Return to Tsingtao
. . . . .
One Thursday afternoon, what we feared would happen one day, did happen. Orders came from the Fleet Marine Force Headquarters that all US Marines studying the Chinese language at the University of
Peking had to return to their duty stations immediately. Gunny Wesley came to my hostel to inform me that at 0700 the following Monday morning we had to muster at George Company for further transportation to the airport where we would board a C-47 for Tsingtao.
“Things are not looking good,” Gunny explained over coffee in the restaurant. “Mao’s forces have overrun Manchuria, and the losses have been disastrous. It seems the communists have obliterated twelve Nationalist army divisions west of the key city of Mukden.” He went on to tell me in certain terms that government troops were trying to escape from the area by sea. Some had reached Yingkow, the port on the Gulf of Liaotung which was still being held by the Nationalists, but a large number of Chiang’s troops were bottled up in Hulutao on the western shore of the gulf. “It doesn’t look good,” he said again.
He was saddened that the communist’s success in Manchuria made the Nationalist troops in Northern China much more vulnerable. It meant that Chiang had lost Manchuria’s coalmines and much of her heavy industry to the communists. The civil war was getting out of control, and the safety of the Marines and military personnel in Peking was in jeopardy. The Marines alone could not take up arms against the entire Chinese communist forces. I thanked the gunny for the information; he had turned out to be a great pal and I wondered if I would ever see him again.
I hardly had time to say goodbye to everyone at the university. I was touched when Su Fung and Mae Chu burst into tears at the news of my parting. Even arrogant Lee Ann confessed she was sorry to see me go, and would you believe, Dr. Wren was there to shake my hand and wish me good fortune. But the biggest surprise was the celebration Saturday night at Mamma Georgia’s place. Fifty people must have been invited, maybe more, and Mamma Georgia cut no costs and made sure the booze was plentiful; it was the real stuff right from the officers’ mess. Her girls, decked out in their finery, looked grand. They could have matched any Philadelphia mainline society debutantes at their coming-out party. They looked absolutely ravishing, and hadn’t anyone known their vocation, they might have been taken for proper young ladies. When I arrived I thought this was a going-away party solely for Melanowski, but I soon learned it was for Monique as well. She too was going to Tsingtao, by train. She and Melanowski planned to meet once she arrived. I was completely in the dark and had no idea what they were planning but thought it best not to ask. I would find out the facts in due course. Nevertheless, I couldn’t believe Mamma Georgia was not only letting Monique go, but it was with her blessing. It wasn’t until we were aboard the C-47 en route to Tsingtao that Melanowski told me the full story.
“Gunny Wesley is helping me,” he said.
“Helping you what?” I asked, straining hard to hear what he had to say against the roar of the engines.
“Gunny told me how I can get my discharge in China,” he said, and in bits and pieces I gathered he had applied for a position with UNRA. If I was hearing right, he felt that he would be accepted. “Once I am out of the Crops and have secured my job, Monique and me can get married.” Was I going deaf? Was the roar of the engines altering what I was hearing? I was truly baffled at his next remark. “I have you to thank,” he said.
“Me, what did I have to do with it?”
“If you hadn’t convinced me to come to Peking, it would not have happened,” he said.
“You mean you wouldn’t have met Monique,” I replied. “Is that what you mean?”
“That too, but my studying Chinese is what got me the job with UNRA.”
I didn’t know if I should be pleased or feel at fault. The last thing in this world I ever thought was that Melanowski would become a linguist and remain in China. I wanted to ask him if this is what Monique wanted. I wanted to tell him about Katarina, that she was looking for a ticket to the Slates, and might Monique be the same, but we began to make our final approach and would soon be in Tsingtao.
It was a wonderful sight to watch Tsingtao unfold beneath us as we dropped down out of the clouds in our C-47. I think at that moment, upon seeing Tsingtao, I realized then that we were truly China Marines. We were coming home, not home to San Diego or LA, or Peoria or Charleston, but home to Tsingtao. I strained hard to see out the window, and finally unstrapped myself from my bucket seat and stood up to get a better view. The others soon followed and we all stood now staring out the windows. First to come in view were the miles of beaches with many coves and white sand that caught the morning rays of sun. Then came the city and the vast harbor with endless ships at anchor. There were the junks, fleets of them, and the rusted, unkept freighters at the docks, and among this vast floating panorama were the ships of the American Seventh Fleet anchored in the roads. What a sight that was! The fleet was in! There would be a wild time in the old town tonight, that was for sure. Bars and cabarets would be bursting at the seams. I couldn’t wait until I got to the Prime Club. I pictured myself charging through the front door and seeing Ming-Lee there. I didn’t care if she was sitting at a table with other Marines or even sailors. I would grab hold of her and tell her how it was all a mistake. It didn’t matter how she would react. Angry at first, certainly, but I would make her understand. I had some bard convincing to do, but she would listen. I would make her listen.
I was hoping Sammy would be there at the airfield to pick us up but it was another driver from motor pool who came to get us. Nevertheless, he was affable and swung through town to give us a tour before taking us to the university where we had to report in. I had been away only eight months but I could see that many changes had taken place. The city was progressing; it wasn’t the dilapidated city that greeted us when we arrived nearly two years before. The streets were cleaner, the shops brighter and there were more vehicles. Gone were the waving and cheering crowds that had greeted us as when we first arrived, but that didn’t really matter. The people knew we were their liberators.
Everything this time was familiar, every street, every turn. The twin towered church stood above the city as it always had, and there were the bathhouses down the street that Stevenson and I bad visited, but they were now out-of-bounds. The bars and restaurants that lined the route along the drive up the hill to the university were still there, but their names stood out bigger and the fronts were newly painted. The only disappointment was the disbandment of the 29th Marines; troops no longer occupied the Strand Hotel. I would miss that place, but I had no complaint about being quartered in the university. This too was soft living.
There to meet us in the Fox Company office was Stevenson and Whittington. They wanted to hear all about Peking, but each time we began telling them, they interrupted us with their own stories of what was happening in Tsingtao. Lt. Brandmire busted two more guys. Col. Roston finally left. There’s a new dancehall that opened and it’s better than the Prime Club and Ciro’s. Some places are charging a buck and a half for a bottle of Hubba Hubba these days. And that new bunch of green troops that arrived are real pussies. They were like a couple of Chinese lao furen trying to out-talk one another. Finally Stevenson led me out of the office and to a room on the second floor facing the main gate. “I saved this room for you,” he said. There were two bunks in the room and he saw me looking at the second one. “Another surprise,” he announced, and before he could say more, Little Lew bounded into the room. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He was at least a foot taller, and he had made corporal. He was proud of his stripes. Big tears rolled down his cheeks. He was so choked up be could hardly speak, and I wasn’t much better. I no longer needed to get down on my knees to put my arms around him. He stood we! I above my waist. He had lost his Chinese accent. In fact, he talked like a New Englander. He had been palling around with Chandler that was for sure.
With Little Lew swinging on my arm we went down to the ground floor to the laundry room to see Ruker. He had moved his bunk into the room and fixed up the place. On all the walls he had put up posters of Vargas girls in various stages of undress. He had a stuffed leather easychair with an inlaid pearl table to one side, and upon it a reading lamp made from coral. “Uh, uh,” Ruker said when Little Lew came into the room, and it was the signal for Lew to cover his eyes with one hand. “Atta boy,” Ruker said. Like a blind man feeling his way with an extended arm, but peeking through his fingers, Little Lew made his way to the easychair and threw himself down. Ruker smiled like a beaming father.