After nearly half a century of captivity and unproved allegations, Major Hsieh Hsiang-ho (謝翔鶴) received the Medal of Victorious Garrison A-Second Class ribbon on Saturday.
In an event also marking the 76th anniversary of the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron, Chief of the General Staff Lin Chen-yi (林鎮夷), standing in for Minister of National Defense Kao Hua-chu (高華柱), awarded Hsieh the decoration, praising him for his exemplary behavior during 1963 and 1964, referring to him as the epitome of a Republic of China (ROC) military man.
Piloting an RF-101 Voodoo reconnaissance aircraft in December 1964, Hsieh was on a reconnaissance mission along the Zhejiang-Ningbo coast when he was shot down by Chinese fighters and captured. Though he was tortured, he remained true to the ROC.
Hsieh was also exiled to the countryside for 15 years, the result of a betrayal by a colleague whom Hsieh had treated to a drink on the anniversary of the ROC on Oct. 10. The Chinese government accused Hsieh of being an “anti-revolutionary figure.”
Hsieh was closely watched for a time by the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee.
He finally returned to Taiwan in 1985 after 20 years in China.
However, he did not receive the welcome he expected. Amid suspicions that he may have been the victim of “possible brainwashing,” the Air Force forced him to retire. Furthermore, Hsieh received no salary for the 20 years he spent in China, nor did the Air Force help him find a job.
Things finally turned in Hsieh’s favor after he was invited last year to the opening of a special exposition on the Black Cat Squadron. The Black Cats, the codename for the 35th Covert Reconnaissance Squadron, worked with the CIA during the Cold War on deep night-time penetration over Chinese airspace for recon operations, usually using U-2 spy planes.
Kao had ordered that Hsieh be commended and awarded during the 76th anniversary of the 12th Reconnaissance Squadron.
Receiving the award was a moving experience for Hsieh, though he avoided mentioning the years of bitterness that came after his return to Taiwan. He had a few things to say about being shot down, however.
“The mission was not accomplished and I failed my country. I don’t think I deserve this award, but I thank Air Force Command for its concern. It’s good to be back home,” he said.
Top Air Force officials said the award was the first step in exonerating Hsieh, adding that the Ministry of National Defense still owed him an official apology.