. . . . .
With each passing day, refuges by the thousands flooded into Tsingtao. They came by land, by rail and lorry truck; by sea, by junks, scow and coastal steamer. They came seeking security under the American flag, and they brought with them all the belongings that they could carry. Some even brought their furniture. They were the wealthy, the Chinese and the White Russians. The poor came in carts and riding bicycles, and some pushed wheelbarrows. And there were those who had nothing to ride or push. They walked with rags wrapped around their feet for shoes, carrying all they had left in the world on their backs.
The balu were not far behind them.
Marine headquarters felt we should make our presence known, and once again long hikes into the hills around Tsingtao were initiated, but now we would go armed and with full marching packs. “We are not to look for trouble,” our CO said, “but to ward off trouble if it comes.”
Sometimes we took along scouts to guide our patrols through unfamiliar terrain. They were Chinese ex-soldiers, hardened to warfare and who had spent years fighting the Japanese. They had horror stories to tell, and during our breaks I translated them. They told about the Japanese invasion, how the peasants had fled before the soldiers came with their guns and swords, slicing to pieces anyone who got in their way. The fleeing Chinese took with them everything from seed grain to furniture. They herded their pigs and cattle off into the hills, hid their clothes and valuables in the ground, and fled to the mountains, and when the Japanese came they entered a barren wasteland, and became even more enraged.
The Japanese, in turn, fled when the Marines came, but they left behind a blazed blackened earth and devastation that stretched across the countryside. We could still see burned villages that were simply huddles of ruins. In some places the roads were so torn that even walking was difficult. The land was bare, and not a tree or even a shrub stood. They had long been stripped away, the wood to be sold for firewood, and, as the guides said, the bark to be eaten.
Our eyes, however, were not on the ground where we walked, but to the hills that lie beyond. We could hear heavy gunfire and sometimes feel the very earth beneath our feet shake. The Nationalist Army was defending China from the advancing Red Army, but the soldiers we met along the road were not advancing. They were in retreat.
When the road was clear on a far ridge, we could see clouds of dust puffing into the air from the movement of troops. Then as the hours passed, we could see the troops, endless columns of haggard and wounded soldiers coming down the dusty road from out of the hills. There were convoys of military vehicles that rumbled along at reckless speeds. The vehicles were empty, with guards to keep soldiers from climbing aboard. They didn’t even stop for the wounded. The guides explained it took more fuel for vehicles that were loaded. By the thousands the soldiers were giving up, abandoning vehicles wherever they stopped, throwing away their weapons, discarding their uniforms. Their will to continue was gone.
How strange it all was. With the sound of artillery echoing in the distant hills, life in the city continued on as always. The bars were open, taxi dancers waited for customers, restaurant owners stood in front of their establishments beckoning customers to come in, pimps on street corners offered their clean virgin sisters waiting at home, money changers had special last-chance deals, and everywhere there were crowds. Many believed that the Marines would stay, and that certainly the all-powerful Nationalist Chinese Army would defend their city.
The burden to keep the city alive was placed on the Americans. Food, medical supplies, oil, and all necessities had to be imported by sea, and everything depended upon the US Navy to keep the sea-lanes open. For the Marine garrison, some 8,000 men now, morale began to wane. The problem was, the men of the old China hands were leaving. Stevenson cried in his beer the loudest. He really loved China. “Remember Mr. Wong?” he lamented. “I will always feel bad that we didn’t help him.” I remembered Mr. Wong. It would be hard to forget him. We ran into him in the street near the docks one afternoon. He introduced himself and said his wife was very ill. He had a little vial of penicillin he had bought on the black market. Penicillin was new then. We could see the vial had already been pierced with a hypodermic needle. He had tears in his eyes and pleaded when he asked if we could take it to a sick bay somewhere to find out if the penicillin was still okay. We told him there was nothing we could do to help. We left him crying on the sidewalk. The poor man was worried about his wife. “I often think of that,” Stevenson continued. “There was a hospital ship nearby and it would have been so easy just to walk up the gangway to the quarterdeck and ask the OD if he could help us out. Maybe he would have turned us away, but it wouldn’t have hurt to try.”
Maybe our wounds were deeper than we realized. None of us were truly free from the war. We had our fears, some deeply submerged in our subconscious. These were dreadful scars to burden tortured minds of youths. They could erupt at any time. We could control such emotions, as long as we had “our buddies” with us. Maybe this is why we didn’t want to go home; we would no longer have buddies to rely upon.
Back home, we had heard, there were many people-psychologists, sociologists and just plain mothers and wives-who were determined to believe we had a readjustment problem. They were all worried that they didn’t know how they could solve it. Hell! We were condemned and labeled even before we got home. Articles ran in women’s magazines with titles like “What You Can Do to Help the Returning Veteran” and “Will He Be Changed?” Good Housekeeping wrote: “After two or three weeks he should be finished with talking, with oppressive remembering. If he still goes over the same stories, reveals the same emotions, you had best consult a psychiatrist. This condition is neurotic.” House Beautiful suggested that “Home must be the greatest rehabilitation center of them all.” The magazine then showed photographs of a living room designed for a returning general or admiral. All we wanted was our same old room back.
On Okinawa and later in China we came to understand
man’s unbelievable inhumanity to fellow man. We survived the battle but we could not forget the Marines who had been mutilated hideously by the enemy. Who could forget the Marine who had been decapitated? When we found him, his head lay on his chest; his hands had been severed from his wrists and also lay on his chest. The Japanese had cut off another dead Marine’s penis and stuffed it in his mouth.
Each Marine had his own fears he had to battle. Terry could
not get over the terror of being under artillery or mortar fire. Hecklinger would wake up at night screaming. He was knocking out the gold teeth from a Japanese corpse when the man came alive. Chandler thought he had killed a Marine. It had its roots when our replacement draft landed on Okinawa and we were assigned to our outfits. We ended up in the machine gun platoon. Our first night we were bivouacked on a ridge and had to stand guard duty. Chandler was on watch when on the road below, he heard footsteps. He called out to give the password, something like “lucky legs,” but the intruder did not respond. “Shoot, shoot,” we all shouted to Chandler. Finally, pressured, he pulled the trigger on his Ml. The shot rang out in the dark. He fired again, and again. A flare went up, and in the road below was a body. Someone thought it might be a Marine. Chandler was in hell all night long. He was sure he had killed a Marine. In the morning, with first light, we could all be seen peering over the edge of the cliff; the body was that of a Japanese soldier When we scampered down the hill and investigated, we found that the soldier was about to pull the pin on a potato masher. It exploded in his hands before he could toss it up the hill at us. Had he succeeded, a half dozen Marines may have been killed. Still, Chandler was haunted by the thought that it could have been a Marine that be killed.
Smitty was obsessed with the smells. Everywhere on Okinawa was the putrid odor of rotting flesh. The island was all rock, and digging holes to bury the dead, or to dig saddle trenches, was near impossible. Dead rotting bodies and human excrement was everywhere. Blowflies had a field day and enjoyed the banquet that had been made for them. That horrid smell would be with Smitty wherever he went. “That stinks just like the time-” he would remind us when we were on liberty or on patrol with him.
“Shut up, Smitty,” we’d say. He ruined many meals for us.
Stevenson had a problem of a different sort. He didn’t think he could ever marry. He confided in me that afternoon after we had left Mrs. Djung’s abandoned house. It was afternoon and we had stopped in Rusty’s Russian Cafe for a couple of Tsingtao beers. “I’m afraid if l got married,” he began, “and I had kids, and one was a girl, I’d see in her that little girl on Okinawa.” He poured the last of the beer into our glasses and ordered two more Tsingtao. A Russian hostess, built like that two-ton Japanese tank we found on Guam, with dyed blond hair and black roots, came to sit with us. Stevenson barked at her to get lost. He had something to say and didn’t want to be interrupted. He lit two Chesterfields, handed one to me, and he began telling about the little girl and the time he was on patrol on Okinawa during the mopping operation. “We were told there was activity in an abandoned village to the south of Naha,” he said, “and we had to check it out. A couple of guys from Able Company had gotten there just before us, and we watched two Marines approach a young girl about four years old. All she had on was a straw G-string. She was the cutest thing you could imagine, but with a real look of fear in her eyes. One of the Marines, feeling pity for her, stooped down to pick her up, and just as he did, the kid pulled a sash cord and set off a charge. I swear at that moment she looked up at me standing there. It killed both of them.” Stevenson thought for a while, until I touched a hand on his shoulder. Words were not necessary. He continued: “When I see my daughter, I will see that little girl. I will forever see that face.”