Zhang Liyi, a former air force pilot, has led an extraordinary life.
When he was 12, his father was killed by the Japanese in Nanking at the outbreak of Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Zhang entered the Air Force Preparatory School and then the Chinese Air Force Academy as a cadet. After the end of Chinese Civil War in 1949, he came to Taiwan with his school and graduated in 1951. He got his commission and became one of the first air force’s jet fighter pilots flying the US-made F-84s. Being an excellent flyer, he was selected to be trained in the US as a U-2 pilot in 1963.
Returning to Taiwan after the training, Zhang was assigned to the 34th Squadron, the mystic “Black Cat Squadron”, an ROCAF secret unit operating on U-2s to fly reconnaissance missions over Communist China for CIA. On January 10, 1965, Zhang was shot down near Inner Mongolia and captured. His wife and family were told that he was killed in action and received compensation without knowing that he was still alive.
In 1982, Zhang was released and sent to Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the ROC government refused his request to come back. He had no choice but accepted CIA’s arrangement to go to the US.
His wife never stopped believing that he was still alive. She was later remarried but she made her second husband promise that she would marry back to Zhang once he was confirmed alive. In 1993, she went to the US and reunited with Zhang. They had lived happily together for another ten years until she died in 2003.
Zhang’s story is a miniature of a tragedy of the times.