8 February 1955
As dawn came to the Tachens the crew of the HELENA
watched the sun rise from battle stations, which they had
manned an hour earlier. The ship got underway at 0630,
swinging into her anchorage close to the amphibious forces.
The pale light showed the small landing craft still plowing back
and forth with their loads of civilian evacuees. The channel
between the two major islands was filled with transports of
every type. On the horizon the escort ships and destroyers
could be seen on their patrols; the evacuation was well underway.
At 0730 HELENA changed from Condition I to condition I AA.
All eyes topside were kept skyward while in CIC the OI gang kept
steady control of a large portion of the air cover furnished by the
carrier-based aircraft of Task Force 77.
A moment of laughter came when Lt. (jg) R. K. Schultz took
the helo on an errand of mercy; his vital cargo: Six rat traps
The USS HENRICO had sent an urgent request for this ancient weapon
to combat rodents brought aboard with stores from the beach.
Throughout the day members of Admiral Pride's staff made visits
to the evacuation beachheads, evaluating the progress and
making plans with Nationalist officials. One member of the helo
crew was heard to remark, "This is the funniest ship; it has a
yo yo at both ends, an anchor up forward and a helo on the fantail."
His statement was somewhat justified for HELENA had shifted berths
4 times that day and had held flight quarters 22 times.
9 February 1955
On the morning of the ninth it was obvious that progress
was being made on the evacuation, for the number of LSTs and
small craft had been sharply reduced. The same routine of the
previous days was followed except HELENA remained at General
Quarters all day.At 0930 the almost oppressive stillness was disrupted by a
tremendous explosion on one of the islands. This was the first
of hundreds as the Chinese began the long task of destroying
everything that they could not take with them to Formosa.
At 1030 HELENA's helo was dispatched to the rescue of the
three crewmen of an anti-submarine plane shot down when it
strayed too close to Communist territory. All of the men were
rescued by a watchful Chinese sea-going tug. This incident
heighten the tension aboard the alert ship, and all radar
contacts were tracked with great care.
By 1300 the word was out that all the civilians had been
evacuated from the islands. This news was greeted by the ship's
company as a good sign that the whole operation was progressing smoothly.
Ashore, the Chinses army personnel and the guerilla forces
were beginning their phase of the evacuation. Platoons of men
marched down to beaches carrying ammunition and stores, then
turned back to make another trip. On the beaches the stock
piles grew as the steady stream of soldiers added their bit to
the depots. Small landing craft, LSUs and LSTs hit the beaches,
loaded, waiting for high tide, and sailed off with their cargos.
By Big Sun Villaage, the infantry began embarking on LCM
boats from a special pier cleverly constructed by lashing
several boats together. This made it unnecessary to beach the boats
and saved many valuable hours. After leaving the beaches the
troops went aboard such US ships as the HENRICO and the UNION
where they were welcomed with meals and dry beds.
By 1600 a freezing rain began to fall, cutting visibility to
almost zero and bringing operations to a near stand still.
HELENA shifted berths to he night time defense station and he
weary crew happily set condition III, and went below for supper.
10 February 1955
A ghost arose today.
Out of the death of a simple fishing hamlet rose the specter
of a freedom loving people who chose to leave their homes rather
than live under the tyranny of Communism.
In a sheltered cove on the lower Tachen Island, a cluster of
stone houses clings tenaciously to the hillsides. This was home
to a people who for centuries have fished the China Sea and
farmed their island to survive. But now all that remains are
the empty shells of the huts standing with doors ajar. The
pathways are empty except for a small dog searching futily for
his master. Silhouetted on the hillside is the figure of a
Nationalist soldier bent under his load of demolition charges.
From behind the hill comes the sound of destruction as the
island defenses are systematically razed. But it is not the boom
of destruction but the silence of desertion which fills the air,
a silence which absorbs the steady plodding of the loaded troops
passing through the streets and muffles the roar of the landing
craft in the bay.
So here the buildings stand, the yards filled with the ashes
of prized possessions, the beaches covered with shattered boats,
the fences hung with the charcoal web of burned nets, the rows
of vegetables all plowed askew.
Like the sign on the Tachen School House door, these things
say "We are gone for now, but Communsists, live in fear! For we
This was the Big Sun Hat village after her people had gone,
leaving the small town to watch the mass of men and material
being loaded aboard the circling LCMs and the squat LSUs.
On the beaches huge piles of ammunition, clothing and food
waited transport. From all over the island came platoons of men
carrying their weapens, a little food, a few personal belongs.
Out of the barracks caves came the guerrillas, men who
had used these islands as an operating base from which they
launched lighting attacks against the mainland. As camaflouge
nets came down, gun emplacements, ammunition dumps, and
barracks became visible and then were suddenly destroyed
by the men who had built them.
Occasionally little groups of men stopped, and in the
shelter of a broken building they built small fires and cooked their
meager lunch before picking up their heavy loads and continuing
down the hillside to the bay.
Out to sea the ships of the line continued their unending
patrol while the auxilaries hurriedly loaded equipment and
stores into their vast holds. On HELENA, the rotation of condition
II watches continued. Men in the open mounts pulled their
foul weather gear closer around them as protection against the
chilling winds. In the directors, the old jokes of growing to
the metal seats were revived and the men's spirit remained high.
As general quarters was sounded at 1630 topside personnel
watched the reflection of fires on the beach in the muddy water
and another night of watchful waiting began.
11 & 12 February 1955
The critical day had come. All civilians were gone from
Tachen and most of her troops were loaded aboard U. S. Transports
in the bay. The pressure of world opinion which had protected
the helpless civilians from attack was gone and the opportunity
to attack the massed Nationalists troops was tempting. Aboard
the 7th Fleet ships all hands were aware of the danger and stepped
up their watchfullness. Everyone was ready, but the
Communists, knowing what awaited them, did not come.
The only planes overhead were from Task Force 77, and the
only explosions to be heard were the never-ending destruction
charges which sounded on every island.
By early Friday afternoon, the word reached HELENA
that the evacuation was nearly complete, that the Task Forces
would sail south on Saturday.
Through the night great sheets of yellow flame filled the
sky and explosion after explosion rent the air. Men weary from
a week of wakefullness had difficulty sleeping because of the
noise and came topside to watch the death pangs of an island
fortress. Roaring fires swept down the parched mountains,
throwing an eerie light against over-hanging clouds.
Sunrise showed the islands to be broken by dynamite and
blackened by fire. The troops and stores were gone, the
fortifications were leveled, the fields were scorched, the homes
destroyed. All through the morning the ships rendezvoused and
sailed southward to Formosa. The last LST left the beach at
1130 and joined others of her kind.
One by one the ships left, until only HELENA remained as a
rear guard for her small sisters, then she too weighed anchor
and headed out to sea. Those topside watched the still smoking
islands drop below the horizon.
With HELENA's departure, freedom left the Tachens.
Narrative...... LTJG D. M. Cooney
Layout...............ENS R. H. Grouse
Printing.....................LI3 E. S. Bell
Photography.....PH1 W. E. Cooper
Photography...PH3 J. L. Wahlborg
Grateful Acknowledgement is made for
the assistance of the print shop of the
USS Princeton and the USS Essex.
(The last page)