to fight in China against the Chinese communists. The latter were supplied and financed, though probably not as much as they would have liked, by the Soviet Union. That's when the Soviets came to be viewed by the KMT as enemies (see upper patch once again). We should also keep in mind the redirected Taiwanese men were promised NT$2,000 a month. When they arrived in China, they were annoyed to discover they would be paid in the lower Chinese currency. Promised future government jobs, they later returned to Taiwan only to find the positions already filled by recent immigrants from China. Needless to say, the number of volunteers dried up after the 2/28 Massacre in Taiwan, as locals learned to distrust what they were being told. Then, in 1949, the communists defeated the KMT and drove their military out of China completely. The soldiers who had patches like the ones above retreated to Taiwan at this time. And Taiwanese soldiers no longer went to China.

I think, Mark, that your father came in contact with Taiwanese fighting in China during the late forties. You say he served on a submarine that refueled in Shanghai. That is where he probably got these patches. You also think his sub refueled in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. OK. But why would a Taiwanese soldier have a "back to Taiwan or die patch" in Taiwan? On second thought, this makes sense to me. Perhaps he didn't need the patches because he was already home, making them redundant.

I don't know anything about the trading of patches and insignias. I don't know on what level it took place, whether or not it was frowned upon and so forth. The possessions of POWs, on the other hand, were often stolen by their captors, but that's another story. 

There are a few things to look into still:
1. Any records about your dad's submarine. Do you know the name of the sub, Mark?
2. I'd be curious to know who 2906 was. Can we look him up in the records here in Taiwan? I wonder how we do that. 


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Anonymous said...

bedinThe second patch looks like one used by captured Chinese soldier in Korea. Influenced by KMT, some of the POW insisted to go to Taiwan instead of sent back to Mainland China. They wear the patch, tattoo with Taiwan or do anything to be heard.

Mark said...

My father was in the Pacific until the early 1950's. Perhaps the second patch is from a POW of the Korean conflict as ChoSan states. My father was in theatre during that conflict. He was also in Shanghai during the late 1940's, so it would make sense that he perhaps got the first patch in China. Being on patrol in a submarine he had very little contact with other servicemen other than when he was in port re-fueling. It may always be a mystery how exactly he came to posess these patches... Since I was young I wondered what they meant and the history behind each patch. Thank you for shedding some light on where they came from and what the patches mean. Hopefully we can find out some more information.

Anonymous said...

Both patches were worn by the Chinese POW's who decided to go to Taiwan instead of going back to China after the Korean War. The top patch was worn on the left chest and the second patch was worn on the left arm.

See the following picture.


Patrick Cowsill said...

"Both patches were worn by the Chinese POW's..."

I really can't understand why Chinese POWs would have a problem with the Russian Communists. I don't get how they would want to get back to Taiwan either. What's going on here?

Jake said...

There's a great novel by Ha Jin called "War Trash" about exactly this thing--Chinese POWs in war camps during the Korean War. There are some Nationalist sympathizers wanting expatriation to Taiwan instead of being sent back to China. I highly recommend it. http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/10/11/041011crbn_brieflynoted1

valerienicole said...

Super interesting post!

Anonymous said...

To answer your questions and elaborate on my previous reply on the patches, here is a brief description of that historical event concerning the Chinese POW’s.

There were about 21,000 Chinese POW’s under UN supervision after the Korean War ended in July, 1953. The Chinese POW’s were free to choose where they wanted to go provided that the host countries would accept them. Around 14,000 chose to go to Taiwan. About 6,000 chose to go back to China. Some went to Brazil and India. (The Chinese POW’s were guarded by the Indians.) A further research will be needed to verify if other countries took in the Chinese POW’s. The US decided not to take any.

On Jan. 23, 1954, the first of the three large contingents of Chinese POW’s arrived in Keelung, Taiwan aboard US transport ships. All Chinese POW’s arriving in Taiwan wore those two patches with the top patch functioning as an ID and the second patch as the coat of arm. These patches were apparently designed with the assistance of ROC agents who were active in the prison camps (with the tacit approval from the UN and the US). You can still visit the prison camps in Korea today. So, Mark’s father could have only obtained these patches after Jan. 23, 1954.

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Anonymous said...

The top patch indicated the original owner/POW was No. 2906 of the “愛” (Ai) unit which is consistent with one of the several ways ROC organized large groups (or school classes) along the following character strings 忠,孝,仁,愛,信,義,和,平 in that order.

The four characters on the left side of the top patch, 反共抗俄, literally means, as you stated, “fight communist/communism and fight Russia”. The first two characters strongly imply and should be interpreted to mean “fight Chinese communist/communism”. These four characters had turned into a popular slogan especially after the arrival of these POW’s in Taiwan.

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Anonymous said...

There are many theories as to why the majority of the Chinese POW’s chose to go to Taiwan. One popular theory, as evidenced by many interviews, is that some of the POW’s, if not a good portion, used to be ROC/KMT soldiers. The theory has it that Mao sent these former KMT soldiers to Korea so he did not have to deal with the “loyalty” issues. It is not uncommon for both the KMT and CCP to turn POW’s into their own soldiers after a brief political reeducation program during the civil war. Some of the soldiers had flipped side two or more times.

The following story (In Chinese) about a Taiwanese POW who went KMT-CCP-KMT-CCP-KMT chose to go back to Taiwan after the Korean War.


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Anonymous said...

With limited space here, I will skip the other theories.

The now-defunct LIFE magazine covered this event fairly extensively in 1954. Some of the pictures are in the following thread (in Chinese). The 6th photo from the bottom showed how the POW’s wore the patches.


More than 200 of these POW’s still live in a Veteran’s Home in Sansia, New Taipei City (新北市三峽鎮忠義山莊 24.909856,121.392456 Google Maps). You can go visit and interview them if you want.

One last note: It is also possible that the submarine Mark’s father served on was part of the escort armada that went from Korea to Taiwan. Did he go ashore in Keelung, Taiwan? Hmm...

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Patrick Cowsill said...

"More than 200 of these POW’s still live in a Veteran’s Home in Sansia, New Taipei City (新北市三峽鎮忠義山莊"

Thanks for the information. It's fascinating. And okay; I'll go over and find out the following:

a.) if 2906 is there or someone remembers him
b.) other issues, such as if any of the boys were originally KMT
c.) how they came to Taiwan
d.) general info. / stories

James said...

Hmmm, I posted a chunk yesterday but didnt show up. Probably a good thing as I misunderstood this a bit.

I know the Nationalists sent guys over there to, as was old peanut's wont, curry favour with the US (read: get some more billions), so I had assumed these were nationalist/ROC POWs taken by the north. Clearly I got the wrong end of the stick!

Fascinating stuff and great info. from anon. It will be great to go and talk to these guys - if you found 2906, that would be incredible!

More posts like this; doing a great job with this personalised history that 1)sheds light on the broader picture 2)would otherwise go uncovered 3)is just bloody interesting!

Mark said...

VERY interesting information you are uncovering! It would be amazing if 2906 or someone that knew him was available for an interview.

My father told me his sub was part of the escort for the trip from Korea to Taiwan and he did go ashore there....

Thank you for you efforts in unraveling this mystery. I look forward to learning more.