Duties In Our New Home
Everybody on their feet!” Cpl. Marsden sounded out. “Fall out in five minutes,” he continued, “helmet liners and rifles.”
Marsden had a harsh Oklahoma cowboy voice that commanded respect, and we all hated him for it. When our officers couldn’t find anything else for us to do, we had short order drill, and Marsden had to rally us into action. I think he hated it as much as we did but he kept it to himself. It wasn’t that we were lying around all day doing nothing; it was just that somebody up above wanted us to be miserable. Of course, the basic reason for Marines to be in China was guard duty, no matter what anybody said. We were told we were going to China to repatriate the Japanese forces, to send them packing back to Japan where they belonged, but after only a short while we began to wonder about this. Instead of sending the Japanese home, we began using them as guards. The Japanese and their puppet troops continued to hold the rail route from coastal towns to Peking. “Until the 4th Marines in the north can take over,” Whittington had said a minute or two before Marsden poked his head in the door. Whittington had heard the staff talking about it that morning at HQ.
“Isn’t the Nationalist Army supposed to be doing that?”
“They can’t even take care of the communists,” Whittington replied. “There’s talk about a civil war but Col. Roston said no one is allowed to call it a civil war.”
“What do we call it then?” Hecklinger asked in his Oklahoma accent. “If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin’.”
“Skirmishes,” Whittington answered.
“What’s the difference? We can get killed in one as easy as the other,” Melanowski answered. “What are we guarding anyway?”
Just then Cpl. Marsden opened the door and shouted instructions, and Whittington was out of there faster than a banzai charge, back to his bench in front of Col. Roston’s office. While we gathered our helmet liners and rifles, the grumbling began. We had been in Tsingtao two days and we had already stood guard duty, had field training and now we were having short order drill, and there was no mention of liberty.
Our guard duty began even before we had settled in our new quarters. We guarded our headquarters, supply buildings, coal dumps, ammunition dumps, airfields and dock areas. We even had guards to guard the guardhouses. Everything in China needed guarding at all times.
The prize guard duty was the main gate. Sentries here were corporals with sergeants in charge, all picked for their neatness. They manned the gate twenty-four hours a day, and checked every person and vehicle passing in or out for a proper pass. Compound guards were privates and PFCs. They patrolled the entire university, which was surrounded by a stone wall. The wall rose to a height of eight or ten feet, more in some places. The top of the wall had jagged shards of glass embedded in the concrete, like many buildings we saw in Tsingtao when we arrived. Where the wall was not so high, rolls of concertina barbed wire were strung. The most miserable guard duty was the docks. It was as bad as guard duty could get.
The dock area was gloomy and depressing, not a place you’d call cozy. The warehouses, row after row of them, were unpainted with roofs of broken tiles and tiny barred windows high up out of reach. A high wall surrounded the entire area.
The warehouses all looked alike and the only way to distinguish one from the others was by the numbers painted on the corners. Rats were so numerous in the area that even in broad daylight they didn’t bother taking cover. Doors on the buildings were huge, crossed with iron straps and studded with bolts. During the day there was all sorts of activity in the area. Military trucks loaded with cargo from the docks arrived one after the other, and gangs of Chinese coolies set to work unloading crates of stores and stacking them in the warehouses. The crates included everything from Bourbon whiskey for the officers’ mess to winter underwear for the troops. There was canned tuna and gallon-size tins of fruit cocktail. It seemed half the space in warehouses was taken up by cartons of fruit cocktail. Someone in America was making a killing on fruit cocktail. Never did an occupation army anywhere in the world have more fruit cocktail than the China Marines.
At night the picture changed. Guards had prescribed areas to patrol, and with their loaded M1s slung over their shoulders, they walked their posts. It was lonely and wearisome. Officers-of-the-guard made periodic inspections by Jeep, and sentries called out, “Halt, who goes there!” as if they didn’t know. Sentries reported their posts were secured at which the officers and their drivers drove off into the night. Young lieutenants liked to sneak over the wall but that stopped when Terry unloaded a clip of ammo over one’s head one night. They were more careful after that. Sentries counted the minutes of their watches, even the seconds, until they were relieved.
When not on guard duty, we had field training. We stripped down and cleaned our M1s, our carbines, our .45 pistols and our .30 Cal. machine guns, blindfolded. No sooner had we put them together than we had to take them apart again. Smitty could field strip his carbine behind his back faster than anyone else could. We had map reading, first aid drill, compass orientation and on Saturday morning we were scheduled to go on a conditioning hike. All this duty and no liberty yet. And now they called us out for short order drill. Who wouldn’t beat their gums?
Peacetime But Not Idle
The morning sun came out warm, and for two hours we drilled-”One, hup yah left, one hup yah left.” Everyone would be in step, heading straight into a wall. Then, at the last minute, “Left flank hooh, right flank hooh, to the rear hooh.” Sometimes there were so many “to the rear hoohs” in session we got dizzy, to the delight of the drill sergeant.
At noon, just before chow call, Cpl. Marsden appeared with a grin on his face. “Okay you leatherheads, liberty call at 1600,” he said and cheers went up from every man on the drill field. He continued: “Take the afternoon off and let’s see some shined shoes.” We didn’t walk; we ran back to our quarters.
The only man who wasn’t pleased was Stevenson. He didn’t get off duty until 1700. He carried his boondockers back to his desk after chow, grumbling, and began the slow process of spit-polishing them. He took his barracks cap with him. Not all of us had dress shoes in the early days, only GI issue ankle-high field boots we called boondockers. We wore them in combat and later for dress as well. They were made of rough brown leather but if you polished them hard and long enough you could get a shine on them. It wasn’t mandatory that we shined them but nevertheless Marines prided themselves in the fine gloss they could get on their boots. If you could see your reflection, you had reached perfection. We didn’t have dress-green jackets, only field jackets, the ones with four pockets on the outside. A couple guys had Eisenhower jackets. These were cut short and came down to the belt with a slanted pocket on each side. They were smart looking and the envy of everyone.
We spent the afternoon spit-shining and pressing our trousers and telling one another what we intended to do on our first liberty.
For the two days we had been in Tsingtao we had listened to talk about the best liberty spots in town. There was all kind of scuttlebutt, good and bad. We heard one didn’t have to venture too far. Right outside the main gate was Sophie & Marie’s, a neat little bar that served great steak sandwiches. They said it was run by an old White Russian woman named Sophie and her daughter Marie. That was as far as some of the Marines said they would go, until they heard the damn steak was really dog meat.
Even before we went ashore we knew the names of all the bars and taxi dance halls in town. We had our own intelligence source-the grapevine. Some guys said they were headed for the ABC Bar. “That’s for American, British and Chinese,” Terry said with certainty.
“No, the Tivoli,” insisted Smitty, “that’s the place to go. It’s first class. They have table cloths, and it’s located in the center of Tsingtao, in the tallest building in the city.” Other names were tossed out-Prime Club, New York Bar, and Cherry Club. The New York Bar, someone remarked, had White Russian hostesses. But the word was that the best place in town was the EM Club-the Enlisted Man’s Club.
“A good meal of steak, eggs and potatoes cost less than a buck at the EM Club,” Hecklinger announced. “Drinks, ten cents for any kind of beer and five cents for any kind of liquor or mixed drink. I reckon that’s fur me. It don’t take a genius to spot a goat in a flock of sheep.”
We didn’t talk about museums and art galleries; we talked about bars, eating and women, and not necessarily in that order. A heated subject was the bordellos; one, we heard, had a thousand women under one roof. We all agreed we had to go see what they had to offer and look over the merchandise, but the big question was, where would we go first? Some opted to check out the whorehouses first, while others couldn’t make up their minds whether to get drunk or to eat first. Our machine gun squad elected to start at the EM Club first. It was settled, unanimously, the EM Club, and we would stick together. Buddies watched over buddies.
Clean-shaven, trousers with creases that could cut fingers, and faces that shined as bright as our shoes, we headed to the Fox Company office to pick up our liberty passes. We beamed with joy as we bounded into the office, but sadly Stevenson became crestfallen when he saw us. “You aren’t gonna wait for me,” he whimpered, threatening to tear up our passes. He had another hour before he got off duty.
“And waste an hour,” we all growled. We finally convinced him we’d meet him at the EM Club in town.
As Stevenson handed me my pass, he said he had a message for me. “Col. Roston wants to see you at 0800 Monday morning,” he said.
“What about?” I asked. Any time a Marine had to see the Old Man it had to be for Office Hours, for some offense or infraction of the rules, but I hadn’t done anything wrong, not anything that I knew about.
“He didn’t say, but it must be something important. He had discussed it with the Exec.”
“Why Monday? Why not now, or tomorrow morning?” I asked. “You kidding. We go on a hike at 0600 tomorrow,” Stevenson snapped. “You forget!” He then changed his tone. “But hey, buddy, we get liberty tomorrow when we get back from the hike, and all day Sunday too.” I immediately forgot about Col. Roston and Office Hours.