The Bible Sergeant
. . . . .
Those left behind in the weapons carrier could set up camp and await our radio report. If we needed them, they could follow the next morning. Everyone agreed and Sgt. Granger put Hecklinger in charge. We hated leaving him and the others behind but he assured us he would be fine.
The monastery turned out to be less than a two-hour drive. We arrived at a heavy wooden gate flanked by mud brick pillars. The gate was open and we entered. The monastery, a lonesome, forlorn building, was set back a hundred yards from the gate on a high rise of ground. It had the appearance of one of those imperial palaces you see in Peking, with red tile roofs and supporting pillars, painted red, and walls of stuccoed brick between the pillars. There was a long open corridor in the front of the building with flagstone walkways. But unlike the imperial palaces in Peking, this one was in need of repair. The pillars only had a semblance of having once been painted, and the bricks between the pillars were crumbling. But the place was clean and the yard in front was swept. You could see broom marks in the earth floor. A nun, in fact, was sweeping the yard when we drove through the gate. When she saw us, she dropped the broom and took off running for the monastery, as if she had seen monsters from a Lon Chaney horror movie. She was yelling something but we could not hear what it was.
We parked in front of the building and waited. We knew someone would appear shortly, and we were right. An elderly nun in a black habit came marching out the door and without hesitating came straight at us. We could see anger in her face. We were thrown completely off guard. We thought she would be pleased to see us but that was not so. Before we could extend our greetings she demanded to know why we there.
“We are under orders to come and give you assistance,” Sgt. Granger said “We don’t want any military here,” the nun announced emphatically.
“Then who’s in charge here?” Sgt. Granger asked.
“I am,” she replied. “I am Mother Superior, Sister Bernice.” She was a cagey, hatchet faced European woman, and we gathered that she demanded respect. Sgt. Granger was taken aback by her tenacity, but only momentarily. Two other nuns in black habit appeared, and in the back ground we could hear the murmur of children’s voices. Mother Superior immediately admonished the nuns and instructed them to get back and keep the children away.
Sgt. Granger stepped down from the Jeep and I followed. We stood facing Mother Superior. “I am sorry if we surprised you,” Sgt. Granger said politely and in carefully chosen words explained our mission, that the communists were closing in and we were the forward echelon, prepared to evacuate them.
“This is not our war,” snapped Mother Superior.
“I understand that, ma’am, but you may not know the communists,” he replied, but his words were received without conviction.
“We know God, and that is all that is important.”
“Mother Superior,” he replied, angered now, “we are tired. We came a long way. Don’t give us that crap about knowing God. So does Satan know God.”
“Young man, how dare you! I won’t let you mock the Bible.”
“Ma’am, I am not mocking anything. We are Marines and not altar boys. We are not here to be lectured. We are here for your sakes, and the kids, not ours.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The sergeant was a holy roller.
We were interrupted when we heard voices coming from the monastery. It was children’s voices. The children had seen us and suddenly came storming out of the monastery, full of happy innocence. At that moment, Mother Superior turned to face them and raised her hands. The children stopped in their tracks. “Go back, go back,” she shouted in Chinese. They stood there, confused, until two more nuns appeared, ushering them like sheep back into the building. There must have been at least 30 children, boys and girls, perhaps three to ten years old. With Chinese children it’s difficult to judge age. They were dressed in blue uniforms; the girls in skirts and the boys in shorts. They kept stumbling, one falling over the other as they retreated, attempting to keep their eyes on us. Soon they were gone and Mother Superior turned to face us again.
“God will take care of us,” she repeated.
“Well perhaps it is God’s will we came to evacuate you,” Sgt. Granger said, “to take care of you!”
“I told you, God is not to be mocked. God’s power is everywhere and it reaches to the ends of the earth. We do not need to be evacuated. God will protect us, no matter where we are.”
“Ma’am, I told you, we are tired and hungry and it’s getting dark and we don’t have time and energy to play chess with the scriptures, alright? I may not be a priest or a holy man but I know my Bible too.” The Mother Superior stood back in awe. Sgt. Granger continued. “God was on the Israelites’ side, yet why did he command Moses to evacuate them from Egypt? Why didn’t God protect his people in Egypt if he was all powerful and everywhere? And why did God’s angel tell Joseph to take Mary and Jesus and flee from Bethlehem when Herod was out to kill the infant Jesus?”
Was I hearing right? Who would ever have believed Sgt. Granger could quote scriptures from the Bible. He didn’t stop here. He continued. “You may know God, ma’am, but you don’t know what the communists are capable of. If you want to risk your lives, that’s fine but why are you risking the children’s.” He hesitated, staring at Mother Superior. “We do have our orders.”
Mother Superior looked at the children, and a subtle change came over her. She was now unsure of what to do. When we first arrived, she wanted us to leave immediately. Now, when Sgt. Granger pointed out that the road was dangerous at night, she mentioned another road that led down to the coast on the north side of the peninsula, and that was the route they used. Sgt. Granger explained it would be impossible for us to return to Tsingtao that way, for the weapons carrier was waiting for us at the watch tower below, and most likely the entire north of the Shantung Peninsula was in communist hands. Finally Mother Superior relented.
“There’s an empty room at the far end of the hall,” she said quietly. “You can stay there for the night.”
We moved into our new quarters for the night. It was a simple room with four beds, whitewashed walls and a cross on one of the walls. There was one window and it appeared never to have been opened. There were extra blankets on chests at the foot of each bed. Servant boys brought a charcoal brazier to keep us warm and a pot of hot tea to drink. We had our C-rations for dinner.
When things settled down, I asked Sgt. Granger about his religious beliefs. He was reluctant at first but eventually after some prodding gave his thoughts. “My parents are Jehovah’s Witnesses,” he explained. “They were very upset about my enlisting. Witnesses are opposed to war and killing, and I joined the Marines. Hypocritical, ain’t it? But now when I see all this that is going on in China I am beginning to wonder. Maybe they are right. Where does it stop? Nothing makes sense anymore.”
“C’mon, Sarge! Someone’s got to do the killing. We can’t just stand back and watch misfits like Hitler and the Japs murder people by the millions. Wouldn’t that be a sin to let them go? To watch someone get bullied and not do anything about it, that would be worse! I know little about the Bible but I know about David and Goliath and Samson and Delilah and Moses and the Egyptian army; I’ve seen the movies. God said it was okay to kill, you know, the bad guys.”
“I agree, and that’s the dilemma that I’m in. It’s got to stop somewhere,” he said, kicking off his boondockers and stretching out on the bed.
“Exactly, it’s gotta stop, and that’s why we are stopping it. Right?” I replied.
“Yea, by being bigger, with bigger guns,” he said. He slipped under his blankets. The driver was already in his bed for the night.
“Tell me, Sarge, how else can we do it? If we aren’t bigger, and don’t have bigger guns, we can’t stop it. We’d be just in the middle, and maybe get killed at it. If your folks are true Christians, Jehovah’s Witnesses you say, don’t they still have to fight wars and save those who are being bullied?” He didn’t answer, and I continued. “You parents must be proud of you, Sarge. You know who the bad guys are.”
“That’s exactly it!” he said and sat up. “That’s precisely it! Who are the bad guys? Just because they are fighting for their principles, what they believe in, are they bad guys? Wars are simply matters of opinion. People kill one another over an opinion, when the other guy’s opinions doesn’t agree with theirs. Then others step in and they get involved, and the killing gets bigger.”
The driver became bored with our conversation and put a pillow over his head. This was the same talk I had at the university with the Chinese students in Peking. Who was right and who was wrong? I was tired of these games of political volleyball. “I thought you might have a Bible solution,” I said to change the subject. There was a long silence and he didn’t answer. “Okay then, Sarge, aside from your parents and their religious beliefs, do you regret being Marine?”
“You’re back to the matter of opinions. You’re asking me to pick one side, the one you stand for, and it becomes my opinion. He thought for a while and continued. “Is it wrong to be a Marine? You’re asking me a question that requires an opinion. It doesn’t matter what my opinion is for no matter what I say, it will only be my opinion.”
“There has to be one opinion that is right,” I said.
“There is, the Bible,” he replied. I knew it. I knew it all the while. Sgt. Benjamin Granger was a holy roller. He then cut me short. “If you are looking for the truth, then get a Bible. That’s your highest authority, and that’s all I have to say.”
“Look, Sarge, one last thing I don’t understand,” I said. “Your parents and their kind would rather be killed than defend themselves.”
“Look at it this way,” he replied. “Is there a guarantee we won’t get killed in war? Not at all. The Bible says if we must suffer, we might as well suffer doing what is right rather than doing what is wrong. You figure it out and go to sleep.”
The discussion was over.
The beds were quite soft, and most comfortable, but too many conflicting things were running through my head to sleep. Sgt. Granger’s words kept echoing though my head, and I thought about Hecklinger and the others bivouacking in the open. Hecklinger had hopes about sleeping in the watchtower when he first saw the place, but then he discovered the concrete floors inside the building were covered with human excrement and the place stunk horribly. “Why do these gook bastards have to crap inside a building when they have the whole countryside?” he ranted. I could still hear him as we drove off.
There was little sleep and at the first light of dawn we were up. Already the children were playing in the open compound. We dressed and went out to greet them. They came running and were soon climbing all over us. Each one vied desperately to get our attention. Unlike most orphans we saw, generally shy and withdrawn, these kids were friendly and filled with cheer. We had to give the nuns credit. They did a fine job in raising them. I had wondered before we came, why the nuns chose these kids above all the other orphans in the country. Why them? What criteria were they using to judge? When I saw the kids that morning I immediately knew. A young lad about three approached me, eager to hold my band. He had blue eyes. At his side was a young girl, about the same age, and she had light brown hair. The children were of mixed blood-Russian, American, English, Japanese. My heart went out for them, and I wished we could carry all of them back with us to Tsingtao. Maybe we could. We would need to go back to get more vehicles. We had to hurry.
While the driver and I were cavorting with the kids, Sgt. Granger wandered off to make one last plea with Mother Superior and the nuns to evacuate the monastery. Before he left, he instructed us to make radio contact with Hecklinger. He returned half an hour later, and he was steaming mad. “Let’s go and get the hell out of here,” he said and made no further comment. I wanted to say that this was not the way for a Jehovah Witness to act but thought it best to let it go. I knew that sooner or later he would tell me what had happened with Mother Superior and why she had refused our offer.
We were unable to reach the others by radio. We assumed bad radio transmission in the mountain area was the cause. We made several more attempts while en route but still we had no luck.
I am one who doesn’t believe in premonitions, but I have to admit there was an eerie and uncertain feeling during our drive back from the monastery. I was very uncomfortable, and I could feel that Sgt. Granger and the driver felt much the same way. Maybe it was the gloom of having to leave the nuns and orphans to an uncertain fate, or it could have been the feeling that we were pushing our luck too far. I don’t know what it was but when we rounded the bend in the road before reaching the watch tower, expecting to find the weapons carrier waiting for us, and it wasn’t there, we knew immediately that something was wrong. We leaped out of the Jeep and began looking around. Sgt. Granger suddenly froze in his tracks; the expression on his face changed to one of horror. He pointed towards the tower. There in the semidarkness of the interior were two shadows, two bodies, hanging in mid-air. My pulse quickened. We advanced ever so cautiously, peering hard into the interior. Sgt. Granger withdrew his .45 from his holster and slid a round into the chamber. At the door we stopped, not wanting to believe what we saw. Two bodies hung by their feet from the ceiling, their heads inches from the floor. I felt my knees grow limp. The sight was dreadful! Their arms, their hands and the floor were covered with dried blood. Their eyes were open, their arms reaching out. The men were dead. Hecklinger was one of them. Their tongues had been cut out and they were left to bleed to death.
My first impulse was to get back to the Jeep and get my carbine, but it was too late. It wouldn’t have done me any good anyway. We were completely surrounded. Guerrilla fighters had suddenly appeared from everywhere. A dozen weapons were pointed directly at us.