China duty 1948 to 1949

On a sunny day in early winter of 1948 a NATS, Naval Air Transport Service R5-D, called C-54 by the USAF & DC-5 by civilian airlines, left NAS Agana Guam heading north. Aerm 2/c “Fearless Freddie” Farnsworth & I were on the way to Tsingtao, now Quintao, Shantung Peninsula of North China for duty in the staff of ComNav- WesPac, which became Com 7th Fleet in later years. We made one passenger stop at Shanghai's Kiangwan airfield. At the time I was a Seaman first class Aerographer weather striker, E-3.  We debarked from the airplane at MCAF, Marine Corps Air Facility, Tsan Kou in front of the Air Ops-control tower.  Along side was a smaller building which housed the crash crew & their assorted vehicles parked in readiness on the tarmac. There was a cold, biting, yellow dust laden wind off the Gobi Desert blowing.  A number of VMR-153 transport squadron R5C Curtis “Commandos" were parked off to our right.  Beyond them was the VMF-211 fighter line of gull-winged F-4-U "Corsairs".  I learned later that many of their pilots were APs, enlisted Aviation Pilots, or had been commissioned from enlisted status.  There may have been a few CAT, China Air Transport, Chennault's Flying Tiger Airline, & CNAC, Chinese National Airline Company, R5Cs parked near base Ops as well.  Across the field was a Chinese Air force fighter line of P-51 Mustangs. After a good deal of rubber necking at the a/c we stowed sea bags & go-to-hell-bags (small hand bags) in a rickety Navy bus which took off heading for the city of Tsingtao. While enroute I gawked at a lot of new sights & sniffed at some new smells. Part of the smell came from youngsters who relieved themselves in the gutters of the city wearing conveniently designed “gap bottom” trousers.  The odor of garlic was pervasive & I found that Chinese people ate raw garlic as they would a piece of fruit. I've since been told that garlic is an effective medication for high blood pressure so perhaps it was a medication as well as a "fruit" for them. Approaching from seaward in later days I learned to recognize the smell of the city which some of my ship mates labeled “armpits & garlic”. 

Our new home away from home, USS Estes AGC-12, was tied up at a waterfront finger pier. We climbed the after ladder, saluted the colors & the Petty Officer of the watch & began the pain-in-the-butt process of checking in to our new duty station.  Caerm Bernard Killian, an X-RM, radioman, was the office Chief. He told some great sea stories including one about WW2 earphone copying of CW weather broadcasts & plotting a map using the data at the same time. Wow! Decode the CW, decode the simple encrypt used, decode the weather code & plot. Never did know whether to believe him on that one. Later Jack Tanner, who was married to a Russian lady, relieved him.  Aerm 1/c Mike Nelson, SACO veteran, & my A school classmate, AG3 “Cal” Marder returned to Fleet Weather Shanghai from their TAD shortly after Fred Farnsworth & I reported aboard. Nelson told some wonderful WW2 Naval Group China, SACO, sea stories.  My liberty buddy, Bill Willis was a S 1/c Aerm striker. Leocaido Galang was the personal steward of the ship’s CO whose stateroom & small galley was just forward of the Aerology Office.  “Leo” hung out with the weather crew & took an avid interest in our work. He sometimes brought us snacks from the COs pantry. Before long he tried his hand at surface “obs”, pibals, a balloon sounding for wind data , & plotting weather maps. Captain Byerly had Leo’s rate changed to AGAN. In 1948 AerMs became AGs, & AG strikers became AGANS. I wore Greeen AN stripes briefly which appeared to have come from someone’s pool table.

The ESTES was an Amphibious force Flagship & she carried the Flag of Com Nav Wes Pac. VADM Oscar Badger, the inventor of napalm, who was ComNavWesPac.  His was a high powered staff with RADM Reese as Chief of staff (I was told that RADM Reese’s brother was also a RADM) & a Navy 4 striper or Marine Colonel headed every department. One morning a golden cocker spaniel poked his nose into the door of our office. Bending to pet the dog I looked up & saw the blue trousers of his master along with scrambled eggs, lots of ribbons & gold stripes. I darned near got whiplash snapping to & saluting. Admiral Badger smiled, wished me a good morning & went on his way.  I wondered who followed him on pooper scooper duty.

         The Staff Weather-Intelligence Officer, was the late RADM, then Captain, Irwin Forest Beyerly, one of whose previous postings was as the last CO of Naval Group China or SACO, the WW2 Sino-American Cooperative Organization, sometimes called the "Rice Paddy Navy". He was later relieved by Captain Paul Droulihet. Late in WW2, having been SACO’s Met & Intelligence Officer, Captain Beyerly, being senior, had "fleeted up" to Chief of Staff.  He then relieved RADM Milton "Mary" Miles as SACO CO when the Admiral was “invalided” stateside. CDR Miles had been sent to China by CNO ADM Ernest King in the late spring of 1943 with verbal orders "to find out what's going on in China, establish a weather reporting net, prepare the China coast in anyway you can for US landings in three or four years & in the meantime do whatever you can to help the Navy & to heckle the Japanese."  Miles was “dubbed "Mary" Miles by his Annapolis classmates after a movie star of the era. Soon after his arrival he was promoted to Captain. The formation of SACO was Miles response to Admiral King’s orders & it was a story in & of itself.  If you've ever read Milton Caniff's "Terry & the Pirates" comic strip you have a hint about the organization.  Two person weather units consisting of a weatherman & a radioman associated with variously sized groups of Chinese guerrillas were spotted all over the country along with coast watcher units. Their headquarters was in the war time capital of Chunking & the weather center was called “Happy Valley”. Weather observer training classed were conducted for Chinese soldiers. SACO weather reports aided military weathermen all over the western Pacific in forecasting for operations against Japan. Marines & Army personnel joined SACO as well, heading up guerilla units which reached 80,000 strong at one point.  Guerrillas included cavalry in Mongolia & a "spit kit" Navy of junks, one of whose leaders was a Chinese lady pirate, the inspiration for Milton Caniff’s cartoon "Terry & the Pirates" Dragon Lady.  SACO forces rescued 30 allied pilots & 46 air crewmen shot down over China & the coastal waters. SACO guerillas accounted for thousands of Japanese casualties & widespread destruction of arms & equipment.  

SACO junks fought the final "sea battle" of WW2 two days after the armistice when two small SACO junks met a large Japanese junk. Neither side knew that Japan had agreed to surrender & that WW2 was over. The CO of the SACO junks were LT “Swede Swntzell & Marine 2nd LT Stewart Pittman. The good guys won with accurate machine gun & bazooka fire, which disabled a field gun mounted on the Japanese Junk. The Japanese CO surrendered his sword to LT Swentzell.

       But this was 1948 & I was a 19 year old sailor ready for my first liberty in China.  We had an “Australian breakfast” (in the early evening) of steak & eggs at the EM Club, which was a great start & I really pigged out, washing it down with a beer or two.  I loved the crazy mural behind the bar.  The story was that one or two talented sailors on the way stateside for a court martial painted it. One part showed Old man Neptune straining to chase a gorgeous mermaid while Mama Neptune, a sea hag if I ever saw one, was holding him back. Another portion of the mural depicted a pro (prophylaxis) station line with assorted sailors & Marines lined up for their treatment. The figures in that section of the mural included a sailor at the end of the line who was holding up one finger & a “mama san” facing him who held up two fingers. A pretty little Chinese girl stood behind her with head bowed & a finger in her mouth.  In the middle of the line was a Marine SGT in an overcoat with the collar up, to hide his identity.  I wondered if those “brig rat” artists got a “bad time” from a Marine NCO in the past.  A photo mate friend took pictures of the mural & gave me several 8 x 10 glossies which I treasured until my late wife saw them early in my marriage & “deep sixed” them. It's a good thing I loved the lady or I would have been in the "monkey house" for assault. I’ve since found new source for copies of those pictures from a retired Navy Corpsman who was also a “China Marine”.

           My buddy, the late Bill Willis, took me out on that first liberty & I decided that Tsingtao beer went down very nicely. You may have seen one of those bottles with the Pagoda Pier pictured on the label.  Many Chinese restaurants are selling it in this country now.  Medics told me a cock & bull story about some gruesome ingredients found in my favorite beer & I couldn't stomach it for several days. Our rickshaw boys showed us pictures of Betty Grable & Rita Hayworth, hinting that they could be found at a local establishment. Naturally we had to check it out by moving through a two table bar via a secret passageway into the courtyard of Ping Kong Do Lee's "House of 1000 Assholes". Don't blame me. That's what they called it. I believe that the Chinese called ALL brothels by that name. Yes, we had seen all the VD horror movies & yes we practiced safe sex (speaking for myself).  Later, after one or two more Tsingtao beers we decided to look for Betty & Rita again since they weren't there for our first visit.  Our motto, “if at first you don't succeed, try, try again”.  It seemed like a good idea at the time.  All in all I must say that my first liberty in China was a success & I (we) didn't come down with anything infectious.  Rickshaw boys seemed friendly & I didn't hold their lies about Betty & Rita against them.

Late in my tour my buddy Marine CPL (weatherman) Bert Kline & I had a problem with rickshaw boys & their cohorts. On entering a dark alley we were rushed by a group of street thugs. Someone slipped my expansion band watch from my wrist & they all took off in different directions. The rickshaw boys pled innocence but we suspected they had led us into a trap & we refused to pay them. We walked into the city & found ourselves in a group of sailors & Marines surrounded by a howling, rioting mob of Chinese.  Shots were fired by Chinese Military Police & trash rained down from the roof tops. A cordon of Marine MPs stood between us & the mob.  I caught a rock on the nose which bled profusely. Two Marine MPs, impressed by the blood flow apparently, picked me up & tossed me in their jeep for a quick trip to the hospital ship USS Repose.  Later my pea coat was “cleaned up” & returned sans blood spots by a Chinese Laundry but it smelled like gasoline for over a week.  It was a good thing I wasn’t a smoker at the time.   I heard of cases in which rickshaw “boys” would pull a bicycle chain from a box under the rickshaw’s foot rest & use it as a potent, “numbchuck” sort of a weapon. Unknown to me we might have been able to find & buy back our own watches at the "Thieves Alley market” on the following night.  Later we heard that the riot we blundered into was started when some OTHER sailors didn’t pay their rickshaw boys. 

I learned that "hubba hubba" meant hurry up. When they used the expression "mala can so pee womba tooza" meant that I was the illegitimate son of a monkey & a turtle. Like the Japanese the Chinese have no curse words, or so I've been told, but they could still tell someone off to a fare thee well. One very noteworthy thing about rickshaws or pedicabs, a marriage of a three wheel bicycle & a rickshaw, was the heavily muscled hips & legs of the drivers. The emaciated upper bodies were in sharp contrast to those “Doc Blanchard” hips & legs.  Doc Blanchard was an All American Army fullback of the war years, a career Army Officer who retired as a General.  Many years later I met a war years, Naval Academy, All American Tackle, named Don Whitmire, who was an Amphibious Force Commodore in the “Med”.

My liberty pawnyos (pals) taught me to sing “Mayo chen, mayo chow, mayo goonya, ding boo hao” with a terrible accent. Very roughly it translates as, No money, no rice, no lady friend, things are bad all over. I learned a bit of pidgin Chinese but never approached fluency. A few items; chow - rice, mayo kwanchee - doesn't matter, Megwa hi-gee - American sailor, feegee - airplane?, sigh gen - take it easy,  knee hao -  hello, boo shih- not so (which I thought it  to be a  mispronunciation of English, maybe it was?), hao bah - OK, gom bay -a toast, down the hatch, up yours, whatever),  bee rue...?..or was that Japanese for beer?,  Dung wah - China, boo hao - bad, Ding boo hao -VERY bad.  Former Chief Radioman R. C. “Raincoat Charlie” MacIntosh , 3rd generation Navy, WW2-Korea destroyerman veteran, who lives in Australia & raises koala bears as pets gave me another useful (once a year) phrase in “kong fa fe Choy - Happy Chinese New Year!!!  R. C. was a youngster who lived in Tsingtao Navy dependant status  in pre war days. His Dad was a Warrant Officer “Snipe” (engineer).

I learned a little Japanese (very little) in later years which I sometimes mixed up with my smattering of  Chinese. Who remembers "Muh-she muh-she, ah no nay,.ah no nay, muh she muh she, ah no nay, Ah so deska"? It’s a gibberish song & actually means hello, hello, hey there (repeated) is that right?  During my 1969 to 1973 ”twilight” (final) tour at Fleet Weather Central, Rota Spain, I found myself talking to our Spanish maid, Manoli, in a mixture of High School Spanish, pidgin Chinese & Japanese. Was SHE ever confused!

My liberty buddy, Seaman 1/c Aerm, Bill Willis, was transferred TAD to MCAF Tsan Kou so that their weather office could 24 hour ops, especially night flight operations as required by Vice Admiral Badger. Bill took to duty at Tsan Kou like a duck to water. I believe he would have preferred to be a Marine.  We really enjoyed Bill’s stories of day to day life at MCAF Tsan Kou when he visited the ship on pay days. Little did I know that I would be his relief in a few short months.  Many years later Bill joined the CMA, China Marine Association, & recruited me as well. In turn, I recruited x-Sgt Paul Black, my Navy Primary weather A school classmate at Lakehurst, NJ & who was stationed at Tsan Kou in the comm Center. Sgt Patrick “PV” Gardner, also a China Marine member, had “struck” for weather in the past but was then assigned as a jack-of-all-trades to the base Navy Air Terminal. “PV” told us he was a “baggage smasher”.

On one of Bill Willis jeep trips to the MCAF from our ship they were stopped by Chinese soldiers who blocing traffic both ways.  Accused bah loo (Communist) prisoners were forced to dig their own graves & kneel in position so as to topple into them when the NCO or Officer in charge shot them in the back of the head. Needless to say it was a very unnerving experience for him.  Another unpleasant aspect of life for the Chinese were the Nationalist Army recruiting forays into neighborhoods in which every male old enough to carry a gun became an unwilling conscript into the Chinese Nationalist army.

USS Estes was relieved by USS Eldorado, AGC-11, which made several interesting trips over the next month or so including a port visit to Hong Kong.  We rode pedicabs from the landing to a hotel restaurant which we had been told served fresh milk & great tasting ice cream. We were drinking chalky powdered milk aboard (NOT drinking it in my case).  In the late 50s I got to try “re-constituted milk” in Japan which was not bad at all. We visited Jingles’ Bar on Kowloon Island where I ordered a stout, not knowing what the blazes it was.  I didn't much like it.  Jingles was a Navy Chief Cook who retired in Hong Kong. He went out to celebrate his prospective return to CONUS (continental limits of the United States) only to wake up the next morning as a bar owner.  On leaving the bar we met a pair of lovelies in a Kowloon hotel & spent a few pleasant hours therein. I also visited "The Real Jimmy Lee", a prominent local tailor (apparently there was a Jimmy Lee the tailor impersonator ), & ordered a tailor made double breasted gray pin stripe suit that would have looked great on Al Capone in the 30s, but not me in the late 40s. My taste was obviously all in my mouth.

I bought a beautifully crafted leather covered photo album only to find that on warm days, or if wet, that it smelled of horse urine, or whatever smelly potion was used to cure the leather?  I enjoyed bartering with merchants & would often talk the dealers out of assorted coinage & paper money to sweeten the deal. Included were German coins from the years that Tsingtao was a German concession & silver trade dollars from Mexico, China & Japan. I left the canvas bag of “treasure” with my Mom back in Brockton when heading west to North Island after China leave. My Mom gave my "treasure" to a coin collecting nephew, “Ted” Johnson, who would retire many years later as a CDR USN, NSA Communications Officer, having added many more assorted coins during his variegated Navy travels.

             In the Straits of Formosa, enroute to Hong Kong via Swatow, our ship ran through a very unstable air mass & was forced to dodge waterspouts for about a half hour with Caerm Bernard Killian on the bridge as an advisor to the OOD. They were all around us. Most are not a problem but they do have the potential to be destructive. I regret not taking pictures of them.  Unfortunately I didn’t own a camera at the time & no-one thought to get pictures.

            Later we visited the island of Formosa where we learned to love the "hotsy baths", not to mention the "hotsy bath hostesses".  One early liberty in Keelung was a "bummer" in that my first stop was a bar which served some bad brandy. It hit bottom & came right back up.  I had an instant splitting headache & headed back to the ship.  I heard later that several of my shipmates had become very ill on bad liquor. In fact I saw one of them. He was a mess, sick from both ends. We tossed him into a shower, made him strip & throw away his clothes & didn't let him out until he & the shower were clean.  I drank beer only in Formosa after that day.

Jumping ahead, when the Marines evacuated Tsingtao, ahead of a bah loo (Chi Com) takeover, I returned from MCAF Tsan Kou to USS Eldorado  & we made a second visit to Hong Kong in which several of us checked out the China Fleet Club, a Royal Navy’s Enlisted Men’s Club. The Brits were great hosts. They were partial to drinking contests, pouring whiskey into their beer pitchers, singing up a storm, standing on the tables to recite poetry (?) & tell dirty jokes. We made friends with a group of sailors from the cruiser HMS London & a recently busted Army Private who had survived the WW2 Dunkirk evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force evacuation from France.

One interesting facet of the Hong Kong visit was the service provided to visiting ships by “Garbage Mary”.  Her bum boats would tie up alongside, frequently on the same spar with ship’s boats. Her crew would scamper aboard with sparkling clean trash barrels which they would bring to the mess hall. On finishing our meals we would hand over our steel mess trays to one of Mary’s scullery workers who would scrape leftovers into separate cans for meat, veggies, potatoes, desserts etc.  Money derived from sale of those leftovers was their only pay. If ships were to be in port for longer periods Annie’s crews would perform all manner of ship’s cleaning, painting & general upkeep.

Next we spent a few days in Shanghai where we visited the Fleet Weather Central, a sailor's dream as a duty station. San she she dah shay loo. 377 Great Western Road.  Within a walled compound there were three large buildings, a large lanai (covered pavilion) on the front lawn & a multiple car garage. The surrounding wall was topped by a “Chinese barbed wire” with imbedded pieces of broken glass.  The compound had been an old embassy.  There was a “tommy gun”, Thompson sub machine gun, armed Chinese soldier on guard at the gate 24 hours a day (more on him later). One building served as barracks & was was staffed by Chinese cooks & houseboys, The meals were marvelous. There were also maids & gardeners.  It was like living in a fairly expensive hotel.  The second building was the Weather Central & the third a dormitory for the Chinese workers.  Barbers & tailors were regular visitors as were purveyors of “tailor made” shoes & boots.  Parties were awesome.  Some were similar to High School record hops with young civilian teeny bopper dependants of U.S. & European residents with everyone on their best behavior. On the opposite side of the ledger were parties in which ladies of the evening from a nearby "establishment" were guests. I should add that the officers & CPOs left the premises after normal working hours.  Hopefully the statute of limitations will apply here. In both cases the cooks put on some wonderful buffets.  In these politically correct days there would have been court martials aplenty for ALL hands (fortunately Fleet Weather superiors were unaware of the situation).  One of the Weather Central CPOs was Arthur "Red" Thomas, a SACO veteran.  Rickshaw boys recognized rating badges & if shipboard weathermen weren't on their toes they might end up at the gates of Fleet Weather rather than at the fleet landing.   

Several of my Weather A school classmates were stationed at Fleet Weather Central Shanghai. One of them, Ed Rousseau, returning from liberty, took an interest in the Chinese guard's weapon, a “Tommy gun”, & the soldier foolishly handed it to my slightly inebriated pal, who promptly managed to fire a burst into the air.  Luckily he didn't put holes in anything important. That sobered him up quickly & he cleared out tout suite (sic?).


                                         MSGT Paul Bean NCOIC, SGT Lee Rubenstein &  MSGT Ed Mitros

On returning to Tsingtao from the first Hong Kong visit it was my turn to “join the Marines” replacing Bill Willis at the MCAF Tsan Kou weather office. The mess hall was a good feeder & I didn’t get hazed too badly for being a “squid” in a “gyrene” domain.  It was a very interesting duty station to say the least.  Our quarters were Quonset huts, eight men to a hut as I recall, & each hut had their own house boy.  Our house boy was “40 something” Shu Sah Di, a very pleasant man, who kept our quarters & our uniforms in excellent shape. His younger brother Shu Sah Woo worked as a janitor in the Air Ops tower building. Our barracks area community head (bathroom to civilians) was a large corrugated metal building, one of whose features was a “multi holer” commode set up. Those “side by siders” in the head came in handy later when some sort of dysentery hit the base hard over a two day period.

Marine sentries were posted circling the base & a cordon of Chinese troops formed their own ring of guards several hundred yards farther out. Salaries for Chinese troops went to the Generals & very little “trickled down” to the soldiers.  As a result some of those troops sometimes attempted to rob Marine godowns (store houses) located on the outer reaches of the base. These forays sometimes ended up with firefights between Marine sentries & the “midnight small stores” Chinese raiders. Shortly after one such flap I was returning from the base beer hall with Marine weather-man, Cpl Bert Kline, & we came under sniper fire from one or more Chinese soldiers. We dropped into the dirt alongside the brick Supply building & stayed down until the firing stopped. We then RAN to the nearby weather office to report on our incident. It was the only time I ever experienced hostile fire on a first hand basis. Fortunately the would-be snipers weren’t sharpshooters.

One morning I heard an explosion from the direction of the Chinese P-51 squadron area across the field. When in the chow line later in the day I heard the “rest of the story”.  A sentry near the Chinese squadron area saw a Chinese soldier sitting on a bomb; singing & keeping time by beating on the bomb with a hammer. Startled, the sentry used his minimal knowledge of Chinese yelling zhon zhu, which means halt.  Before any other useful phrases came to the sentry’s mind the soldier managed to blow himself up.

There was always something interesting going on across the field. Another day a Chinese “mech” (?) was sitting in a Mustang fighter & managed to charge the guns sending out a volley of machine gun fire.  Fortunately no base casualties or damage resulted (that we know of). At another time the Chinese Mustang squadron was returning from a raid on the Bah loo (ChiComs) & one a/c had a “hung bomb”.  The tower operator tried valiantly to let the pilot knew of it & the a/c promptly began violent maneuvers to break the bomb loose....OVER THE FIELD.  Again more heated words on the radio & the errant fighter pilot went elsewhere to dispose of his ordnance. Before my time there was another P-51 hung bomb incident which found the bomb breaking loose after a hard landing & skidding down the runway & blowing up in the transport squadron a/c parking area. Ooops!

                Late in my Tsan Kou TAD stint three helicopters from USS Princeton landed at MCAF getting flight time in.  It so happened that I needed to get to Eldorado to draw my pay & I was able to hitch a ride with them. It was an exciting ride for me as we flew back in a loose formation.  I took several pictures along the way. I had no idea of what a helicopter could do & when we neared Princeton from abeam I was sure that we would overshoot. Imagine my surprise when we STOPPED & dropped aboard.  

                When the bah loo took over large cities in the north, MCAF Tsan Kou was given a veritable WW2 air show as Nationalist airfields were evacuated with a stop at Tsan Kou. There was a full squadron of a dozen British built plywood bodied Mosquito bombers on base briefly, many P-51 Mustangs, a few P-38 “Lightnings”, a P-39 “Air Cobra” & a P-47 “Thunderbolts”.  Also among our visitors were four engine B-24s, twin engine B-25s, B-26s, an A-20, & a variety of transport type a/c.  There was even a stagger wing Beechcraft biplane, a General’s air transportation. One squadron of P-51 Mustangs gave the tower some bad moments when one of their a/c landed short & started taxiing. The next plane touched down just behind the first, powered up & “leap frogged” the first a/c. On departure one group tried a formation take off a la the Marine F4U Corsair fighters. Fortunately there were no collisions.

There were tragedies there as well.  One of General Chennault’s CAT R5C transports, loaded down with 75 MM artillery shells, pyrotechnics & 37 Nationalist soldiers, ground looped on take off, crashed & burned furiously.  As the crash crew rushed to the scene munitions started to “cook off” & shrapnel flew in all directions & for surprising distances.  Led by SSGT Perley Wilfong, the crash crew was fearless. The Ops Officer rushed to the scene & ordered them out lest we lose our crash crew.   Cause of the crash could have been a batten had been left in place (hardware which immobilizes control panels), that they had a load shift or that they were simply overloaded.  There was never a dull moment. Even a trip to the Post Exchange could be exciting.  One day as I approached the PX to pick up shaving cream I heard some unintelligible yelling, belay that, some unintelligible SCREAMING. The screamer was a Chinese man running from another Chinese man waving a meat cleaver. I learned later that (1) no blood was shed, (2) the cleaver waver was a cook in an officer’s mess, & (3) the man being chased was a cook’s assistant who had apparently committed some sort of a culinary “felony” or perhaps insulted the Head cook in some other way.

The first reported case of Communist Chinese “Brain Washing” occurred when one engine of a VMR-153 R5-C went into reverse pitch.  It vibrated the engine completely off of the wing, causing a semi-controlled crash in bah loo country.  The crew survived the crash, but were held for several months by the communists. The men were treated fairly well but were subjected to an early form of the Chinese “brain washing” techniques used on prisoners of the Korean war.

I had a Navy blue blue serge Eisenhower style jacket made, or as the Marines called them, Vandegrift style jackets, in one of the many souvenir/ tailor shops of Tsingtao. On the back it bore a large AG (Aerm before 1948) rating insignia, which depicts an arrow vertically thru a winged circle, in white embroidery. My name was in white script over the right pocket.  Naturally there was a large dragon embroidered into the lining. My younger brother, 13 at the time & now a 30 plus year retired AGCM Master Chief Aerographer's Mate & a 13 year retiree from the National Weather Service, thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread when I returned on leave to my home town of Brockton, Mass. The F. Baillie initial worked for him since his name is Fred. That jacket & a "liberated" leather flight jacket could have been factors in his later decision to become a Navy weatherman. The flight jacket was “legal”, having been officially surveyed (trashed) though still in fair condition & then "lost to inventory" just prior to the 1949 Marine evacuation of Tsan Kou to expedite removal as much as possible before departure. That same "lost to inventory" order allowed ships in the harbor to pick up any material which would be useful to them from the soon to be abandoned abandoned Marine supplies.

Marines held “field day” on the base they left behind on evacuation. VMR 153’s R5Cs departed for Guam. VMF-211 Corsairs landed on a carrier & were ferried stateside. Busses & trucks carried the troops out the gate to Tsingtao where they boarded waiting transports. Sikh policeman who had been assigned to protect the MCAF dependant housing area just outside the gate were temporarily moved on to the abandoned base.  

While TAD (temporary additional duty) for two weeks at Fleet Weather Shanghai in the waning days of my China tour the “Amethyst Crisis” occurred when that British Frigate was fired on by bah loo shore batteries & suffered heavy damage & numerous casualties.  Unknown to them their Embassy re-supply & or evacuation assignment nearly coincided with an advancing bah loo Army movement across the river.  Malcom Murfett’s book, “Hostage on the Yangtze”, tells the entire complicated tale of this action. A small group of Fleet Weather sailors went to the Navy Sick bay to visit the wounded British sailors. We were thankful that our drinking buddies from the China Fleet Club were not among the casualties. HMS London had gone up river to assist Amethyst & was hit several times. In order to “about face” it was necessary for the cruiser to drop anchor, swing on “the hook” & move out of range of the Communist batteries.

In the last days before the 1949 evacuation of Shanghai by the U.S., we played a pickup basketball game with French sailors of the Corvette, “Commandant de Timidante” (sic?).  I tried  "commont talley, vous", how are you from my HS French, which was a mistake since they thought that I could speak the language. After the first word or two I was lost but fortunately we didn't need to speak the language to play the game. I don't remember the score, which likely means we lost, but it was fun. Their ship had livestock living on the stern which a lot of the troops thought to be pretty funny but who was it that had fresh eggs. Also during that time financial inflation ran rampant. My buddy Bill Willis bought a pair of loafers & his “change” was a large shoe box full of Chinese money.

On 15 April 1949 Fleet Weather Central Shanghai was disestablished as conquering Chinese Communist forces took over the country.  Personnel from Fleet Weather Central & the Kang Wan airfield Weather Unit joined ComNavWesPac staff personnel & ship's company aboard USS Eldorado to make it the largest known group of AGs aboard on any ship, ever.  I believe that USS Eldorado was the last US Navy ship to leave Shanghai. We returned to Tsingtao where I was sent to the ARG, Kermit Roosevelt, a repair ship, for transportation stateside with several of my newfound Shanghai friends. It turned out to be a “Slow boat FROM China” with stops at Eniwetok atoll & Majuro Island to repair small craft before heading east for Pearl Harbor.  I “celebrated” my 21st birthday between Majuro & Oahu so my friends decided that I should celebrate with them on Pearl Harbor’s Hotel Street. When enroute to Guam in the simmer of 1947 SPs didn’t allow 19 year olds to drink & I wanted to be able to flash my ID card proof of my “advanced age”.  Big spenders, we left several large Chinese Yuan notes at each of our stops.

The late Lonny Homan, then an AG2 was a fellow passenger on the Kermit Roosevelt.  He may have been a Quartermaster before getting into the weather business since he could name all of the stars & constellations & he passed on his knowledge as we sat on deck waiting for the evening movies. When we were all sent to the MSTS ship General Mann for the final leg of our voyage to San Francisco, Lonny ended up in the brig. It seems he married a Chinese woman without his CO’s consent & was a (PAL) prisoner at large on the Kermit Roosevelt but in the brig on the Mann.  It was a thrill & a half when we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge putting an end to my first overseas tour. I looked forward to a 30 day leave in my home town of Brockton, Mass.  


                                                                                                               Frank Baillie LT USN retired