Becoming the New Enemy (a sad story from Northeast China)

By Ed Bloch, USMCR 1943-1946

We had just finished our 82-day battle for Okinawa and my Marine Division was training for an attack on Honshu, the center of the Japanese government. Then with the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nag-asaki the war ended.

Rumors swept our ranks, most of them involving triumphant ticker-tape parades and adoring women. Then we got orders to go to China. Why? What the hell were we going to do in China? Written orders declared we were needed a) to accept the surrender of the Japanese armed forces; b) to work in that connection with Chiang’s Nationalist army and the “Troops for the Preservation of Peace, Order and Prosperity in the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere” (the Chinese puppets who had fought on the side of the Japanese since 1931; and c) to protect the British-owned Kailan Mining Association coal mines from the Chinese.

There was more. Verbal orders required that we work closely with the Japanese armed forces with whom we’d been at war less than two month earlier. Clearly we were NOT disarming the Japanese. There was a big “surrender” ceremony in Tientsin. The Japanese stacked their rifles and the officers, with pomp and flourish, drew their swords and threw them on a pile. Later, after the newsreel cameramen had returned to their hotel, the men picked up their rifles and the officers their swords and returned to duty.

Later we found out the big question was to whom would the Japanese Kwantung Army surrender its weapons – Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist forces or Mao Tse-tung’s 8th Route Army, the only forces fighting the Japanese in the populous Northeast? The Nationalist troops were moving north to accept the Kwantung arms.
Out clandestine role was to protect the bridges and railroad lines against the outraged people of northeast China who clearly understood the betrayal after 14 years of Japanese conquest and watched in fury as Chiang’s troops streamed north on the railroad.

Our mission was to prevent demolition of the three railroad bridges at Lu Tai, Han Ku and Pei Tang. Each of the three rifle companies took responsibility for one of these bridges – one company got off at its bridge in Lu Tai, we got off at our bridge in Han Ku and the third platoon continued on toward Pei tang. Perhaps a mile further on there was an explosion and the train was derailed. We saw the entire incident fairly clearly. I commandeered a train in Han Ku, piled aboard with two fully-armed squads and hurried down, my pistol pointed at the engineer’s head.

We found that nobody had been hurt but the locomotive itself had been derailed. A few minutes after we arrived, the puppet troops showed up and, close behind them, the Japanese, complete with Nambu machine guns. So there I was at age 21 with my platoon on a railroad embankment in Northern China after the war had ended. The Japanese troops were on our left; the detested puppets were on our right. While we couldn’t speak each other’s languages, the Japanese officer made plain the way things like this were handled.

There was a mud-hut village maybe a couple of hundred yards away. For 10 or 12 long minutes we fired rifles and machine guns into it. We didn’t do a body count or even go over to inspect the damage; we couldn’t see or hear much of anything in detail. BUT we had made plain who was in charge in that part of China – the U.S. Marines, the Japanese imperial troops and the puppets.

Most of the guys in my platoon didn’t like this setup at all and said so very clearly. The operation was my responsibility and I paid no attention until much later – until, in fact, months after I returned home when I replayed those scenes in my memory. I recalled then that when we first arrived in Tientsin on September 22, 1945, an estimated million Chinese welcomed us as comrades-in-arms. In the four-month period before I left, Marines had become so hated that strict orders forbade leaving post areas in small groups. Word of our “incident” and according to historians, many similar “incidents” had made us, in North Chinese eyes, an extension of the 14-year Japanese occupation.

Now, the least I can do, like the Ancient Mariner, is to tell my story.