Secrets of the East China Sea

There was an aviation incident that took place in the East China Sea on 1 October 1958. About 0600 hours, four National Chinese crew members, three Republic of China (ROC) officers and four U.S. servicemen routinely boarded a civilian Foshing Airlines (FAL), a PBY-5 named the “Blue Goose” on Matsu Island, for the return trip to Formosa for some much needed R&R. They were never seen again.

The four U.S. military personnel on board the Blue Goose were Army Major Robert C. Bloom (Eau Claire, WI); Captain Wayne A. Pitcher (Asbury Park, NJ); Navy radioman RM3 Dwight H. Turner (Clarence, MO), and Army PFC Claude L. Baird (Duff, TN). They were all members of the elite Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) and all were assigned to the Matsu Defense Command at the time they went missing.

A little history

In 1949 Chairman Mao Zedong (the new Communist leader at that time) forced General Chaing Kai-shek, under the threat of immediate death, if he and his free Chinese forces did not immediately vacate mainland China.

Chaing Kai-Shek moved his entire Army and his freedom-seeking friends to the mountainous island of Formosa (now known as Taiwan), some 100 miles from China’s Eastern coastline and for several years the East China Sea was peaceful. The second Formosa Strait crisis began in August 1958, when Communist China began in earnest to attempt to dislodge the free Chinese from their permanent status on Formosa using artillery, air combat and political venues. The U.S. responded, and just about every U.S. Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force and Coast Guard unit in the Pacific Theatre of Operation (PTO) was assigned to stop the Chinese saber rattling and its invasion of Formosa.

My service

I arrived on Okinawa with orders in hand on 15 October 1958. Stepping off a blue bus, I approached the main gate of Naha Air Force Base where I was unexpectedly detained. The OD arrived and drove me to my new assignment: the 25th Fighter Interceptor Squadron.

It was there that I quickly learned the 20th century history of China — and I had time because there were only two of us there. The A/2C acting first sergeant and I remained together on Okinawa during the three-month period while the 25th FIS remained on foreign assignment in Formosa.

And I can tell you it was lonely.

I broke into the drab green-and-white radar repair shop, housed in an old Navy Quonset hut, and began to repair defective radar black boxes. The E-4 radar repair mock-up system was still hooked up and was in very good shape.

Fortunately, a C-47 (Gooney Bird) finally showed up from Formosa — loaded with more defective and/or malfunctioning black boxes in need of repair. Thus began a weekly exchange of black boxes for the E-4 Fire Control System on the F-86D (Dog) aircraft.

I continued my repair operations until the 25th FIS returned victorious from its Formosa engagement on 1 January 1959.

However, it was not until 2009 that I became aware of the disappearance of the four servicemen aforementioned. I also learned that their bodies were never recovered and I wondered what happened to them.

Unanswered questions

The United States government has never acknowledged these missing men, nor have they ever honored them for the ultimate sacrifice they made in the cause of freedom. However, one thing is clear, on 1 October 1958, four American servicemen in uniform went missing, and they need to be acknowledged and honored and their families provided with answers.

Foshing Airlines reported that the Chinese Ministry of National Defense (MND) ruled the incident as a mid-air collision; the MND also ruled the plane was shot down, but no evidence of any wreckage was ever found and the MND cannot produce records to support that theory.

Brigadier General L.S. Bork, Commander of the Military Assistance Advisory Group (1958-60), believes that the aircraft was taken by force to mainland China (U.S intelligence sources seem to confirm that scenario) because the aircraft carried valuable defense plans and had an unnamed “special cargo.” He also believes a $100,000 ransom was offered by the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) for the delivery of the Blue Goose to Formosa.

During the second week of October 1958, an intelligence source reported that the aircraft and her crewmembers were seen in Shanghai shortly after the incident and, two weeks following the disappearance of the PBY-5, a Communist Chinese radio news broadcast reported that the PBY-5 aircraft reached the mainland and even identified one ROC officer who was on board and reportedly spoke on the broadcast.

During that same timeframe, two American families heard similar newscasts that reported the names of all the U.S. servicemen and confirmed they were being held by Communist China.

Mrs. Margret Baird Petree and Mrs. Sue Baird Walden, the sisters of PFC Claude L. Baird, have had a very difficult task in trying to unravel the unexplained issues of this case.

The Department of the Army declared the incident an “Operational Loss” and the servicemen were declared “missing” for a period of one year. Then, without any further proof or evidence, these men were listed under the “Presumptive Finding of Death” on 2 October 1959. The U.S. Army declared the flying boat was “lost without a trace,” and a thorough search by planes and ships found nothing new to report.

A report from 1 Oct 58 states that a U.S. military officer, a lieutenant colonel, went out on the beach to the PBY-5 before it left Quemoy Island. He stated that he went aboard and spoke with a fellow described to be blonde with rather short curly hair and dressed in civilian clothing. This man was not on the passenger list nor was he one of the Chinese crewmembers and this was the only time he was ever mentioned in a report. I would seem that nothing was ever done to follow up on this person, so I am led to conclude, what else is missing and why the cover-up?

Most important is what happened to the four U.S. military personnel? Where are they? Why were they detained with no explanation to their family members? Who has the answers?

Around 1960, all communications from the Department of the Army ceased. From 1958 to 1990 the surviving family members were unable to turn up any new evidence and all correspondence sent through their Congressman have resulted in nothing more than a simple reply extracted from an original 1958 Incident Report.

After the Baird sisters spent years of trying to find answers, in 2000 the DOD POW/MIA Office agreed to open the case, which is still active to this date.