New Marine Officer from Home
. . . . .
A letter from my mother had the news that her sister, my Aunt Liz, had a good friend whose son was on his way to Tsingtao, and she asked that I give him a “helping hand” when he arrived. “You know, kind of show him around. It’s his fir t time away from home,” my mother wrote. His name was Scott McCaffery, but I could call him Scotty. His family had something or other to do with the Universal-Cyclops Steel Company. She didn’t say it, but hinted that with that backing he would be a good contact later when I came home. The last place on earth I ever wanted to work was the Universal-Cyclops Steel Company. Just thinking of the place made me ill. I could just picture the place as I read the letter: two big chimneys pumping out clouds of greenish evil smoke, and workers wearing overhauls with suspenders, carrying lunch buckets, crossing the railroad tracks every morning at 0600, just as the second whistle was blowing. I’d rather sell radio tubes in my father’s shop. I don’t remember if I ever wrote back to my mother about Scotty McCaffery, but I do know I soon forgot about him, until I was in Fox Company office picking up my liberty pass one afternoon. Stevenson announced that someone from back home wanted to see me and would be at the office the next morning.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“A Lt. McCaffery. He wants to see you tomorrow morning at 0800,” he said. “Who you brown nosing with now?”
“I don’t know any Lt. McCaffery,” I said. “And who the hell is a brown noser, sitting behind your desk. All you need is a dress. You already don’t have any balls.”
“You wanna feel them you’re welcome,” he answered, and then added: “He said he’s from your home town.”
He didn’t have to say more. I remembered the name, but I had no idea the guy was a lieutenant. That didn’t sound very good. I pictured him now as the son of one of the company bosses at Universal-Cyclops Steel Company. “He’ll be at the Adjutant’s office,” Stevenson added.
I was at the Adjutant’s office a little before eight the next morning, and Lt. Scott McCaffery was already there, waiting.
He was a disappointment. He didn’t look much like a Marine Corps officer. He was slight of build and so mild mannered it was disgusting. Shaking hands with him was like shaking hands with a Girl Scout.
“You can call me Scott, or Scotty if you wish,” he said. I could hardly do that, but I didn’t want to tell him to his face. He was an officer in the United States Marine Corps. I could see he wanted to be friendly, but that didn’t matter. He was an officer. I don’t even think he noticed my discomfort. “I would like to take you out to dinner tonight,” he said.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“Sure, why not,” he countered.
There were regulations about officers and enlisted men socializing. I remember the nurses in the Navy Hospital on Okinawa. They were all officers, and when they had parties on Saturday night, enlisted men couldn’t attend. But Lt. McCaffery had already considered that. “I talked to the Adjutant, said you were family, and he said no problem.”
“Where we going?” I hemmed and hawed around.
“I know a great place. They told me at BOQ in San Diego that I should look it up. It’s the Sofuku Geisha House.”
Without thinking I blurted it out-“That’s for officers only.”
“No it’s not,” he protested. “Mostly officers go there I have been told, but it’s for anyone.”
I heard about the Sofuku Geisha House. It was a club for Japanese officers during the occupation, but that had changed and the place now catered to snob-appeal diners. handler was the only Marine I knew who had gone to the place to eat, and he came away pretty sore. He had a pair of black dress shoes, and, as requested, he left them outside when he went in, as was the custom. He told us how miserable it was sitting on the floor at low tables, with the waitresses sitting at your side cooking your meal in front of you over a brazier, and then stuffing the food down your throat whether you wanted it nor not. His biggest complaint was the waitresses; they wore robes with all kinds of do-dads attached; they had their hair piled up on tops of their heads; and their faces were so pasted white with powder they didn’t look well. “They looked as if they smiled their faces would crack,” he said, “and they watched you with little beady eyes from beneath their powder masks.” We all laughed at his description of Japanese geishas, but I was sure it wasn’t all as bad. Chandler had his reason for presenting the picture as he did. It seems when he entered the Sofuku he was instructed to leave his shoes on a rack in the foyer, however, finding the rack full, he put his shoes outside the door. When he was leaving, his shoes were gone. Someone had stolen his fine black dress shoes, his pride and joy. He did the only thing he could do, and that was take someone else’s shoes. He ended up with a badly worn pair of boondockers, the only shoes that fit, and from that day forth he cursed the Sofuku Geisha House.
Everything Chandler had to say about the place was right, but I found it quite amusing. It was totally un-Chinese. Chinese restaurants and tea shops are loud and noisy; this place was quiet and subdued. Even the music, harps of some kind played by two musicians hidden in a comer, was so soft you wondered if it was real. True, it was very uncomfortable sitting on the floor, but the geishas did everything possible to make us as comfortable as possible with a ready supply of pillows and cushions. There was something bewitching about their manner, their delicate smiles and their painted lips. Their lips seemed to tell a story, and you felt you wanted to gently press your lips to theirs, maybe to see if they would respond. They were more like caricatures in pictures than real people, maybe more doll-like than human. For sure, they were not Like Chinese taxi dancers. I immediately tried to wipe away the image I had of them, naked and dead in the caves on Okinawa. No, these women were lovely. How could Chandler be so wrong, but then I didn’t lose my shoes. He was right, geishas do put food in your month, but they do it with sweet care and grace.
On our way to the Sofuku Geisha House I made no pretenses to Lt. McCaffery-1 wasn’t about to call him Scotty-that I liked the Japanese. The Marines taught me to bate them. Now as we were dining, and I appeared to enjoy my sukiyaki, he asked, “Why don’t you like the Japanese?”
“The Japs!” I blurted out, disregarding all protocol. “Hell, what do you expect?” I suddenly felt I was being cornered and didn’t like it. I wished I hadn’t come. When we first stepped into the restaurant I felt I was betraying the Marine Corps by my being there, dining with the enemy, but for the sake of respect I kept putting my feelings aside. But now I felt that this officer who I hardly knew, and who had not fought in the war, was leading me into some kind of trap.
“Maybe you can tell me your experiences,” Lt. McCaffery said. Now what was he up to? Was I about to be lectured that the war is over-so let’s forget? I found it hard to trust him so instead of talking I kept silent. He began talking about Shinto, the national religion of Japan, and he explained how Emperor Meiji issued an Imperial edict in 1882 to soldiers and sailors that became holy writ and the basis for meditation for the armed forces. The lieutenant was a true Jap lover.
I didn’t want to hear any more. Emperor Meiji and an Imperial edict, it was all hogwash, and had Lt. McCaffery been on Okinawa with the 29th he would not be talking this way. I was glad when the evening was over and I didn’t have to listen to him anymore. I didn’t think I would ever see Lt. McCaffery again, and if l did, I would avoid him. Less than a month later I was seeking him out. Could he possibly have the answers to the questions that troubled many of us? We were taught to hate the Japanese. We were like those watch dogs they train to attack their victims, to tear at them viciously, not to stop until they kill their opponents or until they are pulled away. Now something very strange was happening. The Marines who were guards on the LSTs that carried the first Japanese repatriates back to Japan returned to Tsingtao with reports about how devastated the country was, and those who had been to Tokyo talked about how the city had been laid flat. The next group returned from Japan, only a few weeks later, with a different report. They had noticed progress. The rubble was being swept away and new buildings were appearing. After six months the Marines had completely different tales to tell. They were beginning to like Japan and the Japanese. Some Marines even praised them, and were prepared to defend their feelings with their fists. I didn’t have to go to Japan to see for myself that something was wrong. It started when I decided to take a couple of the guys on my own to the Sofuku