Happy Valley



Summary of the location of Happy Valley


  • Happy Valley was located July, 1942, in an unnamed valley [lat. 29-35, long. 106-26] eight miles west of Chungking (now Chongqing), Szechwan (now Sichuan) Province

“Happy Valley” is the name given by the Americans to the base camp eight miles west of Chungking (now Chongqing); no one ever took credit for the epithet.  In July, 1942, Gen Tai transferred 200 acres of this high, secluded valley to the Chinese-American collaboration which later was named SACO.  This camp was both headquarters and a training facility; initially there were only two buildings and access was by foot paths.  A motor road, suitable for vehicles with good springs and tires, was completed to Happy Valley in 1945.

Early in September, 1942, the first contingent of men arrived in Chungking.  They were LT Daniel “Webb” Heagy, trained in radio intercept, and six enlisted radiomen – R. L. “Buck” Dormer, K.A. Mann and his brother L.H., T.J. O’Neil, John Taylor, and Ted Wildman.  They worked out of “Fairy Cave” – the name is a literal translation from Chinese – which was a house which Gen. Tai gave to CDR Miles shortly after his arrival in May.  Fairy cave was located on the highest hill in town and had been “hardened”; it had withstood a direct bomb hit.

On October 1, 1942, SACO moved into Happy Valley.  Shortly after, the men built a communications radio with parts from non-working sets.  Ted Wildman rigged a DF (direction finder) out of a couple of buggy-whip antennas, some “useless” oil cans, the one radio receiver, and a lot of lashed-together bamboo poles; no nails were available anywhere.

The first TBW, field portable transmitter, arrived late in the year.  It operated in the forty-meter band and the radiomen, after considerable adjustments, succeeded in raising San Francisco. “Captain Miles sent them back to work by asking “How come you couldn’t get Washington?””  (Miles, 1967, p 99).

The Happy Valley location was chosen because of its climate; it was cooler and less humid than Chungking.  However, in the Winter the doors were left open to admit light and the buildings were essentially unheated, except for small pots of burning charcoal called “hwapans.”  Everyone wore the same clothes indoors and out; the Chinese, quilted cotton uniforms and usually straw sandals with no socks; and the Americans, everything they owned.  During the Summer the uniform of the day for the Americans was shorts.

A second reason for the site selection of Happy Valley was that there was access to enough water for lots of men to take two baths a day.  The water pipes were made of bamboo and often leaked. Maintenance was a problem and gave rise to numerous comments about a shortage of  “Bamboo wrenches.”  For health reasons all water was consumed hot.  Newcomers learned that the clear glass of water in the summer burnt their fingers.  The men drank from individual teapots, through the spout.  Hot, moist towels were refreshing and readily available both Winter and Summer.

There were 15 Americans in Happy Valley on Thanksgiving, 1942.  By June, 1943 the complement had grown to 80 Americans who overflowed into three satellite facilities, one of which was in the larger valley to the east and later grew to be Camp Nine.  By the end of 1944 the entire facility, the headquarters at Happy Valley and Camp Nine, were referred to as “the valley.”

By May, 1943, the classes which had started with individual combat, demolitions, and radio, expanded to include photography, weather, medicine, and even fingerprinting and ballistics.  The first policemen’s class, 100 students, met over the hill, about one mile east.  The course was six months long and some of the graduates went to Kunming where they captured five spy radio stations and 35 puppet Chinese.

As of mid 1943 there were 10 buildings in Happy Valley.  Most were located on the main hill which was a shoulder of the mountains marking the west edge of the north-south valley system.

On top of this main hill was an antenna farm with a radio shack adjacent and
below. This was Radio Chungking, or “Mainradio” – call sign NKN.  The radios required a steady 120 volts which could be produced by small generators.  However gasoline to run the generators was expensive and of poor grade. Mainradio had access to “city power” which varied from 0 to 300 volts.  The radiomen learned to call the plant and check on the voltage before operations.

Before the installation of the SACO power plant in 1944 the artificial lighting in Happy valley was limited to candles and flashlights, batteries for which were very scarce.

House #1 was a quarter mile to the south of Mainradio hill, on the western edge of the Happy Valley, and hidden in a gully just below the quarry from which was mined all the stone for the camp.  Early on, in lieu of calisthenics the men scrambled up the mountain behind (west of) #1 house, about 1,000 feet; 42 minutes for a round trip was a “good” time. House #1 was the office-residence for Miles but early arrivals continually moved in; it became truly overcrowded.  House #2, next door to the south, was occupied by the communications group.  Down the gully to the east were buildings used by photo reconnaissance.

A mess hall was built half way up the Mainradio hill; it was the largest structure in the valley.  The galley was built in so that the food would be hot.  After a short while the Chinese and the Americans ate their meals side by side.

The dispensary was built into the mess hall building.  Part of the processing of the new arrivals was a regimen of preventive shots.

In 1943 Commander Meynier’s French group was housed in the valley just east of the Mainradio hill.  Difficulties arose that Summer with the arrival of 23 Siamese Army officers who had to be separated from the French to prevent fighting, even in the mess hall.

Up to the middle of 1944 almost all of the American SACO hands – only about one-quarter of the almost 3,000 total who ultimately served in China – stood duty in Happy Valley; they not only were indoctrinated and trained but also instructed the Chinese.  The approximately 2,200 men who arrived after this time generally went directly into the field and learned on the job, often under duress.  “In Mid-June, 1945, Camp Hank Gibbins was established near Kunming to help the newcomers to learn “how to eat, sleep, drink, & travel in China and at the same time maintain a cooperative spirit between the two nations.” (Miles, undated, p 96)

In August, 1944, the Chinese co-workers moved to Happy Valley.  In October, CDR George Bowman took charge of the Headquarters Unit which was organized into departments that used the prefix “S” to differentiate from the Army “G” and the Air Corps “A” notation.

Personnel (S-1) was headed by Maj. James Googe, who arrived in October, 1944.  The SACO roster had reached a total of 222 officers and 872 men, though a third of them were still in India. Up to this date important facts about the men, such as their specialties, training, and whereabouts, were kept in various men’s heads.

By the start of 1945 most of the Chinese and American departments were moved into one especially remodeled house which featured a secure map room with no windows for unauthorized spying, no corners to accumulate refuse or mildew, and wooden walls on which to pin maps.  The walls in fact were made of Camphor wood; the authorized personnel had to take frequent breaks to get fresh air.  Lieutenant Edward B. Martin told Miles, “I can’t live in that room any more than a moth could.” (Miles, 1967, p 286)

The heads of most of the departments occupied a single room.  The department head and assistant from each country occupied four desks arranged in a solid square; the American and Chinese counterparts faced each other.  The best-qualified man, whether Chinese or American, became the head of the section.  Chinese took orders from Americans; Americans, from Chinese. 

The squares of Operations (S-3) and Intelligence (S-2) were separated by a narrow aisle to facilitate the “inter-office” communication necessary for good planning.

This worked so well that Supply (S-4) and Communications (S-5) moved their squares next to each other, which allowed the efficient acquisition and distribution of scarce supplies with a minimum of paper passing.

Lieutenant Colonel B. T. (Banks) Holcomb arrived in May 1943, to take charge of RI, radio intercept, (S-6).  He was able to trace the various flights of Chennault’s planes, from Kunming to their targets, by plotting the stations that went on the air to warn the Japanese. 

Three times a day the locations of enemy ships were transmitted to U.S. submarines and daily digests of pertinent traffic went to ComInCh (the Commander in Chief, Admiral King), to the China-Burma-India Theater headquarters, and to General Tai’s B.I.S. (Bureau of Intelligence and Statistics).

In May, 1944 part of RI moved to Kunming and became “Fleet Radio Unit China”, or FRUChi, and was given its own direct line to Washington.  At headquarters the RI and traffic analysis group occupied a cement building which the men called “the white house” and was located about one-half mile south of the main hill.  It had been a prison in which Gen Tai incarcerated officers, mostly generals, who did not follow orders; ten days usually had been sufficient to revive compliance.  The direction finder (DF), built by Ted Wildman (one of the initial complement of six men) in 1943, was nearby on the shoulder of the mountain.  The mountain range trends north-south and the DF could monitor transmissions from most of China east of Chungking.  Sadly the “white house” currently is a tourist attraction, Baigong Guan, in which are showcased the “atrocities” of the Gen. Tai Li, the Nationalist party, and even SACO.

Commander I. F. Beyerly was in charge of Aerology (S-7).  He arrived in September 1943.

In October 1944 SACO began sending synoptic weather reports from Free and Occupied China and daily “canned”weather map, area map, and forecasts for up to 500 miles out to sea.  Early in 1945, Aerology moved into a new building almost a quarter mile east of #1 house on top of the hill that was the eastern edge of Happy Valley; SACO referred to it as Beyerly Hill.  Their conveniences included a teletype to “Mainradio,” a map room, a library, and a research department.

A post office was built onto the new headquarters to house ENS Eddie O’Toole, a bonded postmaster who arrived during Christmas, 1944.  Up to this time the sending and receiving of mail had been a persistent problem; letters had to be hand carried to India, or even the U.S., to be mailed. And he made sure mail reached the men as often as possible. 

Packages sometimes piled up, and those that evidently contained eatables (in connection with which Eddie’s guesses were apt to be infallible) often ended up by being sent to the most remote camp for which a convoy was ready to start.  Eddie would peer at the address. “Looks pretty smudged t’ me,” he would say. “Probably for Camp Three [or Four or something else].  They haven’t had any mail for a long time, and this sure won’t keep.” But he was fair about it and had no favorites.  He was just being practical, and I never heard a boy complain. (Miles, 1967, p 205-06)

About 15,000 Chinese completed training in Happy Valley by the end of 1944. Many more had been trained in the SACO Camps, especially One and Two. There were seven working guerrilla columns and four more columns of the L.P.A., Gen. Tai’s Loyal Patriotic Army. Plainclothesmen, about twice as many as uniformed guerrillas, supplied information about the plans and movements of the Japanese.

By April, 1946 only five SACO Americans remained in the valley.

There never was a military camp just like our headquarters.  We hoisted no flag.  We sounded no calls.  We practiced no salutes and we wore what was handy.  We walked, hiked, and scrambled, but we never marched.  It was the place to forget spit and polish but never cleanliness—to forget rank but not discipline.  Even I did what I could to be indistinguishable among the rest.

The surprising thing was that it worked.  The valley really served its purpose, which was to train guerrilla leaders and teachers, sabotage and demolition experts, solitary coast watchers, and weather reporters who were destined for lonely, isolated spots in a strange land. (Miles, 1967, p 137)


Cited reference:

Miles, M. E., 1967, A Different Kind of War, Doubleday & Co, Garden City, NY. 629 p.

Miles, M. E., (undated), SACO Photograph Albums: unpublished, v #3.

Provided courtesy of Charles H. Miles on July 22, 2010


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