Back To Engua Foo:
An Excerpt From China Marine
E.B. Sledge was a World War II veteran and a professor of biology at the University of Montevallo, Alabama. Yesterday we posted an article by his son, John Sledge about his father’s book, China Marine: An Infantryman’s Life After World War II, in honor of the HBO series which premiers on Sunday the 14th. Today we thought we would share an excerpt from this poignant memoir. In the post below Sledge shares some memories of his time in China after WWII. Check it out below.
After our guard duty assignment on the airfield, we boarded open trucks for the bumpy ride back to our billets in Engua Foo. The bumpy road was the least of our discomforts. The weather had turned bitterly cold, and we shivered on the windy open trucks until our teeth chattered, even though we were wearing all the clothes we could pile on. However, closed trucks would have been more appropriate for rear-echelon troops- Marine infantry weren’t supposed to notice such minor inconveniences as being chilled to the bone in an open truck on a winter day in North China.
About an inch of snow blanketed Peiping. I had never seen much snow and was amazed how certain terrain and structural features were accentuated by the clean white covering over everything. However, in the streets it was already turning into a dirty brown slush mixed with camel and horse dung.
Upon returning to the legation, we went up to our squad bays, stored our weapons and gear, grabbed up our mess kits, and headed for evening chow. The chow, I remember vividly, was hot joe (which warmed us), stringy bully beef (which revolted us), dehydrated mashed potatoes (with an aftertaste like tin cans), and fresh fruit. The latter we relished. Most of the rest I emptied into a can held by a Chinese worker outside the building. He grinned and thanked me sincerely. I asked him if he would feed it to his hogs-he said no, he’d give it to his grateful family. Such was the severe poverty in China. I always heaped up my mess kit with food I didn’t intend to eat in order to give it to that man.
When I had entered the mess halls, I had noticed the snow on the several stone steps and the landing had been packed into ice by Marine boondockers. So when I came out of the hall, I walked gingerly down the steps. Unfortunately, some of my buddies hadn’t noted the ice. They came rushing out the mess hall headed to the slop chute for a beer. When the first five or six rushed out onto the landing, their feet flew out from under them, and with rattling mess kits, they flew though the air and sprawled onto the frozen group in a heap. Roars of laughter met them from more careful Marines already outside. The fallen got up, cursed, and joined the laughter as each new unfortunate came sailing through the air.
Several days after our return, about forty of us were detailed for an honor guard meeting a U.S. Army general arriving at Nan Yuan Airfield about eight miles south of Peiping. We wore dungarees and combat gear. We were trucked to the site in vehicles with their tarps battened down against the weather. Fortunately, it was a clear balmy day, but we wore sweatshirts under our dungarees. We formed up in platoon formation, opened ranks, and stood inspection by the general (and several Marine officers). He wore an army dress uniform and many campaign ribbons and was a distinguished-looking man. Because of my height, I was near the rear of the second squad. The general, whose name I do not recall, inspected us with meticulous care and an eagle eye. As he passed near me I heard him ask the Marine captain in charge where we had fought. The captain told him, and the general remarked, “This is the finest looking group of troops I’ve ever seen.” A kind comment from a brother service.