Little Lew Hangs in the Balance
We all held our breaths. Stevenson lit a Chesterfield and continued. ‘”Sir,’ he says to the colonel, ‘the idea came from the 22nd Marines.’ I gotta hand it to Pappy. He was using strategy. He says to the colonel, ‘You know, their CO let them adopt a Chinese orphan too. They call him Charley Two Shoes. And Motor Pool has a kid too, Bulldog Drummond.”‘
Stevenson knocked the ashes on his cigarette into the cuff of his trousers, took a deep drag and continued. “Pappy knew at that minute he had the colonel whipped.”
“What happened, what happened then?” we all asked. “Col. Roston softened,” Stevenson said. “There was Little Lew, standing there with big eyes wide open.”
“Okay, okay, what happened,” we demanded to know. “What happened,” Stevenson said. “What could happen?
The Old Man agreed that Little Lew can stay.”
They probably heard us in the headquarters office on the ground floor when we sounded off with one big loud cheer. We congratulated Pappy Preston when he returned with Little Lew. Both of them were beaming.
“There’s more to it than that,” Pappy Preston said when things settled down and he made certain Little Lew was comfortable in his new home. He then explained the conditions under which we could keep Little Lew. We had to arrange a fund that would finance his keep. He had to go to school every day, and have a doctor and dentist look him over. We had to pay for a tailor and have uniforms made. Most important, he had to follow rules as we did. He would be issued a chow pass and gate pass but he could not abuse his privileges. In short, Little Lew was the official mascot for Fox Company, 29th Marines. We set up a bunk for him in the corner of the bay. He was the happiest kid in Tsingtao. We began planning immediately for the coming Christmas a few weeks away. This was going to be a very special Christmas, but fate had its hand to play.
Mrs. Murray didn’t agree with Little Lew moving in with us. “Children are not mascots,” she said. “Furthermore what will happen to him when you Marines leave China?”
“We don’t intend to leave,” I said. “We’ll always be here.” I believed it, wholeheartedly. In the meantime, Little Lew fared well. He attended the school for dependents children and he learned English rapidly. He was well liked and was loved by everyone. We no longer used foul language in his presence, and even Melanowski stopped cursing. We fitted him with a uniform and Pfc.’s stripes. When we took him into town, he would sit huddled up beside us in a rickshaw. He became the envy of every kid in Tsingtao. It was true, he was only a kid, but then most of us, when it came down to the question of age, weren’t much more than kids ourselves.
First Winter in China
Winter came to North China in a fury. One day it was warm; the next it was freezing cold. For the Chinese who had little left after years under the Japanese, it was a matter of survival. For many, as more and more refugees pushed into the city, starvation was inevitable. The sick, the lame, the lepers, they walked the streets in rags, the lepers with flesh eaten away to the bone. Most pathetic were the child beggars, the true victims of war. There were hordes of them in shreds of rags. They had never seen a wash or a full meal in their entire short lives. When winter finally set in, they, along with the lepers, were found frozen in doorways. Trucks drove through the streets of Tsingtao each morning picking up frozen corpses in alleys and doorways. In our hikes in the countryside we watched wild dogs gnawing on the bones of the non-survivors half buried in the snow. These poor unfortunate souls didn’t even make it to the city to die.
China for the Marines was a far cry from the steaming jungles of the South Pacific. We had to adapt and we had to do it quickly. No more sweltering heat and torturous sun. The cold was penetrating; even our new issue of cold-weather clothing was inadequate. It consisted of parkas, tank pants, mittens, long underwear, shoe packs and what we called Mongolian piss cutters, fur-lined hats with ear flaps.
The business-minded Chinese of Tsingtao began preparing for the coming holidays. Strings of bright lights began to appear all over town, trees were decorated, and welcoming banners were strung across store fronts, restaurants and cabarets. At Fox Company we began making arrangements for Christmas parties and the chaplain organized a Santa Claus party for orphans to be held at the mess hall. Marines began decorating the gym at the university for the Christmas and New Year’s Eve dances. We began making plans. Roger let it be known he would escort the ladies from the Prime Club. Ming-Lee and Judy looked forward to the occasion and began planning what they would wear. Marines sent home special orders, and packages began to arrive from Sears & Roebuck with the latest women’s wear. It was indeed going to be a happy holiday season for all.
But fun and games weren’t in the cards for Fox Company, not this Christmas. The cold winds were bringing trouble.
When the Sixth Marine Division landed in Tsingtao rather than in Cheefoo, the first order of command was to establish aerial reconnaissance missions in an effort to accomplish two things. First was to monitor all Japanese movements; the second was to keep Marine Headquarters informed of communist activity on the Shantung Peninsula. In layman’s language, we were there to spy for Chiang.
While we were planning Christmas parties and dances, two F7F Tiger cats and an SB2C Helldiver were flying reconnaissance north of Tsingtao and became disorientated in bad weather. All three aircraft were forced to land along the northern coast of the peninsula. The Helldiver aircrew survived and made their way back to Tsingtao overland. One F7F crash landed in the sea near Wei Hai Wei. The Chinese recovered the body of one of the crewmen, but they were unable to locate the second.
The Tiger cat that crash-landed had been recording the movement of Chinese troops and was carrying valuable photo surveillance equipment. It made an emergency landing on the beach at the end of the peninsula. Before he was rescued by the Chinese, the pilot, Lt. Bland, radioed Division Headquarters in Tsingtao that the plane was still intact and should be flyable.
Division Headquarters, independent of Washington, made the decision to dispatch as quickly as possible Fox Company, 29th Marines, from Tsingtao to retrieve the aircraft and make an attempt to fly it back to Tsingtao. The site where it crashed was 500 meters inland from the beach. The terrain was flat with very little rise in the ground, and if it remained frozen, the plane should be able to take off.
We got our orders. Fox Company was about to take on the whole Chinese communist army. Col. Roston briefed us. We were to board an LST and travel to the north coast of the Shantung Peninsula and go ashore where the Tiger cat crash landed.
To carry us ashore, we would have three amphibious Ducks aboard the LST, all with 30 cal. machine guns mounted on the bows. The ducks would off-load while we were at anchor. Radio contact would be maintained between the LST and Division Headquarters in Tsingtao while constant ship-to-shore communications would be kept by radio. Rick Whittington was assigned as radio operator. If it was not possible to fly the plane off, we were instructed to salvage the instruments and photo equipment, destroy the plane, and then get out as fast as we could.
We were issued rations and ammunition. Uniforms were utility with cold-weather parkas, leggings, steel helmets and field marching packs. I contacted Roger and asked him to pass the word on to Ming-Lee and Judy that Stevenson and I would not be around for Christmas. I wanted to see her and tell her myself but all liberty was canceled.