A History Lesson
By: Ed Fulwider
A few months back you published letters from Janice Miller of San Mateo and Charlie Leonard of Danville regarding V-E Day, V-J Day and the question of when WWII ended. The upcoming ceremonies at golden Gate National Cemetery on 17 February, 2001, to commemorate the 56th anniversary of the Marine’s landing on Iwo Jima started me thinking about some very little known facts about the war’s end.
If today, you were to ask the “man on the street” when WWII ended, I doubt if 10% of the people would have any idea. Those who were alive at the time would still have a variety of answers. Some might say it ended on August 6th when the Atomic Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, some would say it ended on August 9th when the Atomic Bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and others might say it ended on August 14th when Emperor Hirohito announced the Japanese surrender. I would guess that the majority who did have an inkling as to the end of the war would say it ended on September 2nd on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri, when General MacArthur accepted the formal surrender of the Japanese Empire.
However, if you ask one group of veterans when the war with Japan ended, they would tell you it ended on October 15th, 1945, in Tientsin, China. On that day, the United Sates Marine Corps accepted the surrender of more than 500,000 Japanese troops in mainland China. The majority of these Marines were members of the 1st and 6th Marine Divisions who had just completed the long and bloody campaign on the island of Okinawa. They were among the hundreds of thousands of American serviceman preparing for the final assault to end the war and were scheduled to land on the Japanese homeland on November 1st. Had this invasion actually taken place, it would have made Valley Forge, Gettysburg, the Marne and even Iwo Jima look like Boy Scout Camporees. President Truman’s difficult and courageous decision to drop the Atomic Bomb not only saved a million American casualties, it undoubtedly saved 10 million Japanese casualties.
Over the next few months the Marines then repatriated the Japanese troops to their homes in Japan, mainly by way of LST’s. However, some of the Japanese troops did not surrender till well into November. On more than one occasion the Marines had to rearm the Japanese to save them from being slaughtered by revenge minded Chinese citizens.
While one war had ended, another one had just started. Mao Tse Tung’s communist army had crossed into Northern China and slowly started working its way south. Hardly a single day passed without some sort of “harassment incidents” Marines were beaten, kidnapped and held for ransom. Marine “Train Guards” sitting atop the coal trains moving at fifteen miles an hour from Chingwantao to Mukden across the Mongolian border were like slow motion ducks in a shooting gallery.
One group of Marines guarding a large number of Japanese troops awaiting repatriation was surrounded by a much larger contingent of Chi Coms. The Marine officer in charge rearmed several hundred of troops under their Japanese Major. Faced by this new combined threat, the Chi Coms withdrew. The Japanese Major then disarmed his men and they were soon on their way home.
At one point I was station at Nan Yuan Field, eighteen miles outside of Peking (Beijing). To go on liberty we had to ride through eighteen miles of open fields an rice paddies while sitting on benches in the back of a canvas covered “cattle cars” making ideal target for any sniper. I can guarantee you that a green wool blouse and a khaki shirt are not very bullet proof.
On December 3rd, 1945, Marines stationed at the French Arsenal were attacked by Chinese troops. Thirteen Marines were killed during the battle and many were wounded. On July 29, 1946, one of our supply trains was ambushed at Anping. Three Marines were killed and seven were wounded. Later at Hsin Ho, (I can’t recall the date), our ammunition dump was attacked and blown up resulting in the deaths of at least five Marines and the wounding of seventeen.
Unlike the recent “terrorist attack” on the USS Cole, which made screaming headlines throughout the entire world, hardly a word about these incidents was published in American newspapers. Other than the Marines themselves and their immediate families, I doubt if one in one hundred thousand Americans living at the time ever heard a word about what was happening in China.
These incidents went on for more than four years as the Marines guarding American property and civilian personnel gradually, but constantly withdrew southward from Peking in North China to Tientsin and then to Tsingtao and then to Shanghai. During this period, more than 70,000 Marine experienced “China Duty”. Ironically, many of these wounded men never go their Purple Heart and an arbitrary ruling by the Chief of Naval Operations about the date of the “official” end of WWII, makes the majority of the men ineligible for the “Combat Action Ribbon”. We were “not engaged in armed conflict with hostile enemy forces”. Regardless, the bullets, bayonets, burns, and shrapnel hurt just as much as if we had been “in a real war”.
Marines will be the first to tell you “even in Peace Time, Freedom isn’t Free.”
Being a lifelong history buff, my nearly eighteen months in China was a fascinating experience. However, like the experiences of most men in WWII, “We are glad we had it, but sure wouldn’t want to do it again.”
Several years ago, my wife and I made a fifteen day return visit to China. I found it just as beautiful and historically interesting a I had remembered it, but was truly amazed at the vast changes and how “Westernized” China had become.
Fifty five years has made my memory a little fuzzy as I never kept a journal of these events. I might be off a day or so on the dates and a letter or two off on the spelling, but the fire fights can be verified by any history of the Marines in North China.
WWII & North China
West Coast Representative
China Marine Association