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More AF 'Black Cat' heroes are enshrined

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The ashes of three pilots and two paratroopers who worked aboard surveillance airplanes and were killed on missions during the Cold War were enshrined yesterday at the Martyr's Shrine in Yuanshan, suburban Taipei.

The five were the last of 159 Air Force martyrs who belonged to the Black Cat and Black Bat squadrons flying U.S.-made U-2s, P-2Vs and other surveillance aircraft from the 1950s to the 1980s who have been enshrined as national martyrs, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said.

Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu officiated at a memorial service at the Martyr's Shrine, which was also attended by the families of the dead and surviving squadron members.

Between 1961 and 1974, 28 Republic of China Air Force pilots joined the reconnaissance Black Cat Squadron, formally known as the ROCAF 35th Squadron, flying U.S.-made U-2s — reputed to be the most difficult airplane in the world to pilot — to gain strategic intelligence in the sky 7,000 feet above China after Beijing was found to be developing nuclear bombs with the assistance of the Soviet Union.

The reconnaissance Black Bat Squadron, formally known as the ROCAF 34th Squadron, was established in 1953 through Taiwan-U.S. military cooperation, with Washington offering aircraft and surveillance technical support and Taipei providing logistic support and aircrew.

The Black Bat Squadron flew 838 sorties over China between 1953 and 1972 to photograph and gather military intelligence. Usually, they took off from the Hsinchu air base at night and returned in the morning. Because their missions were conducted at night, they were named the Black Bats.

During the period, 15 airplanes either crashed or were shot down. Altogether 148 members of the squadron were killed — two-thirds of the squadron strength.

The Black Cats and Black Bats' missions were highly confidential, and any member killed in the line of duty was listed by the Air Force as simply “missing in action.”

Most of the Black Cats and Black Bats are buried in China where they crashed or were shot down. The remains of 28 squadron members have been located, exhumed and returned to Taiwan, but the remains of 27 others, mostly Black Bats, remain unaccounted for.

One site in Shangdong Province and another in the Liaodong area were recently identified as crash locations of Black Bat aircraft, although the exact location where the crew's remains are buried is still unknown, according to the MND.

The MND has asked for the assistance of the Mainland Affairs Council and the intermediary Straits Exchange Foundation to facilitate the recovery and return of the missing remains.

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