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They stared at one another across barbed wire. On one side, young men with rifles, far from home in a strange land, more lonely and afraid than they wanted to admit or have anyone know. On the other side, a little boy, also afraid, there out of hunger and desperation. To him it was not a strange land; it was Tsingtao, in northern China, his home.
The young men with rifles were U.S. Marines, in China because the last great battle of World War II, the invasion of Japan's main islands, had not been necessary. Japan had surrendered, and the Marines were sent to Tsingtao to repatriate remnants of the Japanese army.
The little boy was Tsui Chi Hsii. He was eleven and lived in a mud hut in the remote village of Chukechuang, only a hundred yards from the wire. He had never seen an American and knew nothing of the war that had just ended. All he knew was that the Japanese soldiers guarding his village had become very sad in the last months. Some had been crying. Then suddenly they were gone, and now there were new soldiers, Americans, at the wire.
They were tall, as conquering heroes should be, and, unlike the Japanese, they smiled at the children. They also always seemed to be eating, for they were constantly chewing.
The boy was so hungry; all the children were, dressed in rag cotton cloth pieced together by their mothers. They had a look of starvation, flesh stretched over their faces; their ribs were like bird cages. They held out their hands. The soldiers grinned, reached into their pockets, and tossed small packages of foil-wrapped strips to them. As the children gobbled them down, the soldiers laughed. The strips were green and sweet and tasted like nothing the boy had ever eaten. He didn't know what gum was.
It was mid-November 1945, and the young men were in the little boy's country, a harsh, bitterly cold environment of two landing strips, hangars, and Quonset huts surrounded by mountains. A long time had passed since they'd seen their own country.
One of the Marines at the wire was Jack Hutchins, called Big Hutch by his buddies. They called him Big Hutch because he played basketball and towered over most everybody else, and also to distinguish him from Little Hutch--James Hutchinson, his best buddy and teammate from Dalton, Georgia. Big Hutch was eighteen, a strapping six-foot-three, his blood a mix of Iroquois and Cherokee, his roots in the backwoods of Kentucky. In June 1944, the week after graduating from high school, he joined the Marines, partly out of patriotism drummed into his head by his father, Holt Lafayette, who had lost the use of his hands in World War I when his troop train was bombed in southern France. Another reason Big Hutch joined was to escape from that long-suffering, hard-drinking father.
Eight months later, in February 1945, he was on the black, volcanic-ash beach of Iwo Jima, 760 miles south of Tokyo, in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, as the American flag was raised on Mount Suribachi. Physical training in boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, and advanced infantry training at New River, North Carolina, hadn't been hard, but Big Hutch hated being yelled at, so he worked out his frustrations playing basketball. He was good; like most Kentucky boys, basketball consumed him, and he preferred practicing his jump shot to studying.
After infantry training, he went home to Kentucky on ten days' liberty while Little Hutch returned to Georgia to get married. Then they shipped out for the Pacific. Three months later they landed on Iwo Jima, an island a third the size of Manhattan, with 71,000 other Marines. Iwo was vital to the Americans in their island-hopping campaign across the Pacific; it would provide an emergency landing strip for B-29s bombing Japan from bases in the more distant Marianas.
But the Japanese were ready, having bored a maze of tunnels and caves in the coral to conceal eight hundred guns. Though Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi privately acknowledged that the end was near for Japan, he told his troops that Americans had no "desire for the glory of their ancestors, posterity, or for the glory of their family name. They go into battle with no spiritual incentive and rely on material superiority."
Iwo was to be a battle between the way of the warrior, Bushido, where death was honorable and surrender no option, and modern warfare--planes, artillery, and ship-to-shore landings.
For weeks, American B-24s had relentlessly bombed the island. On 15 February, six battleships, five cruisers, and planes from twelve carriers joined them, and four days later the Marines began their assault. The Japanese let the first waves get ashore, waiting until they reached predetermined zones, then they hit hard and cut off the rest. Marines loaded down with weapons and supplies drowned in the surf, while those who made it ashore found awkward footing in the volcanic ash.
A thousand Marines landed on the right wing that first day. By nightfall, only 150 hadn't been killed or wounded. Corpses washed ashore and bodies lay everywhere. It looked like hell had burned over. Hutchins's unit couldn't get on the beach the first day because of heavy fire, but the next morning, they got orders to make a break for it.
"The fan's been hit," Hutchins yelled in the landing craft at his friend Herbert Huwatacheck from Milwaukee, then they stormed the beach.
As they dug in, laying down fire for those clawing up the volcano, Big Hutch saw a small, tattered American flag rise triumphantly on Iwo's 556-foot summit. "My God," he thought, a wave of patriotic emotion washing over him, "We've taken Suribachi!" But then a burst of wind kicked up blinding black dust, and he lost sight of the flag.
By the end of the second day, they'd advanced only two hundred yards, taking horrific losses. At week's end, Kuribayashi reported half his 22,000 troops dead or wounded. By the time the Japanese surrendered a month later, 5,931 Marines had been killed and 17,000 wounded--Hutchins had been hit three times. Counting replacements, his unit suffered 135 percent casualties. Big Hutch was one of only eight in his original company to walk off the island.
Little Hutch took a bullet at the hairline, dying instantly; he had just celebrated his nineteenth birthday. Another friend, Big Hicks, carried a metal-tipped Bible under his shirt to protect his heart, but it didn't save him--they shot him in the head. A third buddy, Little Hix, a judo expert who could toss men twice his size, was killed, too: a mine got him.
If the Japanese had fought so hard for Iwo Jima and other islands, like Okinawa and Saipan, surely they would fight with even greater ferocity to save their homeland. That fear was on everybody's minds as they trained for the greatest battle of all, Operation Olympic: the invasion of Japan, X-Day, code-named Downfall, scheduled for 1 November 1945. It was to be the largest amphibious operation of the war, bigger, even, than Normandy.
Hutchins and his unit trained for the invasion on Guam. Staring out across the ocean he'd have to cross, he knew it was going to be awful: 540,000 Japanese troops were poised to defend the homeland. Five thousand kamikaze planes stood ready; the Japanese would use poison gas; and civilians were prepared to fight to the last man, woman, and child.
One hundred thousand Purple Hearts were rumored to have been ordered; killed-in-action estimates were fifty thousand. But then a miracle occurred.
As Hutchins returned from a training detail one day, Henry Sykowski ran up to him, wild with news. "The war's over!" Ski shouted, grabbing Hutchins's shoulders, trying to lead him in a crazy, joyful dance.
"Yeah sure," he said.
"No, Johnny, it's true," Sykowski said. "They just dropped a metallic bomb on Japan!"
"A what kind of bomb?" Hutchins asked, incredulous.
"They say it's a metallic bomb. The Japs are going to surrender. We're going home!"
When Hutchins later learned that the bomb was atomic, it still didn't make any sense. Physics hadn't been a strong subject at Hazel Green Academy back in Kentucky, but he didn't care what kind of bomb it was, only that it had worked. It saved a lot of lives--probably his own, he believed.
As they walked along the beach on Guam the day after the surrender, the news blared over speakers that were hung in coconut trees. Ski turned to Hutchins. "Johnny, the world's changed. Everything's different now. We'll be home soon."
But Jack Hutchins didn't go home. He was sent to a place even more mysterious and unknown to him--northern China--and found himself at a perimeter wire of a remote airstrip. Chewing gum at the wire, wishing he were home with his nine brothers and sisters, he saw hungry children across from him holding out their hands. He reached into his pocket and tossed what he had.
To the little boy, the Americans were so big, and they all looked alike, with their big noses. But they were friendly, and that made them different from the Japanese.
The Japanese had arrived in 1937, when he was three years old. Six years earlier, Japan had invaded Manchuria. Afterward, a tenuous peace lingered between Japan and China, as Chiang Kai-shek fought a civil war against the Communist peasant forces of Mao Tse-tung, but Tsingtao was spared until overt hostilities with Japan broke out in July 1937.
Within months, Japan overran Chiang's forces, attacking with barbarous brutality. Shanghai fell in November, and the capital, Nanking, in December. The Japanese held Tsingtao because of its natural harbor, and because it was the terminus of the critically important railroad that ran to Tsinan, where it joined the trunk that linked Peking to Shanghai.
Soon the Japanese came to Tsui Chi Hsii's village. He was playing in a field with friends when suddenly there was chaos. The children saw villagers scattering into the mountains as old men screamed for everyone to run. The children cried. In the distance, the little boy saw terrible fires, the whole horizon in flames. His father took him in his arms. "The Japanese are coming," he told his son. "The government is burning the textile factories so the invaders can't use them."
For the next eight years, the Japanese occupied his village of 150 families with a squad-size garrison, thirteen troops who kept mostly to themselves behind a fortress. No one in the village approached the garrison, except for two girls who were allowed in--comfort girls, they were called later.
Squads of Japanese guarded all the villages that lined the train tracks, to make sure there was no sabotage. If there was, the soldiers took it out on the villagers. Otherwise, the soldiers weren't bad to the villagers. They didn't hurt them or take things from them.
It was the soldiers at the airfield who frightened them. They guarded the air base just beyond the village and built an electric fence to keep everyone out. Even worse were the Chinese who were recruited as their puppet troops; their grip was felt everywhere. They took meat, anything of value, and forced the children to learn Japanese in school.
One day in the dead of winter, when Tsui Chi Hsii was four, puppet soldiers arrested a young man who lived two huts away. They accused him of stealing food and tied him to a stake just inside the wire, where everyone in the village could see. The soldiers stripped him to his underwear, threw water on him until he froze like an icicle, then turned dogs loose on him. Standing at the fence, the little boy turned away. How could anyone be treated so cruelly?
Another time, when Tsui Chi Hsii was five, he was in the fields and heard horses' hooves. He hid in a grove of trees and saw a troop of soldiers stampede over an old man tottering down the road.
Those times were hard. There was little food, except for whatever peanuts and sweet potatoes they could grow that were not plundered by the Japanese. So they ate anything they could find, even bark and leaves off trees. Then there was a terrible drought and the trees died. The boy spent hours each day with his grandmother, who comforted him in her lap. But one day, standing at the wok in the middle of the hut, she fell ill and died. Later the boy's father told him she had poisoned herself because she couldn't bear the struggle and poverty any longer.
The following year, when Tsui Chi Hsii was six, he began school in the village. His grandfather, Tsui Gin Chung, whom the boy adored, often lectured that proper schooling was the only way to escape oppression. "The reason we are so poor is because we have no education, and the reason people are in high positions is because they do," the old man said. No one in the Tsui family had ever gone to school, and the old man beamed on the day his grandson headed off for the four-classroom building.
But the Japanese puppets forced the children to learn their language. If they learned it well, they said, there was potential for a good job. Tsui Chi Hsii didn't want to work for the Japanese, who treated his people poorly. So he learned only enough to make passing grades.
During his fourth year in school, when he was ten, another devastating drought gripped China. It did not rain for forty-nine days, and crops rotted in the fields. Famine struck everywhere. In Chukechuang, the school closed. Villagers ate bark or grass, soaking them in big pots to wash out the bitterness. Every two weeks, young men were lowered by thick ropes to the bottom of wells, with shovels to dig deeper for water. The soldiers didn't help. They took the water and the villagers' food when their own supplies were delivered late.
Each day the villagers walked in a solemn procession to burn incense and brown paper at a temple of brick and stone, built a century earlier. They prayed on their knees for rain. The paper symbolized money and the incense gold, and the villagers offered them in return for rain.
The boy had only a vague concept of God. Though no one in his family formally practiced religion, his grandfather passed on the notion of a great, supreme being who possessed the power of miracles. Still, as the drought continued, as people died from starvation, while the ashes from incense and paper piled high enough to fill a truck, he wondered how a powerful, good being could allow such suffering.
On the fiftieth day it rained, a soaking downpour that lasted day and night. Villagers danced in the street and mud in wild celebration. Tsui Chi Hsii began to believe in God that day, but it would be a few more years before he developed any understanding of that God.
Few in the village knew how to read or write. There was no radio and no news of the world beyond the wire, so in early autumn 1945, when Tsui Chi Hsii was eleven and the Japanese soldiers grew sad and suddenly disappeared, no one knew why. They had never heard of Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
Charles Robertson, a twenty-six-year-old Marine captain, didn't hear about the Hiroshima bomb either; in combat you didn't get much news. He was on Guam when it fell, poring over his battalion's invasion plans for the landing on Kyushu, in southern Japan.
Robertson joined the Marines after graduating from high school in Rome, Georgia, passing a two-year college equivalency exam to become an officer in 1942. He'd been sent to Guam after Okinawa, the bloodiest battle in the Pacific. He had barely made it and did not believe he would survive the invasion of Japan. Intelligence reports indicated that the Japanese were poised to use children with explosives strapped to their bodies to prevent the landing.
From pilots on Tinian, the Mariana island next to Guam where the new B-29 Superfortresses were based, Robertson heard rumors of a bomb that would end the war. But he didn't believe it. He even bet the battalion doctor fifty dollars that there was no such weapon.
But at 8:15 A.M. on 6 August 1945, the sky over Hiroshima cracked open, and light screamed out in a primeval flash of energy. In that cataclysmic moment, eighty thousand people died from a uranium-235 bomb. Three days later, forty thousand instantly died after another atomic bomb, this one plutonium, was dropped on Nagasaki, propelling the world into a new and frightening age.
On payday, Robertson paid the doc his fifty dollars. The bombs were his salvation, he firmly believed.
The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the final rounds in World War II, but also the first fired in the Cold War. After those first shots, the first skirmish in this new war was in China, where 630,000 Japanese troops were stranded. Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander in chief of Pacific Ocean Areas, ordered the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions, once scheduled for the invasion, to China to accept the enemy's surrender, oversee their repatriation, and help America's ally, Chiang Kaishek, in his civil war against Mao Tse-tung.
Chiang's Nationalists had been no match for the Japanese, largely because Chiang had held his forces in reserve for the struggle against the Communists. But Mao had waged aggressive guerrilla warfare against the Japanese, winning the peasants' support and respect. With Japan's surrender, the two Chinese factions turned on each other. Russia, which had declared war on Japan the day before Nagasaki, rushed troops to the Manchurian border.
On 2 October, a month after the formal Japanese surrender, the 6th Marine Division on Guam joined an armada of ships bound for Tsingtao, on the Shantung Peninsula. Their mission was to help the Nationalists and to serve as a show of force against the Russians.
Aboard the ships were veterans of many beach landings, including gung-ho Fred McGowan from Michigan, and J. C. Lacey from Birmingham, Alabama. Never during the war had their prospects seemed so promising, for not long after Tsingtao was home.
The convoy steamed out of Apra Harbor past the barren cliffs of the Orote Peninsula, which the Marines had taken from the Japanese just a few months earlier. Cruising the East China Sea aboard the command ship, Gen. Lemuel Shepherd, 6th Marine Division commander, issued his orders: "Our mission is to land and occupy Tsingtao and adjacent Tsangkou Air Field, to assist local authorities in maintaining order ... and accept when necessary, local surrender of Japanese force, ... and to assist the Chinese in effecting the disarming and confining of these forces."
The Marines were supposed to land on 10 October, Chinese Nationalist Anniversary Day, but the ships were tossed wildly by a giant typhoon, with forty-foot swells in the Yellow Sea. Ships' cooks couldn't keep pots on the stoves, and the men got little to eat. When the storm subsided the men saw land, the German-built observatory and St. Michael's Cathedral rising magnificently from the Laoshan Mountains.
On 11 October, the ships docked at Pagoda Pier in Tsingtao. Called the Riviera of the Far East, once a summer resort for the fashionable of Shanghai, it was a modern city of red tile roofs and stucco buildings. In the 1880s, the Germans had built the cathedral, a university, even a brewery. Later they provided electricity and a modern sewage system.
But the city rotted under the Japanese, who encouraged corruption and crime to keep the people demoralized and incapable of mounting resistance. By war's end, Tsingtao was a festering sore of humanity and instability--Japanese administrators and troops, Communist agents, Nationalist agents, puppets, Nazis, White Russians, Koreans, thieves. Outside the city lurked the Eighth Communist Route Army.
But the landing at Tsingtao--Green Island, in Chinese--was glorious for the Marines. Among them was Charles Robertson, operations officer of the 2d Battalion, 22d Regiment.
When the Americans came ashore, the Chinese lined the streets with American flags and greeted them as liberators. Another generation of Marines would be greeted the same way twenty years later at Da Nang, South Vietnam, where Robertson would become a general. The landing at Tsingtao marked entry into the first of three civil wars on the Asian continent in which Americans became embroiled, wars that would dominate U.S. foreign policy for the next thirty years and in which more than two hundred thousand Americans would be killed or wounded.
The Marines' arrival began auspiciously. Sixth Reconnaissance Company secured Tsangkou Air Base, ten miles north of the city, for planes from the carrier USS Bougainville. Meanwhile, Fox Company, 2d Battalion, 22d Marines--with McGowan, Lacey, Hutchins, and others--loaded onto trucks and drove through the crowd, with Chinese vendors running alongside selling peanuts, pears, and fifty-cent bottles of liquor with Johnny Walker labels hastily pasted on. By the time they got to Shantung University, where they were to be billeted, many of the Marines were half-drunk on liquor that wasn't Scotch, wasn't aged, and wasn't very good.
On the first night, 2d Lt. Kenneth Creswick ordered his platoon to draw .45-caliber pistols to stand guard duty. McGowan and Pfc. Richard Wood from Portland, Maine, drew first watch. "What are we guarding, Lieutenant?" McGowan asked. After all, the war was over.
Creswick said to make sure "bandits" didn't carry any of the military equipment out of the compound.
A month later, McGowan's company was sent to the air base to reinforce units guarding the strip shelled the night before by bandits. They went in charcoal-burning trucks, converted Japanese school buses. Because there was no petroleum, the Japanese had reconfigured the engines to burn charcoal, using released methane gas. As the Americans bounced along the dirt road, frequently one of them had to jump out and drop charcoal into the engines.
It was a bumpy ride up Shilu Road to a forlorn place that had become very important, for just beyond the air base was a new enemy in this new Cold War: the bandits, Chinese Communists.
Jack Hutchins had never heard the term "Cold War"; no one had, and he didn't know much more about China than the Chinese children across the wire from him knew about America.
Big Hutch had come to disarm the Japanese. But all who had been able to make it to safety were already at the harbor in Tsingtao, having fled as soon as the surrender was announced, some walking all the way from Manchuria to surrender to the Americans. Those in the interior of Shantung Province couldn't make it to the Marines' position, for most of Shantung was in the hands of the Communists.
Just beyond the airstrip, Mao Tse-tung's Communists were in control, and it was through this territory that the Japanese, holding the vital rail route, had to pass to reach safe haven in Tsingtao. But the Japanese wouldn't leave until Nationalist troops arrived to take control of the rail lines, a takeover that the Communists were determined to prevent. The Communists wanted the rail lines. They viewed the Americans as just another foreign invader there to help their enemy, Chiang's Nationalists, against whom they had fought for the last decade.
Control of the rail routes was critical. Shanghai needed one hundred thousand tons of coal monthly. Without the shipments, thousands would starve and freeze during the winter. But Nationalist troops couldn't safeguard the rails, so the Marines assumed responsibility. In November the Communists grew bolder in their attacks on the rails, blowing up track and ambushing and derailing trains. General Shepherd, determined to keep the rails open, ordered planes of the 32d Marine Aviation Group at Tsangkou to conduct reconnaissance patrols of the rail lines. The airstrip suddenly became strategically critical in the rapidly escalating Chinese civil war.
A huge battle raged around Tsinan, less than two hundred miles away. Within weeks Communist forces advanced through the province to probe the wire at the air base where Jack Hutchins, Fred McGowan, and other Marines stood guard. It was terribly cold that November, "cold as blue blazes," Pfc. J. C. Lacey was fond of saying. His feet were always cold in northern China. Years later, whenever his feet got cold in the fields of his Alabama farm, he would think of China.
They lived in pup tents, "buddy tents," the men called them, because each man carried half a tent in his pack and at night put it together with his buddy, sleeping huddled next to him to keep from freezing. They had no sleeping bags, winter coats, or gear, because they had just been sent from the tropics. The wind howled, carrying dust and sand all the way from the Gobi Desert and covering the men sleeping on the ground who had only each other and small fires to keep them warm.
The only relief from the grimness was the village children. A few had begun to bring things: sweet potatoes, peanuts--a welcome change from K-rations--and one clever little boy brought kindling for their fires.
There was nothing remarkable about the little boy. He was small for his age, obviously malnourished after years of deprivation, but there was a glint in his eyes and a smile that cheered the dreary winter landscape. Clearly he was smart, too, and knew opportunity when he saw it.
Fox Company dug in on a hillside overlooking the base, just beyond one of the two runways nearest the boy's village. Adults were not allowed onto the base, but children were, and the first two days after the Marines arrived, Tsui Chi Hsii came with others to hunt for scraps of food and Coca Colas the men hadn't finished. Many of the boys ran behind trucks from the mess hall, and when the Marines on KP dumped cans of table scraps, they scavenged for anything edible. But Chi Hsii decided the men might like something from his family's farm, so he asked his mother to fix a basket. The next day he went off with boiled eggs and ten pounds of peanuts, still crisp and warm from his mother's wok. The Marines were quick to buy, despite orders not to eat food from the Chinese.
The first time they gave him a quarter each. The next day he returned with another basket of peanuts and boiled eggs, and sweet potatoes too, which his mother had been saving for a special occasion. The big-nosed men bought everything. In the following days, Tsui Chi Hsii brought even more peanuts, sometimes earning as much as ten dollars a day. His family traded the money for goods at a nearby flea market.
Most children begged or tried to steal, but the few who brought food and firewood were rewarded not just with money, but sometimes with a leftover Coke or a bite of rations.
Tsui Chi Hsii spent all day with the men; he sat on his haunches by the fire and kept it going. He sensed that they appreciated his work. No language was involved, but he understood that they liked him. He reasoned that since they seemed to like the food he brought, they might barter their own food to feed his family. So one day he waved away the money they offered for his peanuts and kindling and pointed to their K-rations. They cheerfully gave him cans and showed him how to open them with the key that wound off a thin strip of metal at the top.
He bundled them up and took them home. His family could not believe their good fortune. The boy's grandfather most of all was surprised. As a young man laboring for the Germans in the city, he had developed a healthy disrespect for anyone with "big noses," as he called all foreigners.
The situation in Tsingtao changed quickly. Two days after the Marines landed, the Communists offered to help them "destroy the remaining Japanese military forces and the rest of the traitor army."
In a message to General Shepherd, the Communist commander expressed fear that more of Chiang's forces were on their way to Tsingtao. He wrote that in the conflict sure to ensue between his forces and Chiang's, he hoped that Communists and Marines could "maintain friendly relations."
Shepherd rejected Communist assistance, stating that his combat veterans were capable of coping with whatever was thrown at them, and in any case, their mission was peaceful. He did, however, assure the Communists: "It is my determination that the 6th Marine Division in no way will assist any Chinese group in conflict with another."
Nevertheless, on 25 October, a bright autumn day with a chill in the air and a cool wind scaling off Kiaochow Bay, the 6th Marine Division assembled at Tsingtao racetrack to accept Japan's formal surrender on behalf of the United States and Chiang's Nationalist government. The terms stated that all forces of the Japanese Imperial Army in the Tsingtao region were to surrender unconditionally to Chiang, all equipment and records were to be turned over to the Americans, and any prisoners of war were to be released immediately.
After signing, the Japanese representatives quietly climbed into cars. When one wouldn't start, the crowd of Chinese erupted in cheers, jeering and laughing.
But the signing triggered conflict only two weeks later. When the 1st Battalion of the 29th Marines was sent to reinforce the 7th Marines, keeping the rail lines open and securing the harbor at Chinwangtao for Chiang's debarking troops, they met resistance from the Communist Eighth Route Army and suffered casualties.
Yet the stage had been set for tension earlier, in the first official U.S. contact with Mao. Months before, in a secret operation called the Dixie Mission, Washington had sent a delegation of officers and diplomats to Yenan, the cave city from which Mao ran his revolution, to assess the Communists as fighters and their future role in China.
On a freezing morning in December 1944, Mao handed Herbert Hitch, a young assistant naval attache, a letter for the Joint Chiefs in Washington. He asked for support and arms, in return for a commitment of one million soldiers to clear a staging area along the North China coast for the planned Allied invasion of Japan. The Dixie Mission, firmly believing that the Communists would win the civil war, recommended that the United States nurture relations with Mao and lend him support. Gen. Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell, commander of the China-Burma-India theater, was also wary of Chiang, complaining that he was stockpiling U.S. supplies and arms for civil war after World War II ended.
Chiang adamantly opposed the recommendation, and under his strong urging, the Joint Chiefs refused Mao's offer, instructing Hitch to tell him that America would not assist the Communists against Chiang, whom the United States had supported for years. The response infuriated Mao and set the stage for bitter relations that lasted for decades.
Lt. Gen. Albert Wedemeyer, U.S. military adviser to Chiang, warned the Nationalist leader that he had to consolidate his grip in North China before trying to regain the rich northeastern provinces of Manchuria. But Chiang would not listen, and he used the Marine-secured port in Chinwangtao to send troops into Manchuria.
From the Great Wall of China just beyond Chinwangtao up four hundred miles to Mukden and Changchun, every mile of track and every bridge was a Communist target. Wedemeyer told Chiang that before defending that territory, he must suppress the Communist guerrillas in North China. Instead, Chiang drained his forces in North China to send to Manchuria, putting the Marines at increasingly greater risk from the Communists and sowing the seeds of his own future destruction. By late 1945, Chiang's position had slipped precipitously.
Fred McGowan, on liberty with four other Marines in Tsingtao, found that out personally. Seated next to them in a downtown restaurant one night were two distinguished-looking Chinese businessmen. One rose to hoist his glass to the Marines: "I drink a toast to your president, Harry Truman."
McGowan and the other Marines stood and raised their glasses. "We drink a toast to your leader, Chiang Kai-shek."
The smiles on the two Chinese men disappeared; they sat down and turned over their glasses. McGowan knew then China was in serious trouble. Though the country had quickly fallen into civil war, Charles Robertson thought the people felt the same way the Vietnamese did twenty years later--they just wanted to be left alone.
The Marines at the air base wanted to be left alone, too. They'd seen enough battle. Their war was supposed to be over, but now another enemy was probing their wire and inflicting casualties. The conflict grew out of hand so quickly that on 27 November 1945, President Truman appointed General of the Army George C. Marshall to attempt mediation between the two warring factions. Representing the Nationalists was Gen. Chang Chun; Mao sent Chou En-lai.
Jack Hutchins knew nothing about the meetings in Nanking. The only thing he knew was that his feet were numb. He had filled his poncho with straw to use as a sleeping bag, and he was waiting for that little kid to show up with more firewood.
The little boy had become a regular feature of the landscape, arriving every sunup with food and firewood. He stayed until sundown, when he would slip back through the wire to his village, carrying whatever the big men with the big noses gave him for his family. "Charlie" was what McGowan and his squad began calling him, the same name they had given the Japanese plane that had buzzed them in an unnerving wake-up call early each morning on Okinawa. And he called them "Joe"--all of them, because they all looked alike. They talked pidgin English to him and made exaggerated gestures to communicate, and he just grinned and laughed.
It was his smile that Ed Grady of Redding, Connecticut, would remember years later--bright and joyful, a contrast to his body, gaunt from years of hunger. Grady had joined the Marines to become a pilot. He'd gone to Dartmouth on the V-12 program, which had been designed to commission officers in the Navy and Marine Corps. But Grady had failed the eye test and ended up on Guam as a private first class, preparing to invade Japan. Then he got orders for China.
To Grady and the others, the boy was so cute and his smile infectious. For young Marines just out of combat, he provided human contact they desperately needed, a link to brothers and sisters at home.
One night as Charlie was about to leave for home, one of the Marines threw him a poncho and pointed to a place by the fire. He knew they wanted him to stay. "Go tell my parents I'm not coming home tonight, but I'm okay," he told a friend.
He sat with the Marines, ate rations, and stoked the fire. At dawn he went home, bringing his family food; then he returned. From then on he slept with the Marines around the fire. He was helpful, almost dutiful, polite, and always smiling. He became a little brother to the men.
"When we go back to the compound in Tsingtao, we'll take you with us," Pfc. Frank Zitnik told him, joking. He pointed at Charlie and then at the other Marines, motioning toward Tsingtao.
But Charlie took him seriously. Two weeks later, when Fox Company got orders to return to the compound in Tsingtao, Charlie gestured that he was ready to go, too.
Zitnik didn't know what to do. He went to Lieutenant Creswick. "All this time I've been joking with this kid to come with us when we went back to the compound, and now he's here and wants to go."
"Bring him," Creswick said. "But get his parents' permission."
"Mama, Papa; go get your Mama and Papa," Zitnik gestured to Charlie. "You're coming with us, but they have to say it's okay."
Charlie spoke no English except "Joe" and "hello," but he understood and ran home. The next day he returned with his father, who talked to the important man with the gold bar on his uniform. It was the first time Charlie had met Lieutenant Creswick. Using gestures and drawings, Creswick explained to Charlie's father that the Marines wanted to take him to Tsingtao. They would care for him, feed him, and send him to a Chinese school to learn to read and write.
Charlie's father understood. He was happy that the Marines were taking his son to the city. He would have a better chance with them, and an education. He wouldn't go hungry. And this would mean one less mouth to feed. Charlie was scared. He'd never been to the fabled city, never been beyond the air base, and he barely knew these big-nosed Marines. His father told him to go with them and assured him he would visit every chance he got. He thanked the lieutenant, told Charlie to be a good boy, then he said good-bye and left the boy with the Marines.
"Now what?" Zitnik asked.
"Well, at worst we can send him back," Creswick said.
So they packed their gear and boarded trucks. It was the very end of November 1945. For the little boy it was the beginning of an incredible adventure. Climbing into a truck, wedging in among the Marines, he had no way of knowing that the trip he was about to take would lead him to places and things unimagined.
Soon McGowan, Hutchins, and Lacey would leave Tsingtao, telling their replacements to look after him. Four years later, in 1949, the last of the Marines would leave him weeping at the harbor in Tsingtao, something they were loathe to do, for Marines never leave their own. And because of them, he would spend seven years in a Communist labor prison, then another ten under house arrest. But thirty-four years later the Marines would rescue him, the men no longer young Marines, Tsui Chi Hsii no longer a boy.
That adventure would be just as remarkable.