Former airmen who served on Taiwan to reunite 40 years after US forces departed
By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 3, 2019
It’s been four decades since the last personnel from the U.S. Taiwan Defense Command departed the island. To celebrate the anniversary, servicemembers who served at Ching Chuan Kang Air Base are planning their first reunion.
CCK, as the base was known, hosted U.S. forces in Taichung City from 1957 until 1979. During the Vietnam War it was home to the 374th Tactical Airlift Wing, which rotated its C-130E Hercules transports into Southeast Asia on combat missions.
U.S. troop strength on Taiwan peaked at 19,000 in 1958 and dropped to between 4,000 and 10,000 by the 1970s, according to the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“There were about 5,000 people stationed at CCK when it was an active U.S. military base,” said reunion organizer and former Air Force C-130 mechanic Bob Keller. The 69-year-old from Garden Grove, Calif., has fond memories of his days on Taiwan from 1972-73.
During the Vietnam War, airmen on Taiwan worked 12-hour shifts but many found time to explore the island in their free time, Keller said.
The tour to CCK was unaccompanied but Keller was joined by his wife, Jane. They rented a two-bedroom home off-base and bought a Japanese Datsun to get around, he said.
The couple took tours to places such as Sun Moon Lake and rode the train to see the sites in the capital, Taipei, where their oldest daughter, Charmaine, was born in a Navy hospital, Keller said.
Some airmen partied at a row of 12 bars near the base known as the “Dirty Dozen,” he recalled.
“I never went down there,” Keller said, adding that he hung out at a Christian servicemen’s center that provided hot dinners for airmen outside the gate.
“It was a home-cooked meal and I was there about every night,” he said.
The U.S. military presence on Taiwan was ended by President Jimmy Carter, who withdrew from the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty in 1979. Congress responded by passing the Taiwan Relations Act, which requires the U.S. to sell arms to Taiwan.
Keller went back to the island as a short-term missionary shortly after the departure of U.S. forces. The place hadn’t changed much other than the lack of American troops, he said.
More than 100 people plan to attend the CCK reunion, which will take place July 9-12 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Dayton, Ohio, about 20 minutes’ drive from the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Those interested in joining can email Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.