The Black Bat Squadron was a covert flying unit with a dangerous mission and a high death rate. An exhibition in Washington remembers the heroes of this Cold War cooperation between the United States and Taiwan.
The Taiwanese Air Force’s former 34th Squadron, the Black Bat Squadron, carried a telling emblem—a black bat with the stars of the Big Dipper. From 1953 to 1973, during the Cold War era, the Black Bat Squadron cooperated with the CIA, carrying out nighttime electronic detection missions by penetrating into China in low-level air space.
“This was the state’s top secret at the time. Even those martyrs’ family members don’t know about this,” said Nelson C. Lee, the president of the Republic of China (ROC) Veterans Association in the District of Columbia.
The Black Bat Squadron flew 838 missions. Fifteen aircraft were shot down or accidentally crashed, and 148 people died, accounting for two-thirds of the team.
“What’s the flight height at night? The standard minimum is 100 to 200 meters (about 325 to 650 feet), and sometimes the lowest height is only 30 meters (about 100 feet). Think about it; our high-rise buildings are much higher than that. It is truly dangerous,” said Chen Hongquan, former deputy commander of the ROC Air Force.
Xu Yinghui was a member of the Black Bats, and the father of Maryland resident Xu Ke-Er. In 1958, he took a plane deep into mainland China to perform a special operation in Guangdong Province. The plane was shot down by the People’s Liberation Army, killing all 13 air crew on board. He left behind five children. The oldest was 11 and the youngest only 2.
“Because he didn’t come back, we were told that he was missing. But at that time, we still had great hopes—especially my mother—hoping he was still alive,” said Xu Ke-Er.
In 1992, Xu Ke-er went to mainland China with other crew members’ families. They located the spot of the crash, recovered the remains of all crew members, and brought their ashes back to Taiwan after cremation.
“Everyone has some grief hidden in the heart. For me, the grief is, I felt that I have never called ‘dad’ throughout my life,” Xu Ke-Er said.
The Black Bats exhibition material was collected by private Taiwanese organizations.
The organizers said they hope more people will learn about this hidden history and remember the heroes who risked their lives to break through the red iron curtain.
“Because they were performing special tasks, these heroes had to be kept unknown at that time. But as descendants of the ROC Air Force, we cannot allow these unsung heroes to remain anonymous,” Dirk Hsieh, one of the organizers, said.