Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Arrival in the Philippines
The 1st Separate Marine Battalion
Preparing for War
Bombing of Cavite
Concentration at Mariveles
Christmas Day
Defenses of Manila Bay
First Bombing
Battle of the Points
The Bombardment Continues
The Formation of the 4th Battalion
1st Battalion Defenses
Japanese Preparations
The Landing
Movement of the Regimental Reserve
Attack of the 4th Battalion
Morning Battle
Special Subjects
The Marine Rearguard on Bataan
Marine Detachment, Air Warning Service
The Bataan Death March

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 November 1941

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.

Col Samuel L. Howard and his regimental staff
Col 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 Collection, MCHC

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 Marines.

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 not where.

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.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division