FROM SHANGHAI TO CORREGIDOR: Marines in the Defense of the Philippines
by J. Michael Miller
"The Government of the United States has decided
to withdraw the American Marine detachments now maintained ashore in
China, at Peiping, Tientsin, and Shanghai. It is reported that the
withdrawal will begin shortly."
President Franklin D. Roosevelt Press Conference, 14
President Roosevelt's announcement formally ended
almost 15 years of duty by the 4th Marine Regiment in Shanghai. Clouds
of war were quickly closing in on the China Marines as Japan and the
United States edged ever closer to active hostilities. "One could sense
the tenseness in the air," Lieutenant Colonel Curtis T. Beecher
remembered, "There was a general feeling of uneasiness and uncertainty
in the air."
In September 1941, Colonel Samuel L. Howard, USMC,
Commanding Officer, 4th Marines, recommended to Admiral Thomas Hart,
USN, Commander-in-Chief, Asiatic Fleet, that Howard's regiment be
evacuated from its longtime duty station in Shanghai. The regiment
comprised two small battalions, made up of approximately 800 Marines and
attached naval personnel, and was dangerously exposed to Japanese attack
should war come.
Samuel L. Howard and his regimental staff lead the 4th Marines to the
Bund in Shanghai, 28 November 1941. John E. Drake Papers, Personal Papers
Hart had anticipated the withdrawal from Shanghai by
no longer replacing individual members of the 4th Marines as they left
China. Instead, he attached all replacements to the 1st Separate Marine
Battalion in the Cavite Navy Yard, Philippine Islands. Hart had no
official authorization for this plan, and later wrote, "If we couldn't
get all the Regiment out of China we could at least stop sending any
more Marines there until somebody bawled us out most vociferously. They
never did." On 10 November 1941, Colonel Howard received the
long-awaited orders to prepare the withdrawal of his regiment.
Thursday, 27 November 1941, dawned grey and gloomy in
Shanghai. Sunrise was at 0631, but the rain and low-lying clouds
obscured all but a hint of this fact. Adding to the gloom was the
scheduled departure this day of the first element of the 4th
A steady drizzle fell as the first echelon to leave,
Lieutenant Colonel Donald Curtis' 2d Battalion, formed ranks outside its
Haiphong Street billet and prepared to board the double-decker buses of
the China Omnibus Company. At 0900 the Marines loaded the vehicles for
their last trip in Shanghai, down Bubbling Well Road, into Nanking Road,
and on to the Bund, where they boarded the lighter Merry Moller
for the short steam down the Whangpoo, past the mouth of Soochow Creek,
to the SS President Madison, bound for the Marines knew
At the Bund, friends and sweet hearts bid the Marines
tearful goodbyes as the Shanghai Refugee Institute's brass band struck
up the "Marines' Hymn." Before boarding the lighter, Colonel Curtis was
approached suddenly by a Chinese in a long black robe and wearing a
little grey felt hat. The native waved his hand, said "Three cheers for
Chiang Kaishek! Three cheers for President Roosevelt!" and disappeared
into the crowd.
Fully loaded at 1420, the Madison slowly made
her way out to the Yangtze and the Yellow Sea beyond, her destination
still unknown to the troops she was carrying.
The next day, the 28th, was bright and crisp as the
regimental headquarters and Lieutenant Colonel Curtis T. Beecher's 1st
Battalion formed up at Ferry and Avenue Roads. At 0900, the regimental
commander, Colonel Howard, ordered "Forward march!" and the column
stepped off to the sounds of "Glory of the Trumpets," followed by "The
Marines' Hymn" and "Semper Fidelis." Led by Colonel Howard and his staff
and followed closely behind by the 4th Marines band and colors, the
remainder of the 4th Marines moved out through streets lined with crowds
of well-wishers waving American flags. On the mezzanine balcony of the
Foreign YMCA was a Scot in full kit, kilt and all, playing his pipes in
tribute to the departing Marines.
When the column neared Jimmy's Restaurant on Nanking
near Szechuan Road, a complete orchestra of Americans dressed in cooks'
and waiters' whites formed up behind the last rank of the Marines and
joined the parade, playing American swing as they marched.
The scene at the Bund was much the same as the day
before but the crowds were greater, with most of Shanghai's diplomatic
and consular corps as well as prominent citizens of the International
Settlement present to wish the 4th farewell. The same unhappy
sweethearts and lovers White Russians and Chinese were
there. Also present was the international press corps covering the
departure of the Americans.
Colonel Howard made a short speech, and at 1400 the
final elements of the 4th Marines boarded the tender for the short trip
to where the SS President Harrison was waiting to carry the
Marines to the Philippines.