“Hotel” Accommodation for Marines
The Strand Hotel in Tsingtao became the pride of Fox Company, 29th Marines. I don’t think there was a Marine who moved into the hotel that didn’t write home and talk about it. It was a three-story colonial-style building located at the outskirts north of town facing an open beach. The Strand was built by the Germans who occupied Tsingtao before World War I, but who had to give up their claims in China at the end of the war. The legacy they left was more than a grand hotel, however. It was a brewery from which Tsingtao beer came. We were grateful to the Germans for both, the hotel and Tsingtao beer.
Trucks transported Fox Company with all of our gear from Shantung University where we had been billeted to the Strand. Here they deposited us, with our weapons, packs and seabags, on the street in front of the hotel. There we waited, sitting on our helmets, while the Chinese gathered to take a look at the new tenants. Seeing the crowd gathering in front of the hotel, more Chinese stopped to investigate. They in tum brought even more people to come for a look. Soon we had a wall of inquisitive bystanders surrounding us, all pushing and shoving to get better views. There was no holding them back, until Terry took out his K-bar, flipped it over and grabbed the blade end of the knife in a very dramatic maneuver. The mob backed up slightly not knowing what to expect. We knew instantly what Terry had in mind. About a dozen yards away stood a tree bare of leaves with the trunk exposed. A few Marines sat smoking around the base of the tree. Had they been aware of Terry’s intent, he may not have pulled it off. Nevertheless, he took aim-we held our breaths-and he let fly the K-bar. It zipped through the air with a swish and stuck point first with a thud into the tree. The mob let out a sigh and moved farther back, leaving us breathing room. Terry calmly withdrew his K-bar, wiped the blade on his sleeve, put the knife back into its sheath and again sat down on his helmet.
Finally Lt. Brandmire appeared with Gunny Sergeant Pappy Preston at his side. Pappy Preston made the announcement. Rifle and machine gun platoons were assigned to the bottom two decks. The top deck was for storage, with a small area set aside for quarters for Chinese houseboys. The houseboys were there for the officers and staff non-commissioned officers only. The rest of us would have to clean our own rooms and shine our own shoes. He instructed us to take our gear and follow Cpl. Marsden to our new quarters on the second floor.
Never did we expect such luxury as when we stepped into the room, or squad bay as Pappy Preston called the rooms. It was spacious, with double bunks, consisting of one single metal bunk bolted to the top of another single bunk. Marsden had us hang our gear in one comer of the squad bay. We placed our skivvies, socks, utilities and personal items in our seabags, which we secured by padlock to the head of each bunk. Under our bunk we slung our rifles on two blanket roll straps. Each Marine strapped his pack, or 782 gear, along with bayonet, cartridge belt and canteen to the foot of his bunk. We draped our laundry bags over the head of each bunk.
There was no central heating and we could already feel the cold for winter was beginning to set in. We had one tent stove, which Melanowski lit, and immediately smelly diesel fumes filled the room. “Quit bitching,” he snapped. “Be happy you’re not sleeping in a tent.” He changed his tune later in the day when the stove blew up and sent soot all over the room. We didn’t stop grumbling; then we had the first of many field days.
Toilet facilities at the Strand Hotel weren’t so grand. We were fortunate enough to have fresh water, but it was ice cold. We discovered this the next morning when we had to wash and shave. That evening, and every evening that followed, we had water for thirty minutes, for those who could stand a frigid shower. This occurred only if the water pipes had not frozen during the night. There was no heat in the heads. Shaving in ice water while shivering from below zero temperatures became a daily ordeal. Yet, we dared not to fall out for rifle and personnel inspection without a shave.
Due to uncertain water hours, we were all issued two canteens and every man made sure he kept his canteens full at all times. You never knew when the pipes would freeze, or if for some reason the water would not come on at the designated times.
Heads had no flush toilets because of freezing temperatures and water shortage. The frigid temperature made calls of nature something to complete as quickly as possible. Human waste was scraped out from beneath the round holes where we sat, collected in buckets and kept in a pit outside the barracks. Coolies bailed the pit out frequently, hauling the waste into the countryside to dump on the fields for fertilizer. We called these coolies “honey dippers.” Often times they scraped beneath the holes while we were still sitting there. It required some getting used to.
Eventually we did have hot showers, but it took effort to get one. The Engineers Unit, located three hundred yards down the hill, constructed a large shower room with hot water showers. They allowed infantry companies to use the showers for an hour each evening. This required careful planning on our part, for it was very cold and dark on the path to the shower. Chandler came back cursing the first night; he had been late getting there. He had soaped up his body when the hot water went off. He had to finish with an ice cold shower. We quickly learned not to forget our soap or towel, nor be late.
We had a neat laundry room on the bottom floor. Jerry Ruker ran the operation. If we didn’t want to do our laundry ourselves, which none of us did, we deposited it with him and he sent it out to a Chinese laundry. It came back the next day washed and pressed; even our skivvies got pressed. Sgt. Herman Willis was in charge of the Chinese cleanup force. We called him “Pops.” He was older than any of us, having reached his 29th birthday. Even the officers, many who were much older than he was, called him Pops too.
The mess hall was heated but we had to wait in long lines in the cold to get into the hall, and then we had to wait in line again to wash our mess gear after we ate. Three 50-gallon steel drums with the tops cut off were placed outside the exit door of the mess hall. The first drum in line had a screen on top and here Marines dumped the leftovers and refuge from their mess gear. The liquids filtered to the bottom leaving only solids. The next drum was filled with hot soapy water, and the last drum contained fresh water. When we came out of the mess hall we dumped our leftovers into the first drum, washed our mess gear in the second and dunked away the soap in the third drum.
The mess sergeant issued passes to coolies who attended the cleanup detail. They stood diligently over the first drum and when the garbage piled up they poured the contents into wooden buckets. At first we thought they were collecting the garbage to feed their pigs or other farm animals, but we later learned they were collecting the garbage to eat. No matter how rotten or old the discarded food was, the poor Chinese coolies collected it for food.
Some Marines found the matter disgusting and scoffed at the coolies. “You’re worse than pigs,” they shouted and took their cigarettes and butted them in the garbage. Later the coolies took the butts and stuffed them into their pockets.