China Marines in Another War
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Romance in China wasn’t gone; it was still with us. The diver wasn’t John Wayne, but he did have the reckless appeal of Capt. Jack Stuart in “Reap the Wild Wind.” I wished at that moment I could have been with that Navy diver, diving to the bottom of the ocean in a deep-sea suit, and what did it matter if an octopus was there waiting? But the Navy would never have let a Jarhead without training go deep sea diving. It was impossible. The Navy had its regulations. But I could still dream.
When the diver came up empty handed, not once but half a dozen times, everyone lost confidence, but I vowed that one day I would come back to China and look for Tojo’s Treasure. Nor had I forgotten Peach Blossom Spring. I’d go searching for that too, one day when the communists backed off.
Looking for lost treasure was fun; saving Charley Company was not. History does repeat itself. We were living in a period reminiscent of the Boxer Rebellion.
Communist guerrillas, who had watched American Marines join forces with Kuomintang troops to bar them from the railway lines for so many months, grew impatient and trigger• happy. A field detachment of guerrillas ambushed a Marine convoy on the highway between Tientsin and Peking, and soon Americans and communists were killing each other.
A more serious incident involved Charley Company, Fifth Marines. I was called to accompany our regiment commander on an investigation of the conditions, but when we arrived it was too late.
For more than a year Charley Company had been defending the ammunition supply point at Hsin Ho, north of Tankgu and south of Tientsin. The Japanese, aware of its vital importance as a port, first invaded Hsin Ho in 1932. Now with General Chiang Kai-shek’s forces withdrawing, it was up to the Marines to defend the depot. They had little supplies and equipment, only their old M1s, some BARs, a few mortars and a machine gun platoon to guard an eight-mile periphery around the ammo dump. There were no tanks, and no planes flying overhead for support. Their defense required them to man eight towers on rotation of four hours on, eight off. At night eight sentries, one on each milepost, stood guard. They manned these positions for ten straight months. They had no time off, and no liberty.
With incidents happening almost every night, Charley Company was literally in the midst of a war, while Americans back home thought the war was over. Mao’s forces finally became convinced that the Marines were not about to give up, and on April 5, 1947, they attacked. They attacked with several thousand men. Throughout the night Charley Company fought off the Chinese troops at the odds of 100 to one.
Finally, after a night of fierce fighting, Charley Company drove the enemy back, but at a cost of five Marines killed-in-action and sixteen more wounded.
No Marine unit deserved more credit than Charley Company, Fifth Marines. The company served beyond the line of duty without relief from any other unit, and it fought on with minimum supplies for ten months. The fighting was over when we arrived. The depot at Hsin Ho had been a living hellhole, and the site of the worst U.S. fighting in North China. When I talked to a few of the Marines who had survived, I pictured them, had the circumstances been different, playing a game of football back home at their high school. They were so young, too young to vote, and too young to go into a bar back home to have a beer. But not too young to die. They were Marines.
After months of fighting, Mao’s army was pushed back, thanks to this gallant company of teenage Marines, but disheartening was the knowledge that waiting in reserve were two million or more Chinese troops ready to attack at a minute’s notice.
Smitty was setting off on another trip to Japan, and Hecklinger and I went down to the docks to see him off. He was happy as a recruit getting his emblem after graduating from bootcamp. He rolled back the sleeve on his field jacket, ran his hand over his Hawaiian dancer tattoo, and said, “Baby, we are off again.”
Smitty always came back to Tsingtao with the latest news from MacArthur headquarters. What would he have to tell this time? He had a couple of buddies who were assigned as guards to the Tokyo Trials and from them he gathered the latest skinny. In the beginning we liked the way the trials were going. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East began its trial of Japanese war criminals in Tokyo on May 3, 1946. Every one of us, down to the last Marine, waited to hear that Emperor Hirohito had been sentenced to death. The only thing we couldn’t agree upon was whether they should shoot him or hang him. We were certain he would be held responsible for the deaths of three million Japanese, 35 million Chinese, 109,656 Americans, and many millions of Asians. His guilt, they say, was greater than that of Hitler. Undoubtedly, had Hitler lived, he would have been tried at the Nuremberg Trials, condemned and hanged as other Nazi leaders had.
But Emperor Hirohito was not sentenced to death, nor to life in prison. He was not even tried.
The first group of 70 Japanese war criminals-all major leaders in the military, political, and diplomatic sphere-were apprehended and set to stand trial. But only 28 of the war criminals on the list were brought to trial. The others were released and their cases were closed.
Across the China Sea in Tsingtao, we knew that Japan was under U.S. occupation, and we were aware that the Supreme Commander was Douglas MacArthur. Despite Australia and China demanding that Emperor Hirohito be tried as the chief culprit of war crimes against humanity, the US took Hirohito from the list of war criminals.
As Supreme Commander, MacArthur had the authority not only to select judges but also “to reduce, but not to increase the Sentences.” Chief Prosecutor Keenan, a politician from the State of Ohio, cooperated slavishly with the Supreme Commander; under such circumstances, the Tokyo Trial dragged on for two and a half years and closed on November 4, 1948, with its sentences meted out to the 28 criminals. Only seven received death sentences. MacArthur insisted it was for the sake of expediency for the governing Japan under occupation that the Emperor was not tried.
MacArthur didn’t win favors with the Marines who fought on Okinawa and with those who witnessed Japanese atrocities in China. No, not with way he handled the Emperor, nor when he struck a deal with Lt. Gen. Ishii Shiro, former commander of Japanese biological warfare Unit 731, that he and all members of Unit 731 were to be exonerated from war crimes in exchange for data they had acquired through human experimentation of many thousands of Chinese, Korean, Soviet, and even US POWs. Without a shadow of a doubt, Ishii’s crimes had far exceeded those committed by the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele for conducting human experiments. Unit 731 had murdered many times more than the number of Jews, Gypsies, Polish, and Russians killed by the Nazi doctors.
And Emperor Hirohito went free, to reign again in the grand Imperial Palace. If General Douglas “Dugout Doug” MacArthur had some other objective in mind, we Marines never knew it.