The Missing Peking Man
. . . . .
One Saturday morning I went to George Company to check in, and the duty clerk informed me that I had made corporal. That called for a celebration, but before I could give it more thought, he informed me that Gunny Wesley wanted to see me. He said his orders were explicit, that I was to meet the gunny in his staff quarters as soon as I arrived. He then gave me directions how to get there. I was certain Gunny was going to confront me about Katarina. He was very keen on her that Sunday. Katarina told me he had called her several times but each time she had rebuffed him. It was a month or more now that I had been seeing her regularly. Gunny knew about us.
I found his room and knocked. A minute passed before he opened the door. When he did, he stepped to one side to let me enter. On a low table in the center of the room were papers in disarray with a briefcase and a few books placed on top of them. Standing in front of the table was a young lieutenant who rose to his feet when I entered. The delay in opening the door had obviously been due to their covering up the papers. I needed only one glance at the officer to know he was another G-2 gumshoe. “Lt. Barker from G-2,” Gunny said. I was right.
What kind of trouble was I in now? Was Katarina a spy, a Soviet spy? Maybe it was Melanowski. He had defected. But what did Gunny have to do with all this? Was he under fire too, or was he part of these snoops? All kinds of thoughts raced through my head. When Lt. Barker said I could call him Henry I didn’t like the way it was going. Enlisted men don’t call officers by their first names.
“I’m from Washington,” Barker said. “I’m here to investigate a matter and maybe you can help.” I breathed a bit easier. “First, let me ask, you know the students, is there any indication of unrest?”
“Unrest, I don’t know what you mean. What is it you exactly want from me?” I asked bluntly and to the point. I hated these surreptitious approaches.
“What the students are talking about. We feel an uprising is coming.”
“The students are always uprising about something or someone. They don’t like Americans if that is what you mean.” “Do they ever talk about the Marines and our duties here?” the man from G-2 asked.
“Always. They want to know why we are guarding ourselves from them,” I replied.
“That’s all?” he asked, disappointed.
“We talk mostly about the American way of life versus the Chinese. We talk about writers and poets,” I replied. “But they are always critical of our way of government.”
“What do you tell them?” Gunny asked. All he had to do was ask that one question and I knew immediately his duties with George Company Headquarters were not simply to act as liaison between a couple American students and company headquarters. He was far too bright and knowledgeable for that. I did wonder about his reasons for my inviting students to the picnic. He wanted to get to know them, and now I knew it wasn’t that he just wanted to meet girls. He wasn’t a girl chaser. But what was he?
“Did anyone ever mention anything about Marines guarding the trains?” the lieutenant asked.
“You mean the coal trains?” I asked. The lieutenant nodded and I continued. “I don’t remember any such discussion.” I wondered what the students had to do with train guards. “That’s a relief,” Lt. Barker said to Gunny.
“What’s a relief?” I asked.
The two men looked at each other. “He might as well know,” Gunny said to the man from G-2. “He might be able to tell us if the students are aware.” He then turned to face me. “Coal is being shipped from Peking to Chingwantao near the harbor of Tiensin. It’s shipped in closed compartments. Marine guards take over guarding the trains once the boxcars are outside the city. The only problem is, is it really coal shipments we are guarding? The boxcars are sealed and locked shut when we get them.”
“If it’s not coal, what is it?” I asked.
“Loot,” Lt. Barker spoke up. “Chiang K’ai-shek is looting the city, stripping its treasures and sending them all to Formosa.”
This wasn’t anything new, and I told them so. Train guards knew the difference between open coal cars and sealed boxcars. The only thing that puzzled me now was Formosa, an island off the southern coast of China. One of the students I knew was from Formosa. It was a mountainous island with some aborigine tribes and nothing more. It had nine automobiles and not a hundred miles of paved roads. The Portuguese discovered the island 400 years ago and called it Formosa, or Beautiful Island. The Japanese took it over and now the Nationalist Chinese had it back. The rumor we had was that Chiang K’ai-shek was withdrawing from the mainland and regrouping on the island to prepare for an invasion of the mainland. But this was only rumor.
“Guards know it, but do the Chinese people know it? Do the Communists know it?” Gunny asked, more of a statement than a question.
“They are pretty stupid if they don’t,” I replied.
“You’re right, but if they find out and acknowledge it, it’s going to get a lot of Marines killed. At Chingwantao the train arrived from Peking the other day and the guards woke up the next morning and found the Commies had their artillery trained on them. They were given 36 hours to pack up and get out. The Commies are sure to stop all the trains now. If what Chiang is doing gets known, it can erupt into an international incident.”
“The students haven’t mentioned it yet,” I said again.
“They will sooner or later. We are abetting a thief, a criminal. He is not only fleecing the American government but we are helping him steal from his own people. There’s a good reason for calling Chiang K’ai-shek by his name Cash My Check. Madam Chiang addresses a joint session of congress and woos Americans into giving them more money.” “There’s something else,” Gunny said. “There’s another investigation going on.”
“Did you ever hear of the name Sinathropus Pekinensis?” Lt. Barker butted in.
“Can’t say I have,” I said. What did they expect? I had a couple months of schooling, and that was only Chinese, and maybe I read a few books, and yet they were treating me like a scholar. How was I to know what sinta pepis-I couldn’t even pronounce it-was?
“Sinathropus Pekinensis is also known as Peking Man.”
That, of course, I knew-Peking Man. Everyone at the university talked about the discovery. The Anthropology Department had been deeply involved in the project. I told them that I had heard about the Peking Man, but there wasn’t much more I could tell them.
“What about a U.S. Marine named Gerald Valentine?” Gunny asked.
“Again, negative. Never heard of him,” I replied.
“Valentine was rescued from a Japanese POW camp near here in September 1945. We got him out just before the Russians came. He returned home, was discharged, and the next thing we know he is in London, lodged somewhere near Russell Square. He had changed his name, and he wants two million dollars.”
I was intrigued now. I accepted a cigarette Lt. Barker handed me and listened to his story. According to him, the discovery of the fossil bones of Peking Man was the most important discovery to the 20th century. The fossils were uncovered in a limestone hill near Peking in 1926. The hill, in fact, contained the largest collection of prehistoric fossils ever discovered, the fragments of more than 40 skeletons. The number and variety of the bones would have made it possible to reconstruct how Peking Man must have looked, and could provide an important link in man’s evolution. But now they were gone.
For fifteen years anthropologists flocked to Peking to study the bones. Then in 1941, as Japanese troops advanced on Peking, the bones were handed over to the commander of the US Marine garrison, Detachment D, at the United States Embassy, packed in military footlockers, and prepared for shipment to the United States for safekeeping.
But within hours, before the footlockers could be moved, Pearl Harbor was bombed and Japan and the U.S. were at war. The Marines surrendered to the Japanese and went off to POW camps and the footlockers with their priceless contents disappeared. The Marines were released from POW camps in
1945, and among them was Valentine.
“The whereabouts of Valentine is unknown,” Lt. Barker said, “but if he could be found, one of the most intriguing anthropological mysteries of our age could be solved.” He waited for me to say something, but there was nothing I could say. “There’s more than money involved, however,” he continued. “This is becoming a major factor in furthering the growing rift between Red China and the United States.”
“The Chinese believe that the US has taken the bones and for some reason will not give them back,” Gunny’ said. “Washington is anxious to prove that this is not so.”
“What does this have to do with me?” I asked. I had already been adding things up in my mind. Marines become involved in intrigue every place they go. The old song is so right, “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli” they fought off revolutions and gained republics for the dispossessed. They battled in places like Nicaragua, and they came to China to protect Americans during the Boxer Rebellion, and became involved in a revolution and helped found a republic. We came to guard coal trains and ammunition dumps and find we are searching for old bones and helping a new warlord steal his country’s treasures. We Marines complain constantly, and we love it.
“I don’t know what we can find, but I have been instructed to go take a look at the site, a kind of unofficial report. I need an interpreter, and a Chinese might think we are up to something evil. We have elected you to come along.”
“I’m still in school,” I said. I really didn’t care if l missed classes, but I was concerned about Ming-Lee. She could arrive any day and I had to be in Peking when she arrived.
“Two or three days, five at the most, and that’s all,” Gunny said. “We will follow along the Great Wall and then tum to the southeast to reach Zhoukoudian Township.”
The Great Wall again! How could I not go? I accepted. We would leave the following morning. No time to waste. I went back to my hostel to pack, and at the deck I found a package from Tsingtao. It was from Stevenson. I hastily opened it. Inside, neatly folded, was a green skivvy shirt, the standard GI issue undershirt. I wondered what it was all about until I lifted it up, and there on both sleeves were sewn two corporal chevrons. A green skivvy shirt with two dress corporal chevrons. I would keep that shirt forever. I called Bon Yee up to my room and gave him my uniform to have chevrons sewed on it too, including my khaki shirt. I only wore the uniform on weekends when I checked in, but now I felt like wearing it to school. But that wouldn’t do. Only a few students knew I was in the Marines and it was best to keep it that way. It’s a proud day when a Marine makes corporal but I had to keep my pride to myself. Gunny was at the front door to pick me up the next morning at 0600. He had the Jeep with jerry cans filled with fuel, an ice chest with beer and food he brought from the company mess. A corporal driver from Motor Pool sat behind the driver’s wheel. “This is Joe,” Gunny said and we set out to find the trail of the bones of the missing man.