ARNOLD, Jr., John K. COL USAF RMC RMC from China 1955
BAUMER, William E. MAJ USAF RMC RMC from China 1955
BENJAMIN, JR., Harry M. A2C USAF RMC RMC from China 1955
BROWN, Howard W. TSGT USAF RMC RMC from China 1955
BROWN, Wallace L. 1LT USAF RMC RMC from China 1955
BUCK, John W. CAPT USAF RMC RMC from China 1955
HART, JR., Alvin D. A1C USAF KIA
KIBA, Steve E. A1C USAF RMC RMC from China 1955
LLEWELLYN, Elmer F. CAPT USAF RMC RMC from China 1955
SCHMIDT, Daniel C. A1C USAF RMC RMC from China 1955
THOMPSON, III, John W. A2C USAF RMC RMC from China 1955
VAADI, Eugene J. CAPT USAF RMC RMC from China 1955
VAN VOORHIS, Paul E. 1LT USAF MIA
WEESE, Henry D. 1LT USAF KIA
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 catch.
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 humiliation.
It remains unclear how much China knew about Arnold and his unit before he 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 such 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 assignment 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 government 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 Agency."
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 on 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 on 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 Four-Zero."
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 again."
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 intelligence 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 new cover in a new stage of the Cold War.
Keywords: Stardust Four Zero, Col. Arnold Major Baumer RB-29 January 12, 1953 Wally Brown。