New Duty, MP Battalion
. . . . .
The Marines were quite content with their facilities at the university. They had everything they needed-a gym with weights and basketball court, a big well-stocked PX with Planters Peanuts and Clark Bars, movie ball, library and study room, and a barbershop with real barber chairs. No one needed to go off base if they didn’t care to, and many didn’t.
Back in my room, before I could unpack, all the old squad came to welcome me back. “You came just in time,” Smitty said. “We’ve having a party for Whittington. He’s shipping back to the States next week.”
The going-away party for Whittington was held at the EM Club in town. The guys thought of everything, including Little Lew. So that he wouldn’t feel left out, they arranged for a kid’s movie night at the movie hall. I wanted to go immediately to the Prime Club to see Ming-Lee but I didn’t have a choice. The new CO arranged for a ten-wheeler to bus us down to the EM Club. There was one problem, however. No one remembered to tell Whittington; he didn’t show up for his own surprise party.
The EM Club was roaring by the time we arrived. The whole building was vibrating like one of those machines that overweight people use when they want to lose weight. A couple of extra paddy wagons were parked outside. Burly Shore Patrolmen waited in the vehicles for calls which were certain to come. The Seventh Fleet was in Tsingtao and the US Navy had taken over the EM Club. Ming-Lee would have to wait a bit longer for me.
There wasn’t an empty table in the place, but we were able to double up with some guys from Easy Company. We scouted around and stole chairs from sailors’ tables when they got up to order more beer or go to the head. An hour after the club had opened its doors, the bar ran out of cold beer. Two hours later it ran out of beer altogether. They turned to selling hard stuff, gin and rye whisky. That’s when the trouble began. Stevenson, Ruker and I were able to sneak out, leaving Chandler, Hecklinger, Terry and Smitty behind. It wasn’t until we got back to the university that night that we learned Chandler was in the hospital.
The story we heard was that our squad suspected the club would run out of beer so they bought up a couple of cases and stacked them under their table. When the beer ran out, sailors at the next table wanted to buy some from our guys but they refused. Tension began building and remarks like “jarhead” and “leatherhead” verses “swab jockey” and “deck ape” began to fly back and forth. Chandler went to dance with Buxom Bonnie, the navy Chief’s daughter from Shore Patrol, when all hell broke out. Chandler heard a rumble coming from the direction of his table and saw that a fight had erupted between the Marines and sailors. It was getting serious. Two sailors bad grabbed Smitty and started shoving him out of the second story window. There was little Hecklinger and Terry could do to help him; four or five sailors were holding them back with chairs and threatening to beat them over the head with them. Chandler didn’t hesitate; he charged like an enraged bull to help Smitty and knocked the sailors back. The next thing Chandler knew, one sailor broke a coke bottle and came at him swinging. He struck at Chandler and slashed him across the face, tearing off half his nose. Fortunately a big Navy SP stepped in and laid the sailor’s head open with his billy club. Both men were taken to the hospital and the medic sewed Chandler’s nose back on. Stevenson, Ruker and I knew none of this, of course, when we arrived at the Prime Club.
For days I had been thinking about this moment, how I was going to arrive at the Prime Club, and now it was becoming reality. When the girls saw Ruker they dropped whatever they were doing and came running. Even those who were at tables with customers came running too. Judy saw Stevenson and rushed up to greet him with outstretched arms. Everyone came, happy as larks, everyone but Ming-Lee. She was nowhere to be seen. When things quieted down, I asked Judy where she was. She didn’t answer.
It was a hang fire, like when you pull the trigger and nothing happens. No, it was worse. It was like one of those new grenades that didn’t pop. The Corps introduced them during the last days of fighting on Okinawa. Marines had discovered that when the Japs heard the pops from our grenades, they would count the seconds, and if they had enough time they would pick them up and lob them back at us. So the engineers developed the pop-less grenade, but they didn’t tell us about them. Terry was the first to discover it. He picked up a grenade, pulled the pin and when it didn’t pop he just looked at it. Disgusted that it might be a dud, he casually tossed it aside. It exploded less than a dozen yards away, and fortunately didn’t kill anyone. Was this another dud? When I asked Judy again about Ming-Lee, she looked at Stevenson and then at me. ” She’s gone,” she said sheepishly. “I think maybe you know.”
“Gone,” I repeated. The grenade exploded. “What do you mean gone?”
“She go Shanghai. She no come back to Prime Club. She go live in Shanghai.”
My world came to an end. I didn’t feel like partying anymore that night. I had one drink of Hubba Hubba with the boys, made a flimsy excuse about having the runs and went back to the university. In the rickshaw I concluded that I had to find Roger. He might know something about Ming-Lee. The only problem was that when I had asked about Roger, no one had seen him in a couple of months. I had never been to the hotel where he lived but I did have a letter from him tucked away in my seabag, and it did have a return address on the envelope. I’d go see him on my next liberty. He would help me find Ming-Lee. I felt a little better.
There were some mighty sore heads the next morning and I was glad that I had stopped partying when I did. We had a new company commander, a 30-day wonder major who had replaced Col. Roston. He called me into his office, and as I stood at rigid attention he gave me my assignment. I could see he was going to be a miserable bastard. You would think these new officers would be pleased to have seasoned combat Marines under their command but it was usually the opposite. They didn’t like troops having more experience than they had. So I got my assignment. I would be attached to the MP Battalion, and would be carrying out Shore Patrol duty. In the past, Chinese soldiers had been attached to Marine MPs and Navy SPs to do the rounds with them. They were supposedly interpreters, but there wasn’t much they could interpret. They didn’t speak English. This would be my job, the colonel said, but first I had to help out with brig duty, the nastiest duty a Marine could get. With more old hands being transferred back to the States, the brig watch found themselves short handed, and I was to help out until replacements arrived from the States. The brig warden, a disgruntled old sergeant major, demanded that I move into the guards’ quarters in the brig. I had Chandler take over Little Lew once again until my brig duty was over.
The Marine brig was located within the university compound. It had a very tough reputation with Marines stationed in Tsingtao and sailors of the Seventh Fleet. Manned by the biggest, meanest Marines in China, it deserved the reputation it had. Sailors and Marines of the Tsingtao area who had violated the Rocks and Shoals were confined here. Being a redline brig, prisoners received harsh treatment. Redline brigs are ones in which every two feet a red line was painted on the deck, especially at every hatch. A prisoner would have to halt at all red lines and request permission from a turnkey before he could advance to the next red line. what it meant was if a prisoner had to go to the head he had to cross two or three red lines and request permission to proceed. This could consume several minutes, depending on the mood of the turnkey. Talk was that the Tsingtao brig had very few repeat offenders.
At this time Rocks and Shoals were naval laws used to control and maintain discipline in the Navy and Marine Corps. These laws dated far back before World War II. Under them it was very easy to violate an order and be confined to the brig. The law on silent contempt is a good example. Silent contempt charges were filed if a Marine or sailor even looked at an officer or NCO in a contemptuous manner. It was a violation of an article under Rocks and Shoals. Under this military system a Marine could receive punishment of anywhere from five to thirty days on “Piss and Punk,” navy slang for bread and water that meant a prisoner received nothing but bread and water twice a day and on the third day received a full meal. The prisoner then served two more days on Piss and Punk. Bread and water prisoners did not have to do manual labor. During the day the prisoners cleaned their small cell, did a few minutes of exercise, and spent the remainder of the day in solitary confinement. Not even reading material was permitted. It may sound like a good way to lose pounds but some Marines actually come out heavier than when they went in.
Prisoners sentenced to hard labor spent their days in a rock quarry just outside of town. Everyday, except Sunday, prisoners marched from the brig to the rock quarry. Each prisoner carried an eight-pound sledgehammer at right shoulder arms and a sack lunch consisting of bologna horse cock and peanut butter sandwiches. Here at the quarry they made big rocks into little rocks by swinging the eight-pound sledge all day. Prisoners received a five-minute break every hour and had thirty minutes for lunch. The first prisoner I had to deal with was Pvt. Gamble. He was Chandler’s buddy. Lt. Brandmire sent him up for five days on Piss and Punk. Chandler saw red when this happened. Lt. Brandmire still hadn’t lightened up, and he became even more chicken shit by making the troops learn their General Orders forwards and backwards, and that included even naming the commas and periods. He was getting worse every day. He got to walking the entire guard posts at the docks when he was Officer of the Day, and he demanded strict attention to duty. Chandler and Gamble were on guard duty at the docks when Lt. Brandmire was the Officer of the Day. Their posts were about a hundred yards apart, guarding two warehouses. It was that miserable night watch, the four to eight in the morning, and both men were bored and tired. It was getting light, and Gamble started sending Chandler arm signals in semaphore code, and just then Lt. Brandmire walked around the corner. Gamble reported his post and nothing- was said. When they returned to their quarters at the university, Gamble’s sack was empty and his seabag gone. Lt. Brandmire gave him five days Piss and Punk for not walking his post in a military manner-keeping always on the alert and observing everything that takes place within sight and hearing.