University Amenities vs the Hotel’s
We still used the university. There was a 4×4 weapons carrier that served as a bus and ran scheduled runs. The base movie hall was there, and they had a first class gym with a basketball court and weightlifting room. The library had a new shipment of books from America. I had finished reading The Dowager Empress, and found other books on Chinese history I checked out. One book I found most interesting was titled Chinese Warlords. I began reading about Feng Yu-hsiang, the Christian Warlord who baptized his troops with a garden hose.
I missed chow that night reading it. The author of the book talked about another warlord, Chiang Hsueh-liang, who had captured Chiang Kai-shek. I couldn’t wait to read that chapter.
The Strand Hotel suited me fine for more than one reason. It was closer to the Murrays, and I could walk to my Chinese classes without Sammy having to drive me.
I came to enjoy my afternoons at the Murrays. Sally was becoming friendlier, especially when I brought her little gifts from the PX. I also helped out the family with sweet smelling bars of soap and tubes of toothpaste. They were truly luxuries for them. Clara continued to keep her distance but she no longer fled as she once did. The real shock came when Mrs. Murray told me Clara had met a Marine sergeant and had been seeing him. I was puzzled how she got to know him, shy as she was.
“She was walking home one afternoon and he picked her up in his Jeep,” she explained after I asked her. “He seems like such a nice fellow.”
Mrs. Murray talked freely about the mission and how happy they had been. “Mr. Murray came to China before the Great War, when Tsingtao was still under the Germans,” she said one afternoon when we were having tea after my studies. “He spent the war in China, and came back to England on leave at the end of the war. He was so handsome, and had so many exciting stories to tell. China then was at the end of the world, and to even get here one had to be an adventurer. I was only eighteen when I met him. He was much older, almost twice my age, and I fell in love with him. I was the one who proposed. Can you imagine that? We married and spent our honeymoon on a steamer to Shanghai. From Shanghai we took a coastal boat to Cheefoo. Clara was born in Cheefoo.”
Another advantage of living in the Strand Hotel was that it was closer to the beach. There were three beaches, and all were secured areas set aside for recreation for the troops. Although it was too cold to swim in October, it was still a fine place for weekend beer parties and barbecues. Marines could meet their Chinese dates here and not fear reprisals. It was here on Sunday that Roger brought Ming-Lee. I was as happy as the day I got out of boot camp.
We didn’t do much, only held hands and walked up the beach and talked about things most Marines talked about. We couldn’t talk about the same things kids back honie talked about. Ours wasn’t football games and proms and Saturday night parties. The war deprived us of these things and we only knew about them from what we read in LIFE and Esquire or from letters from back home. We could only talk about killing Japs and what great buddies we had and the fun we had at the Prime Club a couple nights before. The bar girls in China listened to their men, and this is what made them so special. Marines could unburden their souls to women who hardly knew what they were talking about and it made these Gls happy. Each guy, however, thought his girl was different. I thought Ming-Lee was different, and of course, she was. She not only listened to me, she asked me questions. She was special, I guess, because she thought that I was different. I was becoming very fond of her. She was becoming my escape.
I didn’t realize it but I had gotten on the Ferris wheel.
We walked up the beach to where the officers’ hotel stood on a rocky precipice. “It’s the Dung Hi Fandian in Chinese,” Ming-Lee explained. “Before the Americans came, rich Chinese from Shanghai stayed there during summer months.” One of the things we talked about was my concern for the boy who lived in the sewer pipe at the main gate near the university. “It’s getting cold now, and there must be some place that will take him, like an orphanage,” I said. Ming-Lee offered to check around and see what she could find. When I went to see her at the Prime Club the next night she said it was impossible to find a home for him. The orphanages in Tsingtao, she said, were already overcrowded.
Sewer Boy, Little Lew-Marines Have Soft Hearts Too
Back at the squad bay the next morning before roll call we discussed the boy. We knew the kid was certain to die unless we did something about it. “We can bring him here, can’t we?” Melanowski suggested.
“You’re out of your friggin’ mind,” Terry admonished him.
“Why, what the hell can they do to us? Throw us in the brig for saving a kid’s life!” Melanowski replied. They got into a heated argument. Hot-headed Melanowski didn’t like to be told he couldn’t do something.
We thought the subject would end here, but it was only the beginning. Instead, the two toughest, meanest guys in the Marine Corps, Terry and Melanowski, turned out to be the most soft-hearted of any of us. That night, without us being aware of what was taking place, the two men had Sammy drive them in a Jeep to the sewer outside the main gate, found the kid and wrapped him in blankets and brought him back to the Strand. They scrubbed him up, dressed him out in some old uniforms, rolled up the trouser legs and shirt sleeves, and hid him out in a supply room on the third floor. They fed him that day with food they sneaked from the mess hall. The next night when Cpl. Marsden was playing poker with the staff NCOs in their quarters, they brought the kid to our squad bay. Their plan was all very cleverly orchestrated, but not everyone in the squad was in agreement, until they saw the boy. The very sight of him was enough to soften the heart of the most hard-hearted Marine. There the kid stood, frightened to death, in a uniform with the legs and sleeves rolled up, but with a face full of smiles. We all agreed the boy should spend his nights with us in our squad bay where it was reasonably warm, and in the day he could hide out in the supply room.
We called him Little Lew, for lack of a better name. He was about the size of a peanut and frightfully skinny. He quickly gained our trust and soon began picking up English words. We hadn’t the faintest notion how long we could keep up our deception, but we were determined to see our plan through. We felt the gamble was worth it, considering what might have happened to Little Lew hadn’t we acted. Still, we reasoned, it was not fair to Cpl. Marsden. This wasn’t his doing but he was the one who would get into trouble when the boy was discovered living in the barracks. And sooner or later he would be discovered. That we knew. What we had counted on was that we could trust the houseboys on the third floor. We felt they too would feel compassion for Little Lew. We were wrong. They went running to Col. Roston.
Pappy Preston came to our defense. Who would ever have imagined that an old geezer like him would have feelings for a little kid he didn’t know? Stevenson was on duty in the office when Pappy, with Little Lew in hand, went to see Col. Roston. We were torn apart inside when Pappy left the squad bay holding Little Lew’s hand and walked down the corridor. The kid, not as high as Pappy’s waist, looked so pathetic in his oversized uniform, walking with the gunny sergeant who was so fat his uniform bulged at the seams. At the last moment, before they were out of sight, Scotty ran down the hall with Stevenson’s barracks hat and plopped it down on Little Lew’s head. Little Lew turned and smiled, and with his little hand sticking out his sleeve, he waved.
Stevenson reported later what had transpired in Col. Roston’s office. “There’s Pappy with the kid standing in front of the Old Man,” he began. “And what does he do? He says to the colonel, ‘what can we do with him?’ Before the colonel could say anything, he continues. ‘What’s been done has been done, Colonel. We can’t throw him out. He has no mother, no papa, no one, and no home will take him. It isn’t the question of money; all the boys will kick in for him.’ Then the Old Man asks him, ‘Whose idea was this?”‘