Fourth Marines Band: "Last China Band"
 

THE EDGE

 

CHAPTER TWO - First Duty Stations

 
 

Benny Boys

In the bars of Manila I soon found out who Benny Boys were Filipino boys dressed up like girls with curly hair and heavy gobs of makeup. They actually were hookers who’d go after the Marines, sailors and soldiers in the bars. They’d take your money anyway they could, That was not to my taste so I didn’t go there. Only once, That was enough.

Twenty-One years old and just out of Boot Camp, I was in the Philippine Islands - where some time later I would undergo the worst ordeal of my life.

I had joined the Marines after graduating from Roosevelt High School, a not-so-fashionable place of learning on the East side of Los Angeles - in the barrio really.

Sure, there was a war going on in Europe but not many of the guys I hung out with gave it much thought. Music was my life along with dating girls once in a while. I played trumpet and studied under a man named B. J. Teagel who was affiliated with the USC School of Music.

I was good enough to play in some pickup dance bands around town with such guys as Charlie Amet, Joe Venuti, Chuck Casceles and Chuck Cabot. One of my closest friends and fellow musician was Ben Davis who went on to become a regular member of the Ben Pollack orchestra. Ben still plays in the Harry james band and we get together once in awhile.

Anyway, one day this smooth talking Recruiting Sergeant convinced me that the best way to get some serious musical training was to join the Corps where I’d have a good shot at joining the Headquarters Marine Band, one of the finest such groups probably in the whole world.

That didn’t work out because after Boot Camp and a short tour with the San Diego Recruit Depot band - I was given orders to report to the Peking Fourth Marine / Legation Band with a short stop in the Philippines.

Looking back on Boot Camp - which at the time I thought was operated by a bunch of sadistic monsters with swagger sticks and world War I campaign hats - I realize how important that experience was in preparing me for the ordeal of prisoner of war camp.

Sure, the DIs ( Drill Instructors) could be tough, demanding and even harsh at times but it took me a while to realize their objective was to install a fierce sense of discipline and a loyalty to the Marine Corps in us Boots no matter how painful it might be.

As I had been a student officer in my high school ROTC, I think I adjusted pretty quickly to the routine of military life. But it wasn’t easy. I remember one time I had screwed up in some detail and this Cpl. Kensick, an assistant Dl, put a big wash bucket over my head and started pounding it with a stick. I felt like the inside of a bell and my ears rang for two days.

For me, the best part of Boot Camp was the Rifle Range. This is the most important part of a Marine’s training and the DIs knock off the chicken stuff and concentrate on teaching guys like me who had never fired a gun how to shoot accurately. (In Boot Camp they teach you to say, “This is my rifle, This is my gun, This is for shooting. This is for fun.”)

I was real pleased to qualify “Expert” in the .45 automatic and “Sharpshooter” in the rifle. And, did all of us stand proud on graduation day when we marched in review to the tune of “Semper Fidelis”. ‘Course when they fired a cannon right behind us, I and my buddies almost soiled our new uniforms.

 

On to China

After a few days in the Philippines I sailed on to China for my assignment in the well-regarded Marine Band in the Peking Legation.

It was an interesting experience for me when we pulled up in Whangpoo River to anchor off Shanghai. The city had this peculiar odor and not being an Eastern boy I didn’t recognize the smell until someone said it was coal burning in the city.

My first liberty ashore was exciting. Seeing the thousands of people lining the streets, rickshaws pulled by skinny little men going back and forth was quite a sight. I was impressed by the Chinese sense of humor. Once I stopped to talk to a buddy on a busy street. A crowd gathered around us - curious but friendly. If we laughed they would laugh even though they couldn’t understand a word we said.

We went on to Peking - it’s now called Beijing but we Marines knew it by the old name.

 

Peking - Good Duty

Peking in 1940 was a heavenly place suiting the fancies of Marine and sailor alike — awash with sloe eyed beauties, Russkies and mixed types who could cause the best of us to pray for salvation. The only thing that came first in that quixotic bacchanal we now called home was booze.

Among other things, vodka at twenty five cents a demijohn and beijo (beer) could be had at two cents a bottle. Maybe we were homesick or longing for some lost love or just our Mother’s gentle hand. Whatever the reasons, we drank a lot, played a lot and worked as little as possible. The Peking Legation Guard Band was composed of some real characters. Stand up Franklin Boyer, “Fanny” to his friends, “Frenchy” La Rock, “Snake” Stewart, “Pee Wee” Meyer and Jesse Grenz. Oh! Jesse with those deep-set longitudinal eyes, that would recede as the vodka took hold sending red veins snaking around the whites of his eyes. “Tsh”, he’d say solving your and his problems with that one sibilant, “Tsh”. Then his head would slowly sink to the table, his brown eyes would close and sometimes a tear would blot the lashes of his eye. Some sad remembrance, I suppose, of life’s futility.

In sober moments he would wistfully recall the happy days he once had known. Not that he wasn’t pleased with Peking - we all were. The noisy Privates’ Club was Jesse’s steady haunt. Easy liberty hours with long weekends made Saturday to Monday a drinker’s delight. Your pay made for a pocket full of change enhanced by the exchange rate of forty five to one.

The Privates’ Club offered free credit due on payday with Glib the N.C.O. in charge of the club, always there to be sure l.O.U.’s were paid.

Pee Wee was one of our few corporals and usually the first Marine on liberty. He had a small apartment in town and a Chinese girl friend who lived in and kept his place tidy and cooked wondrous Mandarin food.

Most important was Pee Wee’s collection of the Lionel Hampton two-fingered piano classics. There were enough records to enthrall any of us aspiring musicians. Pee Wee would join in, sitting on his old rickety chow chair, beating out time on a drummer’s practice pad. With a little beijo to drink he would drift further into his dreams of playing with the great jazz bands.

On Sunday, those of us who participated, would do our favorite thing, eating, drinking and talking about music, It was always a nice day at Pee Wee’s. Whatever was done on weekends - going to Bei Hai Park, taking a long drive to the Western Hills and our favorite hotel - we always ended at the Privates’ Club.

Set off on a hutung not too far from Tien An Mein square, it had a common wall with the Noncommissioned Officers club. A wall easily scaled for visiting, especially when your favorite girl had an N.C.O. for a date.

With few exceptions the girls were beautiful. Usually dark haired with slim attractive figures, they retained the best features from their donor races and topped it off by slitting their skirts nearly to their thighs. We were all in love at one time or another.

Outdoor Marine Band Concert at the Peking Legation, Summer 1941
 
“PEKING”
I can see the narrow winding street and hear the tinkle
of the Chinese lute on the roadside
and the laughter of the men as they drink their wine, hot and spicy.
And sometimes the high laugh of a woman breaks
the silence of the street.

The street that is filled with fog that clings and feels my face
its tentacles going in the windows and the doors
and climbing about the small, high balconies always
winding, creeping, finding,

And I sit in my room with just the flicker of a yellow candle
sputtering shadows on the walls, and the only sounds
are the tinkle of that lute down the street
and the hard forced laughter of the men
as they play with their women,
Not even the patter of a solitary rickshaw
changes the rhythm of the quiet.

Then I am filled with the nostalgia of the years that have fled
and I see a different street and the sounds are different
and I can smell the roses in the little garden behind the house
in this other street and I long to fling myself from the room
and run, oh! ever so fast, to the river
where the sampans with their yellow lights are bobbing in the fog
and there to wait patiently, earnestly if I must
for the long white ships to come gliding by and take me away.

But now the room is perfumed and my pulses pound
with a changed longing and I watch her with her sleek dark hair
and slender delicate body as she moves about the room
tending to my comfort.

And the long white ships go gliding away
driven by the perfume and the silk
and the slender ivory hands that touch my face.
 

Back to Shanghai

That good duty couldn’t last forever and it didn’t. just about a year after we had arrived in Peking, we were ordered back to Shanghai. It was good duty too. Although Shanghai was a bustling city with a lot of excitement, it didn’t have nearly the charm that Peking did.

We had a darned good band and our concerts in the Grand Theater every Sunday played to packed houses.

Chiang Kai-shek, the top Chinese general who later became president, had pulled his troops from the outlying countryside back to Shanghai. My outfit often was deployed in trucks to provide security for the banks and other important areas of the International Settlement. There was a machine gun mounted on the truck and we thought we were pretty hot stuff.

One day we were patrolling and I heard gunfire that was very close. I saw a bunch of people running out of a bank. We didn’t want to fire the machine gun into the crowd so I jumped out of the truck and landed in the gutter. It didn’t do my uniform any good but I didn’t get shot. And, I didn’t shoot anybody either. We found out later there actually had been a holdup.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following short story was written by George after he returned to the States. He says it’s part fact, part fiction. The reader can decide which is which.

Mei Ling (an unpublished short story)

I called her Mei Ling. It wasn’t her right name but it didn’t matter. We were both happy with it. I saw her first in a small square where Bubbling Well Road ended and Naking Road began. It was just dusk in Shanghai, I had been standing there at this, the most pleasant time of day, watching the Chinese in their traditional long coats as they scurried home. Some were burdened with impossible loads, some were weaving their way along with their bicycles darting quickly here and there, looking for every advantage to get home quickly.

The lights in the tall buildings were coming on in erratic fashion casting irregular patterns on the streets. I left the Grand Theater and crossed through the traffic to my favorite restaurant on the other side of the street.

As I reached the sidewalk an ornate rickshaw slid quickly alongside the curb, From it a vision of ivory loveliness tinged with just the blush of a rose descended, assisted by a uniformed puller. She stopped for an instant and her eyes momentarily met mine. I was never the same.

In the scuffle of the countless people hurrying home she vanished along with the rattling buses and honking autos that made Shanghai a constant cacophony. I can never remember how long I stood there, It may have been days.

I walked around the square staring into every face, down Sichuan Road peering into every cubicle, dodging winos and coke sniffers with their outstretched hands, then along the Bund to the sullen gray of the Wangpoo River. She had disappeared.

Hungry, my appetite whetted, I trudged back to the Sun Ya restaurant salivating for Kungpao chicken and a large order of North China prawns. Inside the Sun Ya an excited party of Chinese were playing an ancient game, guessing answers to a set of clues. It had been a long game with a whole pig gone and a large number of empty wine bottles.

The food in this, my favorite eating place, was usually a spicy, gourmet’s delight. Shanghai food could be especially tasty, unlike the blandness of Cantonese fare. “Tai ding how,” the Chinese say.

It was hot in Shanghai in mid-July although the heat never bothered me. I made my usual rounds. I liked a Russian bistro where the vodka was chilled and crisp and the Russian girls, most of them expatriates from Harbin, were friendly and liked Americans. They were fond of telling me that I only loved them for their bodies. Of course, that just couldn’t be true.

One night, after a few beers and a few games of Jai Alai at the French Fronton, 1 fancied the jazz session at Jimmy Winter’s Garden, a popular watering hole nearby. As the saying goes, “the joint was jumpin” with standing-room only. Tables were full and if you found room at the bar you were lucky.

I didn’t mind. I had met a nice Russian girl there one night and could handle the shoving and elbowing. There was a new trumpet player on hand, just in from the states who knew where the notes were.

I settled in and started looking the room over, sizing up the gang of jostling dancers mixing it up on the dance floor. They were the silk stocking bunch, their long skirts slit up to the thighs, Chinese style. There was plenty of shimmering, beauty in old Shanghai.

I saw her again in the swirl of the crowd as she turned in the arms of some Embassy type who was holding her much too tight. When the music stopped my eyes followed them to their table. She moved with the same fluid, undulating grace she showed on Bubbling Well Road. Despite the heavy, blue haze of cigarette smoke that filled the night club, her beauty sparkled. I must be in love. What other emotion could make me want to give up all the girls I had ever known.

I didn’t believe in love at first sight but my heart was pounding and a strange excitement had come over me. I shook my head in dismay and wandered off to the men’s room. As I stood up to the urinal, the Embassy fellow walked in and sidled up to the next stall. He threw back his head and in a near tone of anguish cried, “My God, I’d like to be back in Los Angeles tonight.” I was from L.A. and I too looked up at the ceiling but only to give thanks.

The fellow next to me was Mei Ling’s escort. “What part?” I asked. He started to rattle off his favorite hang outs in L.A. I interrupted him, “Buy ya a drink?” He looked sideways at me and said, “You from L.A.? You’re on. Let’s go.”

We pushed our way back to the table where at last I met Mei Ling. I was self-conscious, afraid that I was intruding and she might think I had pushed my way in. She told me later that I had stared at her and I am sure that I did. I tried to avert my eyes but it was hopeless, I needed to look at her. Her deep brown eyes seemed to smolder when they looked at me. Somehow I felt detached and floating. She asked me small questions that were probing and personal. It didn’t matter; I knew she was interested.

We danced. Every dance. I could smell the faintest scent of perfume lingering about her, Jasmine and Sandalwood, I thought it was, like a rare incense that hides in your books and pillows forever. As we danced and grew closer it intoxicated me and I told her how I felt the first time I saw her. I was embarrassed but I wanted to know her.
We had danced the night out and her friend wanted to leave as he had to work the next day. “The U.S. Embassy,” she said. I had guessed right, The last drinks were being served and the rush started to the door to secure a rickshaw for the ride home. In the crush of the crowd I lost Mei Ling.

It seemed to be my fate not to be able to hold on to her. I hadn’t asked where she lived or how I could reach her. I shook my fist at my stupidity. I couldn’t go out to the Winter Garden and wait for her to show up. jimmy would think I was a nut. And I couldn’t go down to the Embassy and wait for Mei Ling to make an appearance. I would have to wait for her. I was sure I had told her enough for her to find me. Well, pretty sure.

In late August a messenger, in the same livery as the rickshaw puller, arrived at my door on Ferry Lou and my life changed. Changed to a posh apartment in the Palace Hotel with resident servants, gourmet Chinese food catered in from the Sun Ya just around the corner on Nanking Road and, of course, the exquisite presence of Mei Ling.

Not all at once, not before we talked, sometimes all night about everything and anything. We took early morning walks to the race course on Bubbling Well Road and exercised in the old Chinese fashion, We played Ma jong for copper pennies and drank Rae Liang until we were silly and laughed ourselves to sleep. we looked in each others eyes and saw the certainty of our love.

A month had passed quickly and we both needed to return to work. Mei’s work I couldn’t quite figure out. She said she worked for her father in the import-export business which caused her to travel from time to time on four and five day trips. At first, I paid no attention to her destinations until one day, Juichin, south of Shanghai was mentioned.

What could she be doing in a place like that? The communist armies under Mao had begun their long march from Juichin in 1934 and were now deep in the interior near Yenan. When I asked Mei Ling about juichin, she brushed it off as some sort of supply problem and put her arms around me and kissed me.

A few weeks later, she returned from another trip and left her ticket stubs on a chow table near our front entrance. They were in Chinese. I couldn’t read them but I knew someone who could. They revealed that her trip was to Tsunyl, another stop on Mao’s march to the interior of China.

I confronted Mel Ling with my evidence and also that I knew her man-servant, Lu, wore a .45 pistol strapped to his waist. She rested her hand on my wrist and gently pulled me toward the bedroom. Inside she guided me to the bed and sat down letting me sit next to her.

“I didn’t want to tell you anything,” she said. “For one thing it’s dangerous to know what I’m doing and I don’t want you hurt. love you.” Tears welled up in her eyes.” My father is a revolutionary and an old friend of Mao. They are from Hunan and dedicated to China’s freedom.

“I help with supply and money distribution for the Army. Shanghai is a source of money and a collection center. Chiang Kai-shek’5 organization, the Kuomintang, and the Japanese allow me to live here because I pass them false information they think is valuable. They are suspicious of me and if you look out our front window you’ll always see someone watching from across the street. Sometimes I send food out to them. I love my country and work hard for our leader, Mao Tse Tung. He is the only man who can unify the peasants and make us strong again.”

Her admiration for Mao was on her face, and although we argued long into the night, my protestations that there had never been a communist nation with any degree of success, met with copious tears.
We finally fell asleep in each others arms, content to let sleep dissolve our tensions. Mei Ling began again the next day. Seemingly inexhaustible, she went on about the heroic exploits of Mao’s armies and their 8,ooo mile march. In less than a year, with inconceivable hardships, Mao had consolidated and battle tested his troops.
Chou En Lai, Chu Teh and Lin Piao rose to leadership to help Mao in his great crusade. I loved Mei Ling for her ardent patriotism but I knew I could never be a communist.

The conversation made me aware, however, that the activity in Mei Ling’s house had real purpose. The Amah, Ling Yu, was more than the name implies, but was a proficient secretary who was fluent in several languages. Lu, who performed all the physical functions in the household, had all the qualifications of a black belt and master linguist.

Mei Ling was a graduate of a highly rated university in the Washington, D.C. area and was a communications expert. There were other men in the hotel, all cast in Lu’s image and ready for any emergency.

One night, letting myself in through a rear door in the apartment, the door opened from the inside and a hand grasped me around my throat pulling me into the darkness of the vestibule. I struggled and managed to strike my assailant across the face, when from behind, with a powerful rush, two men flung themselves at my feet flailing sharply at the intruder.

He let go of me, but before he could escape, Lu appeared and with one quick move pulled a thin wire across his throat in an effective garrote. In the light of the hall I recognized two men from down the hall.

Lu explained that they were aware of the break in, but not that I would arrive when I did. They were preparing to disarm this man from the Kuomintang. Mei Ling urged me to come at safer times, but I wondered when that would be.

In late September, Mel Ling asked me if I would be willing to make a trip with her. She hesitated, at first, to tell me the purpose of the trip. “To the interior,” she finally said. “To a destination near the Yellow River, south of Peking. I would see the flat alluvial plains that spread out from the river and terminated near the Western Hills, whose passes were part of their camel caravan routes of the Gobi desert.

“It would be exciting although a little dangerous,” she admitted.

“How dangerous?” I asked.

“I don’t know, she said softly.” We will be carrying a great deal of money, about 200 million yuan and be in Kuomingtang territory most of the time.”

“That’s dangerous,” I snapped. “And I suppose we go unarmed.”

“No, no, we would never do that in enemy territory,” Mei Ling was firm with her answer.

“We will have Lu, and another four men when we leave Shanghai. In the country, we will be joined by another caravan of men with their trucks and armament.”

“Is that enough,”- I queried.

“We’ll be carrying the equivalent of four million dollars, enough to make anyone greedy.” Mel Ling winced. “I know, but the armies need it. There’ll be more of these trips in the future and this is our turn.”

Mel Ling’s lips were set in a look I had seen once before. She was determined.

On a Monday in October 1941, we loaded a rebuilt G.M. truck with enough gear for the trip. We had ammunition for two Browning automatic weapons, one of which I would carry, and a case of grenades, fragmentation type. I had permission and time to leave the city and had become almost enthused about the trip.

The money was in metal canisters, not in yuan but in U.S. dollars. It was turning cold, Shanghai had a climate similar to Chicago. We were wearing the sheepskin clothes of the North and would have no problems of warmth.

Lu would drive and I would ride shotgun with Mel Ling snugly wedged between us. Our four escorts, all from the hotel, rode in the back with the tarpaulin secured against prying eyes until we reached the countryside.

About 50 miles out of Shanghai we rendezvoused with two trucks and twenty men to form our caravan. Lu, Mel Ling and I rode the lead truck with the rest strung out close behind.

The countryside was its usual odoriferous mess, where the Chinese piled their waste in huge dung heaps, fertilizer for their fields. The stench could be pretty rank at times.

After three days on the dusty roads of inner China it had become monotonous, bumpy and irritating to our sore bottoms. No cam p
fires at night and just enough charcoal was used to make rice and boil water for tea. The clouds of dust our trucks made in the daytime were like signal plumes to any enemy.

Mel Ling shared my anxiety about the dusty signals we were putting up. On the fifth day we could see our destination amid the hills and the blush haze on the horizon. The road seen with my binoculars, appeared to sink into the hills.

As we drew closer I could see the road was dropping out of sight disappearing into a deep cut in the land. I asked Lu and Mei Ling if they were familiar with this part of the country. No one knew anything.

I asked Lu to alert his men in the rear of the truck. The area looked suspicious, too much like an easy place for an ambush. The contours were too familiar. We were beginning our descent through the barren cut when Mel Ling cried out, “Look? Another truck is coming.” I took a quick look through my glasses and saw a truck with a white flag mounted on its front fender speeding down the road toward us.

A white flag usually meant a neutral occupant. I waited as the truck came closer and closer. It was hard to tell who or what was in it. Suddenly it braked, turning sharply and sliding across the road, blocking it.

The tarpaulin went up to reveal a machine gun mounted on a tripod sheltered behind several sandbags. I just had time to pull Mel Ling down behind the windshield when the machine gun erupted, spewing bullets across our windshield in a crash of splintered glass. Lu leaned out his door firing his BAR at full automatic. I pushed my door open and opened fire with mine. The men in the back trucks were piling out and scattering up and down the road. A mean fire fight had begun.

It was strange that a small contingent would challenge us when they were so badly outnumbered. Down the road came the answer, Kuomintang troops in nearly lock step precision exhorted on by a saber waving officer.

I looked around to see what chances we might have if we had to retreat. Their machine gun began its staccato fire again and I saw Lu stand up on the running board of the old truck and fire directly into the sandbagged machine gun. I heard someone cry out and the machine gun stopped.

The Kuomintang were still coming, at quick pace now, and looked as if they might run right over us. “Mei Ling,” I yelled, “Get out on Lu’s side and work your way to the rear.”

“No,” she yelled back. “You stay, I stay.”

I was furious at her defiance and pulled the trigger on my BAR again and held it down.

The Kuomintang broke formation, and still firing, began their charge. From the sides of the hill a great cry went up and I looked to see from our rear a horde of men coming down the side of the hill and over the embankments hollering and brandishing their weapons. Mel Ling was standing and watching, “The Red Devils,” she cried. “The Red Devils, the Hung-chun are here.”

The Kuomintang coming up the road turned and were fleeing down the road. “These are the school boys who volunteered to fight for Mao,” Mei Ling was proud of her explanation. Lu and I were only happy to have done with it,

The young troops looked over the Kuomintang troops and quickly fell into formation and left. Unfortunately, we had four men killed and several wounded in the melee. Mei Ling eloquently praised their bravery and the sacrifices they had made for their country.

We camped near on old canal that night. After dinner a group of men engaged Mei Ling in animated conversation for over an hour. One of them detached himself from the group and walked over to where I sat near our small fire. He spoke in simple but understandable English, “Thank you for your help today. Mei Ling tells me that she is very fond of you. Our country owes both of you a debt of gratitude.” He went back to the group and in the morning, Mei Ling told me he was the legendary Chou En-Lai.

They had taken the money away and now we could go back to Shanghai, We chafted as we drove back down the dusty roads. I had learned that Mei Ling was no ordinary woman and that I wanted her courage as well as her love to be a part of my life.
Two days out of Shanghai we knew we were in trouble again. It was a Japanese-patrolled territory and the first shots, as we left our morning camp, had had that .22 caliber ring of Jap Metal. We had learned enough on this trip to disperse quickly using the trucks as shelter. A pop and then another pop sprayed metal across the tarps and hoods of the trucks, “Mortars!” Lu cried. We pushed down closer to the earth and hung on. I looked around for my grenades and found two of them in my utility bag. Lu crawled under the truck. “Do you have any grenades,” he whispered. “Here,” I gave him the two I had.

He crawled back under the truck and a few seconds later I heard the first one go off, the other followed by a cry. No doubt Lu had hit something. “Okay,” he yelled. “Let’s go now.”

We moved back aboard the trucks as quickly as we had moved them out.

That day and the next we kept our weapons handy, Mei Ling would stop at intervals and send some of the men down the road to insure against another ambush, It slowed us up but we knew it was safer and we would live longer.

There was bad news in Shanghai. The Fourth Regiment of Marines had its marching orders and I would be going with them. Mei Ling and 1 went away for a few days to a hidden place in the Chinese city. It was a small Mandarin Palace replete with a bath as large as a medium size swimming pool, a magnificent garden and a chef, who Mei Ling imported from Sun Ya’s restaurant. Between tears and laughter we were happy despite our growing apprehension. The days and nights were magical with Mei Ling, displaying all her charms. She wanted to tell me and show me that she loved me.

 

Last Parade

We knew the situation with Japan was getting worse but none of us expected them to attack the United States. At that time we Marines were sure we could beat them with one hand tied behind our back. That certainly didn’t prove to be true!

Finally, in late November of 1942, we received our orders to evacuate Shanghai and that’s a day I’ll never forget. Our band turned out smart in pressed uniforms and we decided we’d put on a parade the Chinese would never forget.

There were good-byes to be said to old friends, room boys, lovers (in some cases, wives), and a large number of innkeepers, and even some of the jai-alai players who we had often watched.

November had brought Shanghai its usual garb of chill accented by the strong smell of burning coal. The long line of green clad Marines stretched along Bubbling Well Road back to Ferry Loo Road clear to the Headquarters Building Gate. The Marine Corps stood proud that day. Our brass was polished and the pennants were flying high overhead on the staffs held majestically.

We all believed the legions of Caesar, Charlemagne or Napoleon could have no greater pride.

The color guard marched slowly to its place at the head of the column followed by our commander, Colonel Howard, and his staff.

The colonel turned and shouted, “Sound the forward march.”

Silence fell over the band. “What did he say?” someone asked.

“Sound the forward march,” someone replied.

Master Tech Sergeant Lewis Griffin, the band master, stood there confused and perplexed. “How do we do it?” he whispered.

Then, probably an ex-field music, spoke up. “You sound attention and then two tones to represent the human voice calling, ‘Forward March.”

The trumpeter swung around without hesitation and raised his horn to his lips. The call to attention rang out echoing down the street followed by the “C” sounding the Forward March. I was that trumpeter. The Fourth Marine Regiment stepped off to “Glory of the Trumpets” followed by the “Marine Hymn” and “Semper Fidelis.”

The crowd, made up largely of tearful women, shouted and clapped as we trooped by. Many pressed gifts into our hands that we had to hide in our blouses. A lot of us had moist eyes but Marines never cry. It was probably just the coal dust.

When we arrived at the waterfront, a Chinese came up to me and asked me if my name was George Francis. I said yes and he grabbed me and gave me a big kiss on the cheek, I asked him if he wanted to die.

“No, no.” he said, “This girl told me to give you a kiss. She wanted to say good-bye but couldn’t find you.” I knew it was from Mei Ling.

But, then we were quickly marched onto some small, flat-bottomed barges that were to take us out to the SS Harrison, an American President liner, that was anchored in the Wangpoo.

My last view of Shanghai was of a small band standing in the bay of an open truck. They were belting out some great music. It was led by the future jazz great Buck Clayton.

Of the some 49 members of the Fourth Marine Band who boarded ship that day, nine were killed in action, three died in POW camps and 36 survived. A truly remarkable survival rate when you consider that 18,ooo prisoners of war died in the camps. I have no idea why we bandsmen were relatively fortunate.

 
Full Text of THE EDGE Please Click Below for:
CHAPTER ONE - "The Edge" Page 13
CHAPTER TWO - First Duty Stations Page 19
CHAPTER THREE - We Were Captured Page 39
CHAPTER FOUR - In The Camp Page 59
CHAPTER FIVE - Return to Niigata Page 80
From the Diary
The Letters
Poems and Short Stories
"Marines in Review"
Epilogue
Chronology
Bibliography
Page 91
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