The History Place - Personal Histories

Stop That Ship!
by Peter Milo

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 or C.I.D.

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 they remembered.

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.

Copyright © 1999 Peter Milo All Rights Reserved

Return to The History Place - Personal Histories Index
The History Place Main Page

Terms of use: Private home/school non-commercial, non-Internet re-usage only is allowed of any text, graphics, photos, audio clips, other electronic files or materials from The History Place.