In October 1945, the U.S. 6th Marine Division liberated Tsingtao (now
Qingdao) in China from the Japanese and then placed the city under martial
law. Shortly after the Division landed in the city, I was assigned to the
first unit of its kind in the Corps, the Criminal Investigation Section
Our unit consisted of Lt. C.J. Motto as Commanding Officer, formerly
of the Secret Service; Lt. Grafeld, also Secret Service; Mike Hofstetter,
a West Virginia State Trooper; and three former New York City police officers,
Charles Sullivan, John Pello, and myself, Peter Milo.
The Provost Marshal was Colonel King who gave us our first orders. His
statement was that we had been selected for this job because we were all
former police officers who knew the laws of the United States and if these
laws were good enough for the U.S. they were good enough for China. He
added that we, the new C.I.D., were the law and if more laws were needed
we should make them.
Because of our experiences in the States, and because we had an intelligent
CO, we soon realized we not only were policemen, but in order to protect
the troops we had to be the Department of Health, Sanitation, Traffic and
so on. When I returned to the States and served over 30 years with the
N.Y.P.D., I never recaptured the thrill, challenge and adventure of being
an American cop in China.
The month was January, the year 1946, and the place was Tsingtao. I
had taken the day off and drove Lee, a young Chinese female I had befriended,
to the hairdresser. Later Lee thought it would be nice to have lunch, so
we drove down Chungshan Road to the "Tsingtao Cafe." We found
a table facing the window and sat down. I heard Lee laughing and I turned
to see why. There were about twenty U.S. sailors and as many Chinese girls
grabbing chairs and pushing tables together to make a sort of banquet affair.
When this was accomplished, they all sat there laughing and talking
and having a very happy time. Suddenly, out of the corner of my right eye,
I saw a sailor dash into the restaurant and, making his way into the center
of the partying group, reach for another chair and squeeze in between two
sailors already seated. As he sat down on his chair, I noticed he bent
over as if to put something under the chair. He was hatless when he ran
in and displayed a head of bright red hair.
Moments later I saw an MP enter the restaurant, survey the room, and
obviously not seeing what he was looking for, leave the premises. Instinctively,
I told Lee I would be right back and ran out to question the MP. He recognized
me as I approached him and informed me that there had been an armed robbery
committed by several sailors and thought he saw one run into the restaurant.
I told him about the red headed sailor who had just run in and suggested
he return to the restaurant using the back entrance and come in behind
the red haired sailor. I also told him that I would cover him from my table
which was nearby. I then went back to my table and waited for the MP to
make his entry.
The MP came in as I had suggested, walked to the end of the room and
approached the suspect from behind. I quickly joined him and placed the
sailor under arrest. Searching under his chair, I recovered a .45-caliber
Colt automatic. I removed him to headquarters for further questioning.
There, after playing nice guy-bad guy with my partner, we finally got
the identity of his accomplices, the name of his ship, and then he stunned
us with the news that the ship was leaving Tsingtao and heading for the
Philippines that very day.
I ran for my Jeep and raced to Pagoda Pier where the ship was anchored
and the Harbormaster was located. I asked him to signal the ship, which
was just getting underway, to stop. I also asked for a small boat to take
me to the ship. Both of my requests were acknowledged, and now, as I was
starting up the gangway to board the vessel, I heard a voice yelling, "Who
the hell are you and where do you get the authority to stop a ship of the
United States Navy?"
The voice I heard was that of the ship's Captain who was boiling mad
and, when I told him I wanted four of his crew for armed robbery, I thought
he was having a stroke. It was easy to see that this Captain was dumbfounded
that a Marine Private could actually stop and board a Navy vessel and remove
some of his crew.
Finally, he produced the four perpetrators and, as they boarded my small
boat, he asked whether it would expedite matters if he came along to headquarters
with us. I explained to the Captain that once we secured their written,
sworn statements, these men would be returned, under guard, to await a
Navy courtmartial. Thus they could carry on their duties until the ship
anchored in the Philippines. Somewhat relieved, the Captain joined us in
the small boat and we headed for shore.
Once under way, the befuddled Captain asked me under what authority
I could stop his vessel. I simply told him that the day we were assigned
to the Criminal Investigation Section, the 6th Division Provost Martial
had told us that we were the law in Tsingtao and anyone who did not agree
should see him.
The Captain was silent for a moment and then paid me what I considered
a great compliment. He told me that he had been in practically every port
in the world and that Tsingtao was the only port with no black market activity.
He added that we sure ran a "tight ship."
You know, to this day, I wonder if I really did have the authority to
do what I did. In the past 50 years, I have asked many law people the same
question and no one really knows the answer.
In 1988, some 43 years after the Marines left China, the Chinese government
briefly raised their Bamboo Curtain permitting Americans to visit. A group
of 6th Division Marines, who took part in the liberation of Tsingtao, welcomed
the opportunity to try to recapture the mystery and excitement of the Orient
A highlight of our return was walking once again on the Pagoda Pier.
This was where we disembarked and embarked ships for home. On the pier,
I was talking to Bob Hohmann, who back in the war years was a Marine Captain
assigned to G-2. He said to me, "Pete, doesn't this bring back memories?"
I told him it certainly did, and I related the story of the ship incident.
He listened to my tale and when I mentioned the fact about boarding
the ship, he suddenly pointed his finger at me and laughingly said, "So
you are the son-of-a-bitch?" For a moment I thought he had gone mad
and I guess my face expressed my thinking, but he yelled, "No, that's
what the Captain called you!"
"You see," he continued, "that day I was at the officer's
club having a drink when a Navy officer came barging in and yelling at
the top of his voice that some son-of-a-bitch Marine Private had stopped,
boarded his ship, and arrested half of his crew. What the hell was the
Navy coming to?"
The reason Bob remembered it was that all the Marine officers in the
bar at that time were hysterical with laughter.