By Alesha Monteith
The Rice Paddy Navy was a secret training
organization in China during World War II that
included the United States and China and
operated behind enemy lines. The real name
however was Sino American Cooperative
Organization (SACO). Its goal was to get Japan
to leave China.
The leaders of SACO were Admiral Milton
Miles, U.S. Navy, and Lieutenant General Tai Li,
Chief of Chinese Intelligence. Tai Li worked for
General Chiang Kai-shek.
Admiral Miles
General Tai Li
Chiang Kai-shek
Planning for SACO started in 1942. Admiral Miles
was sent to China to meet with General Tai Li. Li
said, “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. Would your country allow you to accept a
commission as general in the Chinese Army, so
that we could operate these men together?”
Flags joined together to show cooperation between the United States
and China during World War II.
SACO started in 1943 as a U.S. Navy weather and intelligence
reporting project. There were twelve weather stations
located from the Gobi Desert down to southern China. The
weather observers and agents would send information by
hand crank radios to headquarters in Chungking.
Weather Station – Sian, China
Chungking would then send it to the Pacific
Fleet Headquarters and to U.S. airplanes,
ships, and submarines in the area. These
reports were used in planning when and
where to attack the Japanese.
SACO coast watchers watched the Japanese
ships along the coast of China so submarines
could sink them.
Map of SACO locations in China. There were about 18 training camps in
China, Burma, and India. Other locations were used for intelligence
agents, guerilla columns, and saboteurs. Communication was done by
radio, runners, and homing pigeons.
Other Duties
• Worked with Chinese guerillas and pirates to
map the coast for possible landing sites from
Shanghai to Hong Kong.
• Photographed underwater defenses. Wore
Chinese disguises so they could take the
• Trained Chinese Nationalist guerillas in
sabotage, underground fighting, and handling
weapons and explosives.
• Rescue pilots shot down in Japanese territory.
Rice Paddy Navy Statistics
U.S. Navy Volunteers – 2,964
U.S. military killed – 5
Chinese members – 100,000
Chinese military killed – 10,000
Japanese killed – 31,345
Japanese wounded – 12,969
Japanese captured – 349
Ships sunk – 141; Trains destroyed – 84;
bridges blown up – 209
Because of what SACO and their trained Chinese
guerillas did, the Japanese were afraid to go
far from their camps or secure areas.
Japanese Prisoners
My Connection to the Rice Paddy Navy
Although the Rice Paddy Navy was a secret organization, I
know about it because I had a relative who was in it and
trained Chinese fighters. My Grandma’s uncle, Nelson
Bowman, was a member of this secret volunteer organization.
Nelson was born in Level, Maryland on October 23, 1920.
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Nelson joined the
Navy. In 1943 he volunteered for SACO. After going through
training, he traveled by train from Washington D.C. to San
Uncle Nelson’s Journey To China
Washington D.C. to San Francisco, California
San Francisco to India
From San Francisco, Nelson traveled by ship to
Calcutta, India, by going around Australia.
Calcutta, India to China
From Calcutta, Nelson traveled by train then airplane over the
Himalaya Mountains into Burma. From there he traveled by
truck to Chungking, China.
Main Base - Chungking, China
Uncle Nelson told my Grandma stories about the airplane ride
over the Himalayas. He said the plane was cold and the air
thin. They thought they would run out of oxygen. Nelson was
in China from July 1943 until December 1944. While in China,
Nelson moved around a lot and said he helped train the
Chinese how to fight and kill Japanese soldiers.
Nelson 1941 (baby is Grandma)
Nelson in Calcutta
Grenade Practice
Nelson with back to camera and gun over shoulder.
Nelson also said they would rescue pilots that had
been shot down over China. This is not a picture of a
rescued pilot, but of a Japanese plane they had shot
My Grandma did not know if Nelson had ever shot anyone
while in the Rice Paddy Navy. But he was very proud of
serving in it and with the people he served with. The Rice
Paddy Navy started holding reunions every year in 1956, and
Nelson only missed seven between then and when died in
Camp 3 Button
Thank You letter from Navy
Letter from Adm. Miles
I learned about the Rice Paddy Navy because of a relative that
was in it. High school kids in Taiwan study about the group in
History class. However most Americans have never heard of
the group or what they did. This shows you that history books
do not contain everything about history. To learn more, you
need to dig deeper on a topic or ask a relative. If we let it,
some history gets lost.

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