TAIPEI (CNA) — Brent Christensen, director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), on Sunday attended for the first time an annual ceremony that commemorates a battle in which Taiwan fended off an attempted invasion by China 62 years ago.
The memorial for the soldiers who were killed during the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1958 was held at Taiwushan Cemetery in the offshore Kinmen County, which was the frontline of Taiwan’s battle against the Chinese communist forces in that era.
Christensen, the U.S.’ top envoy to Taiwan, was the only foreign dignitary who attended the ceremony, at which President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) laid a wreath and bowed in homage to the soldiers who died in a battle known as the Artillery Bombardment of Kinmen.
On Aug. 23, 1958, nine years after the Republic of Taiwan (R.O.C.) government relocated from mainland China to Taiwan during a civil war, Chinese communist forces launched an attack on the R.O.C. military in Kinmen, which lies less than 10 kilometers off the southeast coast of China.
Over the next 44 days, 475,000 artillery shells were fired at Kinmen in an attempt to take over the Taiwan-controlled island, but the R.O.C. forces held off the Chinese bombardment, according to Taiwan’s historical records.
During the battle, the U.S. government responded to the R.O.C.’s request for help, under a mutual defense treaty, and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered a reinforcement of the U.S. Navy Seventh Fleet in the area, bringing an end to the Chinese bombardment.
The Artillery Bombardment of Kinmen was recorded as a significant battle that helped safeguard the R.O.C. government on Taiwan.
In a Facebook post Sunday, the AIT said that after Christensen attended the memorial for the first time, he laid wreaths at Kinmen’s Shuito Monument, which honors two American military officers — Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Medendorp and Lieutenant Colonel Frank Lynn.
The two officers were killed in the line of duty, during the First Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1954, in which Chinese artillery also bombarded Kinmen, the AIT said.
“Commemorations such as these remind us that today’s U.S.-Taiwan security cooperation builds on a long and proud history that exemplifies the phrase ‘Real Friends, Real Progress,'” the AIT said on its Facebook page.
Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Xavier Chang (張惇涵) on Sunday thanked Christensen for attending the Kinmen memorial, saying that the participation of American friends had added special meaning to the event.
“Taiwan will continue to enhance cooperation with like-minded countries to contribute to regional peace and stability,” he added.
Sunday’s ceremony was also attended by 100 veterans, who survived the 1958 bombardment, and relatives of those killed in the battle.
Wang Shu-yin (王樹印), head of the 823 Artillery Bombardment Veterans Association, said that of the 20,700 soldiers who fought in the 44-day battle, 9,000 are still alive.
One of the veterans, 85-year-old Lee Wu-kun (李戊坤), said it took him two weeks to recover from the injuries he suffered during the battle. He said Sunday’s memorial was an emotional event for him.
Another veteran, 81-year-old Lai Jen-hsuan (賴任選), said the sacrifices made by his fellow soldiers in 1958 had helped to protect Taiwan.
“War is merciless and cruel, that is why we need to keep the peace,” he told reporters.
According to government data, 439 R.O.C. military personnel were killed and 1,911 injured in the 44-day bombardment of Kinmen in 1958. In addition, 80 civilians lost their lives and 221 suffered injuries, the data showed.