LT Junior Grade James Deane USN
COLD WAR MIA - August 22, 1956
From : Cold War Incidents
As Reported By DPMO JANUARY 2003
Incident Total: 14 Personnel Total: 165
8/22/56 Navy P4M crew of 16 shot down by Chinese fighters off the Chinese coast near Wenchow. Remains of LCDR Ponsford and AT1 Martin recovered by U.S. ships. Remains of AT1 Haskins and AT3 Curtis recovered and returned by Chinese. 12 crew members remain unaccounted for.
Aircraft Type - P4M
BARBER, DONALD W - MISSING
CARON, WARREN EDGAR - MISSING
DEANE, JAMES BRAYTON - MISSING
FLOOD, FRANCIS ARTHU - MISSING
HUMBERT, WILLIAM M - MISSING
HUTCHINSON, MILTON - MISSING
LOUNSBURY, HAROLD E - MISSING
MESSINGER, CARL EDWI - MISSING
POWELL, WALLACE W - MISSING
SPRINKLE, DONALD EUG - MISSING
STRYKOWSKY, LEONARD - MISSING
YOUNG, LLOYD LAWAYNE - MISSING
CURTIS, JACK ALBERT - NEGOTIATED REMAINS
HASKINS, WILLIAM F - NEGOTIATED REMAINS
MATTIN, ALBERT PERRY - BODY RECOVERED
PONSFORD, JAMES W - BODY RECOVERED
Thanks to our member Beverly Deane Shaver, M.D. for sharing this :
Truth and Lies
Did Navy pilot James Deane die during a top-secret mission, as the Navy told her? Or should she believe U.S. intelligence reports that he'd been captured alive? Desperate for answers, Beverly Shaver turned to two allies: old friend Donald Rumsfeld and her daughter
By Katherine Shaver
Sunday, May 7, 2006; Washington Post
On her way to the gym one afternoon in 1992, my mother stopped by a Phoenix bookstore to check out a new book titled Soldiers of Misfortune: Washington's Secret Betrayal of American POWs in the Soviet Union. Perched in an aisle, she scanned the index under "China" and, upon flipping to page 185, read two paragraphs that almost brought her to her knees.
They were an account of a U.S. Navy plane that had been shot down off the coast of Shanghai during a Cold War spy mission in 1956. My mother already knew plenty about the incident. Of the 16 men aboard, the Navy said, only four mangled bodies had been recovered. The other 12 crew members were never found. One year later, the Navy declared them dead. No one, it concluded, could have survived such a crash.
The crew's families believed their government. They included my mother, then named Beverly Billinger Deane. Her college sweetheart, Lt. j.g. James Brayton Deane Jr., 24, had been one of the lost plane's pilots. At the age of 24 and married just three months, my mother had suddenly found herself a widow.
Yet, here she was, nearly four decades later, reading a far different story.
"American intelligence knew that two of the crewmen had survived the shoot-down," my mother read, feeling the shock pour over her. The two Americans had been rescued by a Chinese patrol boat, the book said, and were taken to an army hospital.
The book -- by journalists James D. Sanders, Mark A. Sauter and R. Cort Kirkwood -- quoted a declassified U.S. Navy report dated almost two months after the crash. The unnamed crewmen had recovered and were being imprisoned in China, the report said. Their existence was so secret, the book said, "that the U.S. government never asked the Chinese to return the Americans."
My mother bought the book, slipped it into her purse and continued on to the gym. After working out in stunned disbelief, she read over the two paragraphs again, then stepped into a locker room shower and cried.
It had been 36 years since the morning she had awakened to another Navy wife tapping urgently on the screen of her open bedroom window. She was living in a cramped rental house near Iwakuni Naval Air Station in Japan. "There's been a little trouble with the plane," her friend said. My mother searched for her robe. The squadron's executive officer and a chaplain were at her front door.
Over the next several days, my mother would learn only that the crew of her husband's Martin Mercator P4M-1Q had sent one emergency message saying it was under attack. Then the radio cut out. Nothing had been heard from the crew since.
Within a week, my mother found herself headed back to the States on a Navy transport plane. Three weeks after that, she returned to her third year of studies at Cornell University medical school deep in a fog of grief. It took two more years before she gave up hope of ever seeing her vibrant, handsome husband again.
When a surgical resident asked her out on a date three years after the shootdown, my mother, by then a pediatric resident in New Orleans, accepted. He made her laugh for the first time she could remember. One year later, she agreed to marry him, removed her first wedding ring and took down the framed military portrait of the man she had vowed to love for life. Her second husband, Jim Shaver, would become my father.
After returning home from the gym that night in 1992, my mother showed my father her bookstore purchase. Look at this, she said. As my father read, my mother recalls, he looked stricken.
You never buried him, was all he said, looking up.
I never had anyone to bury, she said.
Do you think he's alive? my father asked.
After 32 years of marriage, she knew what he was thinking. "Even if Jim Deane were found alive," she recalls telling him, "you're my husband. I'd never go back to a previous marriage."
Her lost husband had never been an issue between my father and her. Still, my mother could feel the grief filling a void she thought had closed decades earlier.
"Jim Deane was dead," my mother says. "The government said he was dead."
But at 60 years old with four grown children, she suddenly wasn't so sure. Had two crewmen from the plane actually survived? If so, which two, and what had happened to them? Why hadn't the U.S. government ever told her or the other wives and families?
In 1993, one year into her search for answers, my mother made another startling discovery. A newly declassified U.S. report citing an intelligence source described the two surviving crew members. One was well-built and tall. He had slightly raised cheekbones and thin lips. "This description," the intelligence officer wrote, "appears to fit that of Lt. j.g. James Brayton Deane, Jr."
I NEVER HEARD THE NAME JIM DEANE until I was 7. My mother had taken my two sisters, my brother and me on a 1976 summer trip through California. My father, a surgeon with limited vacation time, had stayed behind in Phoenix. At a Japanese restaurant in Los Angeles, my mother ordered sukiyaki, with a raw egg in which to dip her slices of meat. The waitress seemed surprised at her request and commented how few Americans knew the Japanese custom of the raw egg.
"Don't you wonder why I know how to eat this?" my mother asked us. "It's because I used to live in Japan." It was then that she told us about her first marriage.
My oldest sister, Anne, then 14, asked what I immediately wanted to know: "Is he our dad?"
No, my mother assured us. Daddy is your father.
After that dinner, my mother rarely mentioned her first husband, and we didn't ask much about him.
While I was home for Christmas in 1992, however, that would change. As our family gathered for lunch by the backyard pool, my mother raised the subject as suddenly as she had in that Japanese restaurant. She told us about the book she'd found. My brother, Jos, remembers my father staring quietly at his shoes.
You don't think he's alive, do you? my brother recalls asking.
Oh, no, no, no, my mother said.
We didn't know, however, that the search for this previous husband had already begun to consume my mother's life.
Unlike some military widows and family members, my mother had not spent much time trying to learn Deane's fate. For about a year after the crash, she wrote letters to the military and U.S. government asking for details about the investigation. The Navy repeatedly told her that all information was classified and that everyone had likely died in the crash.
After her husband was declared dead one year later, she says, she compartmentalized her grief enough to move on with her life for 35 years. However, she had always promised herself that someday she would find out what he had been doing when he vanished. He had been secretive about his missions, saying they were highly classified.
In 1992, before finding the book, my mother watched on C-SPAN as a U.S. Senate committee held hearings on the fate of missing U.S. military personnel from the Vietnam War. With decades-old military records being declassified, my mother thought the time had come to learn more about her first husband's Cold War missions.
After reading about the two reported survivors, she hunted down former Navy pilots and intelligence officers. Some were long dead. Others, then in their eighties and nineties, didn't remember the shootdown or were too feeble to talk. She filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, seeking records from more than 25 U.S. military and government agencies. Often, she says, she felt like she was battling her own government to get 40-year-old answers.
From other pilots in her husband's squadron, my mother learned that Deane had been part of a U.S. program of "ferret flights," a highly secretive piece of the Cold War. In missions far riskier than my mother had ever imagined, Navy and Air Force planes searched out the land-based radar systems of Communist bloc countries. Their goal was to get caught. Only then, when the enemy had picked up a plane on radar, could the technicians in the rear of the U.S. plane detect that radar's location.
Sometimes, if the Americans strayed too close, they got shot down. The Pentagon office charged with investigating missing and imprisoned military personnel lists 126 Americans missing from such Cold War shootdowns.
When the U.S. government couldn't give her answers, my mother took her search to China. On a visit to Beijing in 2000, she sought help from Li Xiaolin, vice president of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship With Foreign Countries. The association, with ties to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had helped other Americans with MIA cases. But Li told my mother that China's defense agencies still considered all records about Deane to be "highly classified." If he'd gone down with the plane, my mother reasoned, why would the Chinese government have any records on him?
My mother also was surprised by the about-face of a retired top Chinese Air Defense official. In 1999, he told a mutual acquaintance in great detail how the Chinese had arrested "two pilots" from the shootdown amid great celebration. However, a year later, the official said his memory wasn't so clear. Moreover, his family didn't want him interviewed again unless someone from the Chinese government was present.
My mother's conclusion: "Someone got to him."
In the beginning, I figured my intelligent mother, who had practiced pediatrics before her second child was born, merely needed a project now that she was an empty nester. She had never given up on anything easily. She also never did anything halfway. When she started drawing and painting as a hobby, she didn't just take classes. She turned our guest bedroom into an art studio.
I sometimes wondered whether she was merely romanticizing a man who now had the JFK effect -- gone but forever young in her mind, not the 73-year-old man he would be today. I never considered that what drove her might be a sense of guilt or loyalty, even love. My mother told me recently that she couldn't stop picturing the awful possibilities. While she had gone on with her life, her first husband might have been imprisoned or even tortured. What if, she'd often think, he were still alive and waiting to be found?
After a couple of years, my mother's search began to exact a physical and emotional toll. She mentioned trouble sleeping. "I'd lie in bed all night and think of whom I was going to FOIA next," she recalls. She needed medication for high blood pressure. She looked drawn, tired, older than her age.
I often wondered how my father put up with it. I chalked it up to his kind, giving nature -- the traits that made nurses and patients rave about his gentle bedside manner. I never doubted the strength of my parents' marriage. Still, my siblings and I sometimes discussed our fears that my mother's quest would cause a strain. When she would talk about her research, my father often would look toward the floor and sigh.
"Sometimes I would tell her, 'This is too much,'" my father says. But he knew she wouldn't quit. "It was something she was going to do and something she had to do. That was my job as her husband, to support her."
What upset him most was watching the toll the search took, he says. He asked medical colleagues and grief recovery experts for advice. He urged her to seek counseling.
"Nobody would understand," she told him.
Through it all, my mother believed she had an important ally: Donald Rumsfeld. He and Deane had become close friends in 1954 while attending Navy flight training together in Pensacola, Fla.
After her husband's shootdown, my mother and Rumsfeld stayed in touch, mostly through Christmas cards. When my mother began her search in 1992, Rumsfeld was a business executive in Chicago. She addressed her letters to him as "Rummy." He wrote back to "Bo Bo," her college nickname. She hoped he might tap his connections from his days as President Gerald Ford's defense secretary.
He lined up letters from Ford and former secretary of state Henry Kissinger, asking the Chinese government to assist my mother. After Rumsfeld became defense secretary under President Bush, one of his aides followed up on my mother's inquiries.
"He feels a certain debt about all this," the former aide, Rich Haver, says of Rumsfeld's interest in Deane's case. "This is very personal."
Still, my mother says, she got the sense that Rumsfeld believed she would never get the answers she sought.
"You should make a movie out of this," Rumsfeld suggested during a meeting in his Chicago business office in 2000.
"I can't," she said, "It wouldn't have an ending."
While I was visiting my parents in spring of last year, my mother, now 73, confided to me that she'd exhausted her search, and she still didn't know what had happened to Deane. Maybe a reporter would dig up something she couldn't, she said. Would I help?
"I think you'll open any doors that can still be opened," my mother told me, "and close any doors that need to be closed. This is my swan song."
THEY MET AT A FRESHMAN MIXER at Cornell University, introduced by a friend who told my mother, "He'd be perfect for you."
Jim Deane had grown up affluent in East Grand Rapids, Mich. His father had run a desk manufacturing company but had recently had some financial troubles. A Naval ROTC scholarship offered Deane a student deferment from the Korean War, a way to pay for college and the chance to earn his wings.
He'd been a top student in high school, vice president of his senior class and a varsity letterman in football, basketball, track and swimming. His younger sister, Pam Deane Truog, remembers his childhood bedroom full of model airplanes.
The glamour associated with her new suitor's military status wasn't lost on my mother. Pilots "were really the fair-haired heroes of the Navy," she recalls. By junior year, she had decided Deane was the one she wanted to marry. The question was when. He owed the Navy three years before he could pursue a business career. Following him around the world as a Navy wife, even for a few years, meant my mother would have to delay her medical school plans. It was a choice she hadn't sorted through yet. After college graduation, he left for Pensacola to become a pilot while she went to Manhattan to become a doctor.
"It wasn't until he went away and I was in medical school and couldn't see him but every four to five months that I thought I was going to go crazy," my mother says.
When she visited him in Pensacola, my mother often stayed off base with Rumsfeld and his wife, Joyce, while Deane lived in the bachelors' quarters. The couples spent their free time water-skiing and sailing.
"We were 21 or 22, and we were all going through flight school," Rumsfeld recalls. "We'd socialize together. We'd study together and work together and fly together . . . We'd have cookouts. We didn't have much money, so we just kind of hung around."
Rumsfeld remembers his friend as "very smart and very engaging and big. He enjoyed life. He was a serious person who worked hard."
Near the end of the 18-month flight training, Deane got some frustrating news. Instead of jets, he'd been assigned to prop planes. Flying the lumbering multi-engine planes, he told my mother gloomily, "was just like driving a bus."
A few months later, he got his orders. He'd be with the VQ-1 squadron, otherwise known as "Electronic Countermeasure Squadron One," in Iwakuni. He'd heard the Navy was doing extensive background checks on him, probably for top secret clearance. He had to report for duty in two months.
Oh my God, my mother recalls saying in a phone call between Pensacola and New York. We'll get married, and I'll leave school.
I never wanted to ask you to do that, he said.
Two months later, on May 19, 1956, they married in her home town of Norwalk, Conn., amid the blooming dogwoods.
As she boarded a Navy plane to Japan that summer, my mother carried one small suitcase and her black medical bag stuffed with their wedding silver. Her new life in Iwakuni felt exotic and refreshingly carefree. She filled her days getting to know the other Navy wives, taking Japanese flower-arranging classes and practicing her cooking. On weekends, she and her new husband bicycled through the countryside and attended cocktail parties at the officers' club.
The squadron's wives didn't discuss their husbands' work, my mother says, because none of them knew what their husbands did. She recalls once climbing around the inside of the P4M-1Q patrol plane during a base open house for the crews' families. In the rear, black sheets covered what looked like small desks. My mother assumed that was secret surveillance equipment. Seeing the ribbons of ammunition hanging from the machine guns, she remembers thinking, "Why do they need real bullets?"
About a month after she arrived in Japan, my mother remembers, she chatted with her husband while he got ready for work.
I'm so glad I didn't get jets, he said, adjusting his tie in the mirror.
Really? she asked. Why?
Because what I'm doing now is so interesting and so valuable, she recalls Deane saying.
Two weeks later, his plane was shot out of the sky.
WHAT MY MOTHER DIDN'T KNOW was that her husband and his squadron were flying some of the most dangerous and secretive missions of the Cold War. It didn't take long for the Communist countries to figure out what the U.S. planes were doing. Former Navy pilots say they had to keep finding new ways to provoke the other side into turning on the radar.
"They absolutely knew we were there," says Karle Naggs, 72, one of Deane's colleagues. "They'd see us and shut down their radar, and then we'd fly along, and they'd turn it on again. It was a little bit of a game."
The VQ1 pilots usually flew at night, with the plane lights off and the windows darkened. Sometimes, pilots say, a Chinese or Soviet jet would begin following them or lock its airborne radar on the U.S. plane. The pilots of the larger, slower P4M-1Q would dive toward the ocean. Their prop plane would have enough time to pull out and cruise low over the water. The faster jets couldn't follow and pull out safely. A few quick turns, and the American plane would fly away.
The missions were so secret that crews didn't learn where they would be flying until hours before takeoff. Several pilots say they never knew for certain whom their missions collected radar data for but assumed it went to the National Security Agency. "I don't think anyone in the Navy knew what we were doing," says Gary Grau, 72, one of Deane's fellow pilots.
Many assumed that if anything went wrong over enemy territory -- a place where the United States never admitted to being -- their country would be in no position to rescue them.
"There was no doubt in my mind that if you crashed, there was no one coming to pick you up," says Naggs.
On Wednesday, August 22, 1956, six weeks after my mother had arrived in Japan, Deane took a nap to rest up for that night's flight. Later, my mother dropped him off at the hangar with a quick kiss goodbye. Though she usually didn't know how long he'd be away, he assured her he'd be home for a squadron party four days later. She spent the evening with another pilot's wife at a Japanese movie house watching "East of Eden."
Looking back, Deane's flight seemed doomed from the start. His would be one of two VQ1 planes flying that night: The first would stir up the enemy radar, enabling Deane's plane to pick up more signals. But the crew wasn't aware of two key factors that made that night's mission even riskier than usual, according to the follow-up investigation. Unknown to the Navy, an Air Force plane was flying in the same area. The VQ1 squadron also wasn't aware that U.S. intelligence had picked up two new Chinese radar systems that could better detect them in the Shanghai area. With the Air Force plane and the preceding Navy plane already stirring up the radar, the Chinese would be more than ready for a third plane off their coast. It also was a bright, moonlit night, the kind usually avoided because it made the planes easy targets.
Lt. Commander Milton "Hutch" Hutchinson, 35, one of the squadron's most experienced flyers, was in the chief pilot's seat. As the junior pilots, Deane and Lt. j.g. Frank Flood, 24, likely would have switched off during the flight between co-pilot and navigator, other pilots say. In the back of the plane were 13 men who captured the radar signals, worked the radio and manned the machine guns.
At 11:17 p.m., three hours into the flight and apparently unbeknown to the crew, Deane's plane caught the attention of the Chinese air force, according to a detailed account of the incident in a 2002 Chinese book titled The Fight to Protect Motherland's Airspace. Chinese radar tracked the plane for almost 45 minutes, when it then flew over China's territorial waters, according to the book's account. Air force pilot Zhang Wenyi, flying a Russian MiG-17F, intercepted the plane and, after receiving orders, opened fire.
Harry Sunder, now 72, an air intelligence officer and a friend of Deane's, was in the radio room back in Iwakuni when the emergency message came in.
"Oh my gosh," Sunder remembers thinking, "This can't be happening."
Though they had had plenty of close calls, a VQ1 squadron plane had never been shot down.
Zhang reported that he saw the plane's left wing in flames and continued firing until his ammunition ran out. He then watched it crash into the sea, according to the book.
The story of the shootdown was big news in the United States and China. It made the front pages of The Washington Post and the New York Times, just below headlines about President Dwight Eisenhower accepting the GOP nomination to run for a second term.
Secretary of State John Foster Dulles told reporters it was "apparently a routine patrol flight" that would "keep track of the shipping and the like in that area."
He made no mention of tracking enemy radar.
The Navy's Seventh Fleet began to search almost immediately for the downed plane. However, because of confusion about its last known location, the fleet got to the crash site more than 24 hours late. The United States and China exchanged diplomatic protests via the British. Chinese officials said they had not found any crew members and did not know their fate, according to declassified documents and press reports at the time.
Within the next week, U.S. Navy vessels would find the bodies of two crew members and bits of wreckage floating in the East China Sea. The Chinese returned the bodies of two more crew members, saying only that both had washed up on islands.
U.S. officials quickly realized they had a problem. In confidential memos, Navy officials noted that the last position the crew gave, along with the locations of one of the corpses and some of the wreckage, was well within what the Chinese considered the 12-mile territorial limit of their islands.
Concerns about the secret U.S. spy program being exposed reached the White House. One week after the crash, Eisenhower met with Dulles and Adm. Arthur W. Radford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The president "particularly objected to" the fact that, after three years in office, his administration "had no cover story ready" in case a spy plane was lost or shot down, according to a write-up of the meeting by Eisenhower's staff secretary. The State Department and military had "quarreled for a week over what they should say" about the shootdown, Eisenhower complained. If U.S. officials insisted the plane had never strayed from international airspace, American citizens were "entitled to demand to know why we do not do something about this incident," Eisenhower said. "Whereas, if we say the plane crew made an error, this statement is alleged to be [blaming] the Navy."
A TOP-SECRET NAVY BOARD of inquiry attributed the shootdown to a likely navigational error. Unexpectedly strong headwinds probably caused the plane to stray off course and over Chinese islands. The board concluded that, based on severe damage to the wreckage and bodies that had been found, "the existence of any survivors is considered improbable."
In their investigation, however, the officers conducting the inquiry ignored a disturbing piece of evidence. On the last day of the hearing, the "counsel to the court" read a brief statement into the record. According to an intelligence report received four days earlier, just two weeks after the crash, "Fairly reliable information indicates two seriously injured survivors of the P4M that was downed were captured by Chinese Communists within 35 minutes after the actual shoot-down," he said. "Both were taken to a hospital, where one died . . . The other is now presumably a prisoner of war."
That information, the court noted cryptically, was "not within its purview," and the board "did not pursue the foregoing matter further," according to its declassified report.
One year later, two military men from the United States visited Iwakuni asking VQ1 squadron members about the lost crew, two squadron members said.
"I was questioned," says Sunder, who had been Deane's suite mate before my mother arrived. "It was hinted there was a survivor or maybe two. He focused in on Jim."
What did Deane look like? one of the men asked. How would he react as a prisoner?
He'd be mad, Sunder remembers answering.
Would he be cooperative? one of the men asked.
No, Sunder said. I wouldn't say he had a temper, but I don't think he'd put up with anything.
At the end of the interview, Sunder recalls, his questioner told him: "This is all secret. You can't tell anyone about this."
Sunder says a thought came to mind: "Does Beverly know about this?"
With her new, married life suddenly gone and her husband listed as Missing in Action, my mother had returned to Cornell medical school. "It certainly doesn't feel right to mourn someone when you don't even know they are dead," she wrote a friend. Truog, who was 11 when her brother vanished, recalls how the disappearance of their only son devastated her parents. Their father, James Sr., wouldn't talk about it, she says. Their mother, Edna, a concert pianist, never played again for her own enjoyment. "She said it just made her too sad," says Truog, 61.
My mother spent late nights writing thank-you notes for still-arriving wedding gifts and responding to letters of condolence. She believed Naval officials' repeated assertions that no one could have survived the crash. Yet, she says, no one had convinced her that someone couldn't have first parachuted to safety. The scientist in her needed proof that her husband was dead, she says. She studied nautical charts of the East China Sea, trying to determine where currents would carry a person or wreckage.
She peppered the squadron's executive officer in Iwakuni with four pages of typewritten questions. She wrote to Eisenhower and top Navy officials, urging them to continue the search. She was repeatedly told the investigation was classified. Convinced the Navy would tell her nothing, she stopped writing.
WHILE MY MOTHER STAYED UP NIGHTS in Manhattan typing letters, she didn't know that a State Department lawyer in Washington was sharing her search.
Samuel Klaus had been assigned to prepare U.S. shootdown claims against China and the Soviet Union in the International Court of Justice. However, in detailed memos, Klaus wrote that he got little cooperation from the Navy, which had already dismissed the reports of survivors as lies.
It was in Klaus's State Department files, unearthed at the National Archives in the early 1990s, that my mother found most of the U.S. intelligence reports. The names of the sources who provided the information remain blacked out, still considered classified. The six reports, which began arriving two weeks after the shootdown and continued for nearly two years, gave the following account:
A Chinese patrol boat had rescued two badly injured crewmen about 35 minutes after the crash. The men were taken to a nearby hospital in "strict secrecy" before being transferred to an army hospital in north China. A nurse there reported that both had recovered and were transferred to the "residence" of Tsai Mao, the chief of public information for the social welfare ministry. Based on the physical descriptions provided and photos of the missing crew, one prisoner was believed to be Deane and the other either Warren E. Caron, 23, or Leonard Strykowsky, 22. A house boy where the two Americans were being held seven months after the shootdown said they were examined by a doctor twice a month and had "received favorable treatment." The final report said the older captive, known as "Mr. J" and fitting Deane's description, was living outside Beijing in the "residence" of a man named Ch'en Lung, who was assistant chief of the Public Security Department in Beijing. The other American, the report said, was "employed at the Sheng-Lung Corporation" in Shanghai.
Four of the six reports had been given an evaluation ranking of F6, meaning the intelligence officer didn't know the reliability of the source or the accuracy of the information, according to retired Far East intelligence officials. British diplomats questioned the first report's validity, saying they doubted China would conceal prisoners who could prove the United States had violated its air space, according to a letter from the British government. An internal Joint Chiefs of Staff memo noted that a CIA official considered the first two reports of survivors to be "almost certainly fabrication."
The only person who seemed to take the intelligence reports seriously was Klaus, the State Department lawyer. In detailed memos, Klaus questioned why Navy officials "had not demanded a return of any living personnel . . . and operated on the assumption that all were dead." Nearly three years after the shootdown, Klaus made the last entry in his file. He said he was dropping the case because the Navy had not provided enough evidence to prove that the Chinese had violated international law by shooting down the plane. Klaus died four years later.
James Doyle, now 80 and a retired vice admiral living in Bethesda, was one of the Navy officials whose cooperation Klaus had sought. Doyle said recently that he was too ill to be interviewed. However, he wrote, I could quote the following from him: "Intelligence officers told me that the reports of survivors had been investigated and found not to be credible. They didn't go into any detail but said that informants had fed us false information. I had no reason to doubt the intelligence officers, especially in light of witnesses' affidavits from the crash site and the Chinese Communist's penchant for disinformation. Judging from where the crewmen were found, the debris and the currents, it seemed highly unlikely that there were survivors."
One year after Deane disappeared, my mother accepted the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism on his behalf. She also received a letter from the Navy stating that he had been declared dead.
"Please rest assured," the letter said, "that if any additional information is ever received, it will be forwarded to you promptly."
LIKE MY MOTHER 10 YEARS BEFORE ME, I showed the intelligence reports to anyone I could think of: China experts, former Far East military and intelligence officials, retired VQ1 pilots and Chinese historians.
From my initial reading, the reports of Deane's survival seemed to make sense. A few details didn't quite jibe, but the description of one of the captives -- his height, the thin lips and high cheekbones -- matched Deane's photos. Most striking was one of the sources describing one of the Americans as "not hairy." It seemed like an odd feature to include. It also wasn't part of the physical description that the Navy had for Deane and wasn't apparent from his photos. Yet, my mother says, her husband's smooth, almost hairless skin was his most distinguishing physical trait.
And how could six reports from apparently different sources -- some to an Air Force intelligence unit in Japan and others to the Army in Korea -- all be fabricated with such similar details?
"Various reports seemed to fit well enough to me to sound right," says Eric McVadon, a retired rear admiral and U.S. defense attache in Beijing in the early 1990s. "I don't see any motive for someone making up all that."
However, McVadon is one of the few experts who didn't find flaws. Deane's colleagues and other P4M-1Q pilots believe it unlikely that anyone could have escaped from the plane in the first place.
The evasive dive toward the water would have put the already low-flying P4M-1Q too low for a parachute to open in time, pilots say. A pilot would have had to get out of the cockpit, buckle on his parachute and climb out a small tunnel in the belly of the burning plane into 170 mph wind without hitting a propeller or drowning in the parachute. If the plane was spinning or diving, pilots say, centrifugal force would have made even getting out of a seat very difficult, if not impossible.
"The issue is could you bail out safely at night over water when the plane was on fire or out of control? That's a big order," says John McIntyre, 76, a retired Navy captain who flew the P4M-1Q out of North Africa.
Even if two people did bail out, experts in China and Far East intelligence gathering during the 1950s say reports of their captivity seem far-fetched. The United States didn't have the sophisticated intelligence network to gather such detailed information, they say. Informants boasting of their inside sources would make up stories because they knew U.S. officials would pay for them. It wasn't unusual for informants to sell the same story to different branches of the U.S. military, they say.
James Lilley, a former U.S. ambassador to China who worked for the CIA throughout the Far East during the 1950s, says that a great deal of the U.S. intelligence out of China during that time turned out to be wrong.
"It was almost impossible to get this information out, and when you did get it out, it was almost always fabricated," says Lilley, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Many of the China experts and former intelligence officials I consulted also noted questionable details. For example, one report said a Soviet sergeant had piloted the attacking Chinese jet. But numerous military experts say the Soviets weren't flying Chinese planes in 1956, and even the Chinese government has since confirmed the attacking pilot was a member of the Chinese air force.
It didn't seem plausible, they say, that China would have kept two U.S. captives secret when they would have been proof that the Americans had been spying.
"Generally they'd make a lot of hay out of that propaganda-wise, and they'd try to horse-trade with the American government," says Sidney Rittenberg, a professor of China Studies at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., who was imprisoned in China for 16 years on charges of spying. "l don't know of any cases where people captured by the military were kept secret."
Most striking, many China experts note, were the reports that Deane and the other crewman were detained not in prisons, but in the "residences" of two Chinese officials. Captured foreign spies would have been immediately interrogated and kept in a prison, experts say. My mother says several experts told her that "residence" may have been a translation error referring to areas where security officials lived in or close to a prison.
Jin Ling, a Washington Post researcher in Beijing, set out to find whether Tsai Mao and Ch'en Lung, the two officials who reportedly detained the Americans, had ever existed. Jin could find no record of a Tsai Mao. However, she did find that Ch'en Lung, also known as Chen Long, was indeed assistant chief of the Ministry of Public Security in the early 1950s. Long died in 1958, but Jin tracked down his daughter, Liu Xiaohua, 60.
Liu said neither she nor her mother, Yu Haiyu, 86, remembered any foreigners ever in or near their living quarters in the Ministry of Public Security in downtown Beijing. From 1956 to 1958 -- during the time the reports said her father was detaining Deane in his Beijing residence -- her father suffered serious heart problems, and her parents lived in a coastal city 280 miles from Beijing, she said.
She wanted to help my mother, Liu said, and would try to contact some of her father's former colleagues. "I believe that this tragedy tells a lot: the unforgettable past, the true love between a couple and the desire for peace and happiness," Liu wrote. After checking, she said, none of her father's former colleagues could remember any survivors.
WHEN I STARTED LOOKING FOR ANSWERS IN CHINA, Americans who had done business there cautioned me that I would get nothing by calling people out of the blue. Everything happens through contacts and personal introductions, I was told. I spent four months calling and writing the Chinese foreign affairs and defense ministries, quasi-government organizations that specialize in military and foreign relations, and anyone who might know anyone in China.
I hit a wall.
The Ministry of Defense ignored me, as did the Chinese People's Association for Friendship With Foreign Countries. Two Post researchers who scoured the local libraries and publicly accessible archives found few records of the shootdown. The retired air defense official who initially said he remembered two pilots being captured and then changed his mind was now too sick to talk, I was told. The Chinese pilot who shot down the plane didn't want to discuss it, his brother said.
Even after almost 50 years, what I considered a small piece of Cold War history is apparently still an unbroachable topic in China.
This fall, Jia Xiudong, the Chinese Embassy's political counselor, agreed to meet with me. I knew it was likely my only shot at making a personal pitch. We met in a small room off the embassy's quiet lobby on Connecticut Avenue, just north of Dupont Circle.
I told him I understood the Chinese have said for years that they found no survivors. However, my mother and I still needed to reconcile that with the six U.S. intelligence reports to the contrary. I asked to see any historical documents China had in the case.
Jia responded pleasantly. "We've spent a great deal of time and energy and resources trying to help find anything, any clue even, about this case," he said. But, he said, he had nothing to add to what he had told me several weeks earlier by phone: that the Chinese never found survivors.
He said former secretary of state Colin Powell had asked about the case during a visit to Beijing in July 2001 and that Rumsfeld himself had asked about it again last October.
The Cold War, Jia said, is history. "We have nothing to keep away from you."
For the next 20 minutes, I asked again and again, as politely but as forcefully as I knew how, to see China's historical records about the shootdown. Each time, Jia reiterated that China had no records of survivors.
Could my mother or I see whatever historical records China does have? I asked.
"Even if she read them herself," Jia said, "there's no more information than we've shared with you."
Could she just see the documents for herself?
"I don't know," he said. "It depends on whether the documents are still classified. We could check it for you."
As Jia escorted me to the embassy's front door, I felt my mother's frustration. Jia shook my hand. "Please give your mother our best," he said with a warm smile. "We have tried very hard, but unfortunately, that is what we have."
After receiving no response, I wrote Jia that I was left wondering why, if China had never captured any survivors, no one in the United States had been allowed to see any evidence supporting that. Several weeks later, I received a two-page statement from the embassy. The Chinese government had searched its military and public security archives. It also had reinterviewed the Chinese pilot who shot down the American plane, along with other military officials involved in the incident. China's military archives had no records of Americans being captured alive, the statement said. Any retired Chinese military official who remembered survivors was probably confusing it with another Cold War shootdown. Jia said he couldn't supply the Chinese historical records because it would be too time-consuming to compile them from numerous archives.
The statement also refuted a new, curious detail. The United States, it said, had argued that a Chinese air force pilot's "memoir" mentioned that two people "were ejected from the cockpit of the aircraft." However, the statement said, the memoir had to be wrong because Deane's plane was flying too low for a parachute to open in time. It was more likely, the statement said, that the Chinese pilot saw "an ejection [of two people] after the aircraft was shot, rather than a voluntary bailout."
The Pentagon's POW/MIA office has never heard of such a memoir, nor of any Chinese account in which two crewmen were seen ejecting, or being ejected, from the plane, a Pentagon official says. Neither has my mother. The 2002 Chinese book also never mentioned two people being ejected. Perhaps they were two of the four crew members whose bodies were later found. Perhaps it was new evidence that two people did, indeed, get out alive.
I wrote and called Jia repeatedly, asking for more information. His assistant said the embassy was waiting on an answer from Beijing. I never heard back.
AFTER SIX MONTHS OF RESEARCH, I reluctantly conclude that Deane most likely did not survive the crash. I am still struck by the uncanny similarity between Deane and the physical description of one of the reported captives, but that is about all. In speaking with the most informed experts I could find, I believe the scales tip too much toward the likelihood that most of the information in the intelligence reports is implausible or wrong.
I am sickened by the thought that the pain and stress that has often consumed my mother for 13 years might have stemmed from an informant concocting a story for money. But I am also left with troubling questions. Like my mother, I wonder why the Chinese, if they have nothing to hide, refuse to release 50-year-old military records. And why won't they explain the new account of two crew members being seen ejecting from the plane before it crashed? I also share her dismay that, according to Klaus, the U.S. government didn't pursue reports of Deane's captivity more seriously.
My mother remains convinced that Deane parachuted from the plane and ended up a prisoner of the Chinese. How else could someone who hadn't seen him firsthand describe him so accurately? There was the hairless skin, the high cheek bones, the fact that one of the American prisoners was known as "Mr. J." Deane was the only crew member with a first or last name that started with "J."
"Do we presume someone made this up and it all came together to match up with Jim Deane?" she asks. "What are the chances of that happening?"
She also cannot forget the retired Chinese air defense official who initially said he remembered China capturing two crew members before he clammed up. Deane probably died in prison, my mother figures, but even that she can't be certain of. "It's not grief, it's something different," my mother says of the emotions she is left with. "It's the horror of not knowing. How do you deal with that?"
Finally, I am struck by a sad irony. Had the U.S. government followed through on its promise to tell my mother any new information gathered about her husband, my family and I would not exist. Worse yet, my young mother would have been left with a frustrating, lonely life. Had she known that Deane had been reported alive in China, she said recently, she never would have gone on another date, let alone married my father.
"In that sense all these lies allowed me to remarry, to have children, to have years of happiness," my mother says. "But it still angers me that I was lied to all those years."
On a particularly frustrating day toward the end of my research, my mother called and heard my voice choked with tears. Short of China suddenly deciding to open its military archives to me, I had hit the same dead end as she had. I had wanted so much to provide her a sense of peace, to help her let go rather than carry this search to her grave. I felt like I had failed her. Coming from a family where one does not cry easily, I hurriedly told my mother I would have to call her back. Instead, I wrote her an e-mail, saying I was exhausted. I told her my head hurt from banging it against a wall.
She wrote back within minutes, "I am 73 years old and have spent the last 13 years of my life beating my head against the wall." While she hadn't learned her first husband's fate, she wrote, she finally had what she needed. She was ready to call off her search.
"After all you've done and all I've done, there is no question in my mind that we have probably exhausted the possibilities," my mother wrote. "That is something that I never could have said before, and that in itself gives me great peace of mind and lets me get on with the rest of my life. The ironic thing is that some day -- some day -- the answer will come out. I probably will not be around to hear it, but you will."
Perhaps, but that possibility leaves me angry and sad, because my mother and I agree on something vital: Whether he died in the crash or was captured alive, James Deane gave his life for his country. A half-century later, his widow deserves to know how the story really ends.
Katherine Shaver is a reporter for the Post's Metro section. Staff writer Philip P. Pan, staff researcher Bobbye Pratt and researchers Jin Ling, Doreen Dai and Cherry Zhang also contributed to this story. Katherine and Beverly Shaver will be fielding questions and comments about this article Tuesday at 2 p.m. at washingtonpost.com/liveonline.
©2006 The Washington Post Company