Grave and Serious Warning
It was the practice of the People’s Republic of China, in the 1960s, to issue what
they called a Grave and Serious Warning to the United States when they considered
that an American aircraft had flown into what they claimed to be their air space, or
in their opinion “harassed” one of China’s merchant ships.
This situation mostly occurred near Hainan Island, which was clearly China, or one
of the small islands in the South China Sea, such as the Paracel Islands, not so clearly
the possession of China. Recall that China claims Taiwan as part of China. The United
States had patrolled the South China Sea since World War II. Particularly, the part off
Vietnam, and across the sea lanes between the Philippines and the main land were of
interest to the United States.
The nationality of merchant ships in the region was reported by the U.S. Navy to various
agencies. This was in itself not intrusive. But by the 1960s tension had increased with
China and the U.S. Almost any encounter had the potential for attention. It was also safe
to say that there was an attraction to close surveillance by American pilots. I was no
exception. In one case I had saved the JATO takeoff assistance rockets and discharged
them close aboard a China merchant. This situation generated a Grave and Serious Warning
from China. When told, my flight crew seemed pleased, perhaps with the exception of my
technical officer who was a very serious man.
In 1968, while assigned to the National Security Agency, I found a propaganda magazine
in which a photograph was shown of our aircraft and implying that we had bombed and
strafed the merchant ship. The magazine, from China, was in English and focused mostly
on U2 over flights of China, but we were included as part of the conflict with the United
The subject photograph is included in these stories, the aircraft is mine and our crew, and
the dates match my flight log book.
JCS 21 October 2011