The Rice Paddy Navy: U.S. Sailors Undercover in Mainland China

Published on
March 7, 2013
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Linda Kush
Other Publication Information
Hardback, 352 pages, 25 photographs
Company: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site

Thank you to John Tintera of Osprey Publishing and the IPMS Reviewer Corps for allowing me the opportunity to review this very intriguing aspect of U. S. Navy history. Author Linda Kush is a superb writer, bringing an excellent balance of engaging stories to historical facts.

The Rice Paddy Navy is the unofficial name for the 3,000 or so USN sailors, officers, Marines, and a few other branch members detailed to the Sino-American Cooperative Organization, also known as SACO. Author Kush’s father was a SACO veteran, and this is the first description of this little known operation since the memoirs of the commanding officer, Captain Milton “Mary” Miles, were published in 1967.

All aspects of SACO from startup in 1942 through post-war dissolution are described from many viewpoints of many participants, highlighting the odd and challenging missions. In short, SACO American and Chinese nationals worked side-by-side, doing all things anti-Japanese, from sabotage, guerilla warfare, cryptography, intelligence gathering, weather data collection, downed aircraft and crew rescue, combat training of thousands of insurgents, and many more operations. Captain Miles’ first task was to win the confidence of Chiang Kai-Shek’s mysterious intelligence chief, General Dai Li, whose spy network had already generated significant data on Captain Miles! Many varied cultural obstacles and barriers had to be overcome, and there were many other complications, not the least of which was the rising Communist party with none other than Mao Tse Tung and Zhou En Lai. Every one of the 20 chapters is a great read. A delightful and, yes, comic connection is made with a classic “funny pages” serial comic strip Terry and the Pirates in chapter 18. Apparently, the strip’s story line started to resemble SACO’s activities a little too much. The Washington Navy brass started to get a bit nervous and asked the artist, Milton Caniff, to back off for a while. He cheerfully did, but tellingly, Mr. Caniff was later invited to a SACO reunion!

While there is no need to describe further the merits of the book, I feel there is a particular poignancy to the last chapter, Wrapping Up and Looking Back. The bitter inter-service rivalry with SACO’s detractors did not end with the war, and appears to have permeated later relations with the now communist China. In thinking about the whole SACO operation, I found myself wondering about French Indochina. Perhaps there are parallels or lessons in SACO’s demise with Ho Chi Minh and the French government in what was later to become the Vietnam War. I am certainly no historian, but there appears to be enough similarity to raise the question in my mind. Perhaps there are Iraq and Afghanistan comparisons, too. Enough of that! But Rice Paddy Navy did trigger the thoughts.

The SACO veterans developed a bond with their Chinese counterparts that transcended generations. Many of them continued after the war with astonishing contributions in the civilian and military sectors. Two years ago, several of the remaining octogenarian veterans returned to the Republic of China as guests of the Military Intelligence Bureau. It was very clear to the veterans that their young hosts inherited the legacy of SACO. I hope that all of us in this country would also do the same for our veterans, regardless of our backgrounds and beliefs, at whatever ages our veterans are.

Thank you again to John Tintera of Osprey Publishing and the IPMS Reviewer Corps! This review was a delight to do, and surprisingly introspective. I hope you enjoy the read.


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