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Surrender by Japan and Communist Hostility Toward OSS


"The sudden end of the war completely surprised OSS. Immediate action had to be taken in order to have any impact at all on the war history of the United States in China. As Heppner informed Donovan and his party, which had just reached Honolulu en route to Washington, "Although we have been caught with our pants down, we will do our best to pull them up in time."
Heppner showed great resolve and sent an urgent cable to Colonel Davis, chief liaison with Wedemeyer's headquarters in Chungking, asking to secure logistical support from Wedemeyer. This cable outlined the general ambitions of OSS/China "In view of emergency caused by Jap capitulation, request you prosecute the following moves in relation to theater with utmost vigor"

1. Command teams are available to drop into principal Chinese cites. Urge that airlift be provided in order that these men may raid Jap headquarters and seize vital documents and personalities both Japanese and puppets. These commandos ready to leave tomorrow.
2. Urge theater to provide airlift immediately for placing of OSS teams in critical spots in Manchuria in order that we may be on ground before arrival of Russians.
3. Urge airlift he provided that OSS teams now available be placed in strategic spots in Korea in order that our interests may be protected before Russian occupation.
4. Urge airlift to put OSS teams already available in key localities in China proper in order that American interests and Chinese National Government interest may be safeguarded.

"The Mercy Missions"

On 12 August 1945, Colonel Heppner moved swiftly by ordering OSS teams into strategic spots in three areas: Mukden (Shenyang) and Harbin in Manchuria and Weixian (Weihsien) in Shandong. These teams included SI, SO, medical, and COMMO (communications) personnel and interpreters. Three days later General Wedemeyer issued a comprehensive directive to various special agencies under his control to locate and evacuate POWs in north China, Manchuria, and Korea. To Wedemeyer, this was a job of the highest priority. Although AGAS was mandated with POW rescue work by the War Department, OSS was invited to join the effort, which provided an excellent cover for intelligence penetration into these areas. Nine air sorties were executed from the OSS base in Xian, and the 14th Air Force was ordered to provide the necessary staging facilities. OSS immediately organized eight operational missions, which were coded Magpie (Peiping), Duck (Weihsien), Flamingo (Harbin), Cardinal (Mukden), Sparrow (Shanghai), Quail (Hanoi), Pigeon (Hainan Island), and Raven (Vientiane, Laos).

The Duck mission was sent to Shandong Province on 17 August under Major S. A. Staiger and quickly discovered a big POW camp where 1,038 captured British military personnel, 205 Americans, and 200 troops from other nations—Belgium, Norway, Uruguay, Iran, and Cuba had been detained. One of the tasks of OSS super-agent William Christian was penetrating this camp. The only Chinese operative allowed to enter the maximum-security camp happened to be Christian's agent.

The Magpie mission covered the Peiping area and was commanded by Major Ray Nichols of OSS. The mission locoed 624 Allied POWs. The Pigeon mission, under a young OSS captain fresh out from the European theater, John C. Singlaub, parachuted onto Hainan Island on 27 August, located about 400 POWs, and evacuated them all to nearby Hong Kong. The OSS team to Lao, the Raven mission under Major Aaron Banks, located 143 internees near Vientiane.

A more complicated story unfolded around the Quail mission, under a young Captain Archimedes L. A. Patti; it included five Frenchmen who were not necessarily friendly toward the Vietnamese Communists led by Ho Chi Minh. On 22 August, Patti and his men walked into Hanoi and "liberated" the city; this was the first American military team to confront the Japanese military authority there. However, the connection between OSS and the Frenchmen in the crucial days of August 1945 put Donovan's organization in an extremely precarious position vis-à-vis the Communists and their sympathizers.

In examining the historical documents carefully, we can easily discern that political ideology did not lead OSS to take sides in French Indochina. In fact, OSS was by and large innocent in the whole messy arena where so much American blood would be shed in years to come. For Donovan, getting intelligence was the paramount reason for contacting and/or cooperating with certain groups. By contrast, those who were ideologically motivated were unhappy with the pragmatism and lack of ideology in OSS. As Charles Fenn saw it, "Alternately supporting the Vichy-French, Free-French, Vietminh and other native groups, OSS managed to infuriate even liberal French opinion while at the same time disillusioning the natives as to any real American understanding." Curiously, De Gaulle's special emissary to Vietnam, Jean Sainteny, issued the most biting criticism of OSS, "I often ask myself why OSS, so well endowed with able men, sent into Vietnam only second-string underlings, incapable of evaluating the stake and the incalculable results of the drama then taking place in the month of August 1945." Above all, OSS's top priority was to penetrate Korea, Shandong, and Manchuria. In the days immediately following the official Japanese surrender, dramatic episodes took place in each of these areas.

The OSS team drawing the most attention in the waning days of the war was the Eagle mission, designed to cover Korea The Eagle team was originally commanded by Clyde Sargent and had now been taken over by Lieutenant Colonel Willis Bird, the deputy director of OSS/China. On 16 August the mission boarded a C-47 and headed for Keijo, Korea While in the air, the mission received intelligence reports that kamikaze planes were attacking U.S. carriers and that the Japanese emperor was unable to enforce his own cease-fire order. The plane was ordered to turn around and return to Xian.

Bird, ever publicity conscious and eager to gain fame by "liberating" Korea single-handedly, added a Mr. Lieberman ― an OWI writer — to the Eagle mission in violation of Heppner's specific orders. The entire team then took off from Xian again and landed at Keijo on 18 August. This was the first time US. military personnel originating from the China theater had touched Korean soil since the war began. The official record chronicles what ensued: "On arrival, this mission was met with a 'friendly and helpful attitude from the Japanese command,' which informed them that all POWs and civilians were safe and well but that since no instructions had been received from the Japanese Government, the presence of the mission in Korea was 'embarrassing.'" The Japanese suggested, therefore, that the mission return to China and come back later. Gasoline for the return to China was provided by the Japanese. Eagle flew to Weixian, Shandong, the next day and contacted Duck mission there. On 20 August, OSS Headquarters instructed the mission to return to Keijo immediately and remain there, even if this resulted in temporary internment; but Bird reported that the Japanese had refused to accept the mission even though requested to do so and had ordered it out of Keijo at tank gunpoint. He flew to Chungking on 22 August in order to present in person his opinion that a return to Keijo would mean execution by the Japanese of the twenty-two members of the Eagle mission and the crew.

Then something went terribly wrong. On the afternoon of 22 August, Bird went directly to see Wedemeyer and described the dangerous situation that the Eagle team had encountered in Korea. While Bird was meeting Wedemeyer, however, Lieberman was writing a news story about the first American encounter with the Japanese in Korea. Lieberman accurately recorded something else that had gone on in Keijo between the Americans and the Japanese, something Bird had not told Wedemeyer. As Colonel Davis stated, Lieberman's story "included a couple of paragraphs about Japs entertaining our people with beer and sake and each nationality singing own national songs." Early the next morning, Wedemeyer heard Lieberman's news story over the worldwide OWI radio broadcast and became infuriated. He believed that Bird had disgraced US. armed forces in the China theater because Lieberman's story could easily be construed as fraternization with the Japanese troops. Particularly disgusting to Wedemeyer was the fact that Bird had taken an OWI man and photographer along, but no medical supplies or food for POWs. Moreover, the contrast between Bird's report on how hostile the Japanese still were toward Americans and Lieberman's piece on American-Japanese drinking and singing undoubtedly smacked of dishonesty on the part of OSS.

Wedemeyer immediately ordered that all POW rescue efforts in Korea "be reconstituted and completely divorced from Eagle project." Wedemeyer's chief of staff recommended sending Bird back to the United States at once for disciplinary action. Colonel Davis, the most senior OSS officer then in Chungking, panicked at Wedemeyer's rage and wired Heppner, advising him to replace Bird immediately as the head of the Eagle project. Heppner complied, designating Gustav Krause instead. Further, Heppner instructed Davis to "take whatever steps you deem necessary to keep Bird out of contact with all persons outside 055 and theater Headquarters.". On the same day, Heppner hurriedly informed Donovan of developments and urged the director in Washington to "take whatever steps may be necessary to protect the organization [OSS]. Donovan sent back an angry reply the next day: "Make sure that action taken [against Bird] for violation of your orders. If necessary, send Bird home at once or, in your discretion, prefer charges.". Two days later, to tighten control over OSS/China public relations, Heppner appointed Roland Dulin, the MO chief, as public relations officer in charge of all press releases; Heppner also ordered that no OSS personnel be allowed to discuss 0SS activities with any member of the press. On 28 August the entire Eagle team was ordered back to Xian for reorganization. Two days later, the mission was canceled because an American corps would shortly occupy the Korean Peninsula.' As for Willis Bird no harsh action ever befell him, aside from becoming the laughingstock of Chinese Communist intelligence.

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The OSS in Korea: Operation Eagle

by Bill Streifer