By Dr. Charles H. Miles, Son of “Mary” Miles
Printed with permission
The concept of collecting intelligence and making weather observations in Japanese-held China was discussed during informal kaffeeklatsches in Washington for at least a year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Persons most important initially were Captain (later Admiral) Willis A. “Ching” Lee, Major (later Colonel in Chinese Army) Hsiao Sin-ju, and Commander (later Rear Admiral) Milton E. “Mary” Miles.
The Chinese had been searching for help in defeating the Japanese in a war that began in earnest on July 7, 1937 with the bombing of the Marco Polo Bridge in Peking. In Washington DC the wife of Mary Miles, “Billy”, was giving talks, with slides, about her family’s trip through parts of China and westward over the unfinished Burma Road. One of these presentations was attended by the wife of a Chinese assistant military attaché; she informed her husband that the Mileses seemed to understand China. Unknown by most, even those in his own embassy, this particular attaché, Maj. Hsiao Sin-ju, was the very trusted agent of General Tai Li, who in turn was the most trusted “lieutenant” of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the recognized leader of China. By the time that Miles departed the USA, April 5, 1942, the Chinese were convinced that he could work effectively with them.
Admiral Ernest J. King (Chief of Naval Operations) had given the newly promoted CDR Miles the following secret order: “You are to go to China, and set up some bases as soon as you can. The main idea is to prepare the China coast in any way you can for U.S. Navy landings in three or four years. In the meantime, do whatever you can to help the Navy and to heckle the Japanese.” CDR Miles arrived in China on May 4, 1942 and began to explore the prospects of establishing a joint Chinese-American project called, somewhat hopefully, “Friendship”.
During the second week of June, 1942, while hiding from a Japanese air raid in a rice paddy on the outskirts of Pucheng, Fukien Province, China, General Tai told CDR Miles:
“The United States wants many things in China – weather reports from the north and west to guide your planes and ships at sea – information about Japanese intentions and operations – mines in our channels and harbors – ship watchers on our coast – and radio stations to send this information. I have 50,000 good men . . . if my men could be armed and trained they could not only protect your operations but work for China too.”
The General then made possibly the most unusual offer in the history of the U.S. military:
“Would your country allow you to accept a commission as general in the Chinese Army, so that we could operate these men together?”
CDR Miles replied “O.K.” and the General offered his hand in his acceptance. It should be noted that the simple act of shaking hands was a foreign concept to the Chinese in those days.
The Generalissimo, during discussions concerning the enhanced plans for Project Friendship, “suggested” the necessity for a formal agreement defining the requirements and the obligations of each country. The name for the newly conceived entity was chosen to be descriptive of the goals: Sino-American Cooperative Organization.
In addition to waging war against the Japanese, CDR Miles and Gen. Tai worked out the formal document for about four months; repeatedly translating it to English, checking it, and translating it to Chinese with a different interpreter and checking it again. The final agreement was signed by the Generalissimo and on April 15, 1943, by President Roosevelt. The document was then placed in a safe in Chungking and neither Miles nor Tai Li referred to it again.
THE DIRECTORS OF SACO
General Tai Li became the director of SACO; CDR Miles, the deputy director. Although each had “veto power” over the other, whatever differences they encountered always were resolved by discussion and reason.
General Tai Li was the head of the Secret Service in China. He was fiercely loyal to, and completely trusted by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. U.S. intelligence summaries gave a picture of General Tai as being a man who distrusted all foreigners, was an assassin, murdered his own mother at least twice, and worse. He proved to be trustworthy, resourceful, and loyal to his men – Chinese and American – as well as to his country. General Tai Li died on March 17, 1946; his mother, in the mid 1950s. Miles regularly wrote her with “news” of General Tai and she never learned of her son’s passing.
Early in 1942 General Tai formulated a Chinese name – Mei Lo-suu – for CDR Miles. The Mei is the winter plum blossom, China’s national flower, which blooms in the dead of winter against all adversity. This name was very meaningful and showed that General Tai saw in Miles hope for China and the potential of victory during the bleak winter of Japanese occupation.
Throughout the war, Miles was not only an officer in the U.S. Navy – initially a Commander he was promoted to Captain in November, 1942, then Commodore on March 22, 1944, and “spot” promoted to Rear Admiral on August 13, 1945 – but as well a Lieutenant General in the Chinese Army. Until early 1944, Miles also was a Director or Coordinator for the fledgling Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) in the Far East.