- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 7, 2006


In August 1956, a newlywed Navy pilot, Lt. James B. Deane Jr., was shot out of the sky on a nighttime spy flight off the coast of China. Nearly half a century later, a famous friend found himself in Beijing with a chance to quietly press Chinese leaders for more cooperation in resolving Lt. Deane’s fate.

The friend was Donald H. Rumsfeld, the defense secretary known for hard-line views on communist China. He and Lt. Deane were fellow Navy fliers and became buddies while stationed together in Florida in 1954 and 1955.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s personal connection to the Deane case is a coincidence of history not publicly reported until now.

The chief focus of Mr. Rumsfeld’s visit to Beijing last October was his concern about China’s military buildup. Privately, he also made a point of urging Chinese officials to look further into the Deane episode. Like other efforts he made on behalf of Lt. Deane’s widow before becoming defense secretary, his urging yielded no new answers.

The Cold War case has been clouded in mystery and secrecy since the Martin P4M-1Q Mercator in which Lt. Deane and 15 other men were flying was shot down over the East China Sea shortly after midnight Aug. 23, 1956. Mr. Rumsfeld raised it while also seeking more Chinese openness on all cases of missing U.S. servicemen.

“I remember the good times with him and remember the sorrow of losing him,” he said of his friend.

China has acknowledged that its jet fighters attacked the Mercator as it scooped up electronic intelligence on military radars and other sensitive Chinese systems. But China repeatedly has denied knowing Lt. Deane’s fate.

The remains of four crew members were recovered — two by the crew of a U.S. search vessel and two by China, which returned the bodies through British authorities in Shanghai. The other 12 were never found. Adding to the mystery were unconfirmed U.S. intelligence reports, in the months after the plane was shot down, that Lt. Deane and perhaps one other man may have survived the crash and been taken to a Chinese hospital.

A March 4, 1957, report by the 6004th Air Intelligence Service Squadron said two survivors of the Mercator attack had been moved in late November to the residence of a Chinese government official. Identifying information for one “appears to fit the description of Lieutenant (junior grade) James Brayton Deane, Jr.,” said the report, which was declassified in 1993.

The Rumsfeld-Deane link is the only known instance of a secretary of defense, whose official duties include overseeing U.S. government efforts to account for missing-in-action servicemen, having a personal link to an MIA involving China. It is a coincidence that Mr. Rumsfeld has kept out of the public spotlight in deference to Lt. Deane’s widow, Dr. Beverly Deane Shaver, who until now had pursued the matter in private.

Now Dr. Shaver is going public, eager to express her gratitude for Mr. Rumsfeld’s support and correct what she thinks has been a false U.S. government characterization of her first husband’s fate.

“He was declared missing, when I’m 99.9 percent certain he was not. He was alive,” she said in a telephone interview from her home in suburban Phoenix.

She and Lt. Deane were married May 19, 1956. He was 24 when the Mercator was shot down barely three months later.

A year after her husband’s plane was shot down, Dr. Shaver said, the Navy told her that Lt. Deane was presumed dead. Dr. Shaver, however, now feels she has seen enough evidence — including declassified intelligence reports — to conclude that he likely survived the attack, if not a subsequent detention.

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