English Feature #7-37319 Broadcast March 31, 2003
A starving eleven-year-old boy befriended by American GIs in Tsingdao, China in 1945 becomes an honorary Marine –- one of “the few, the proud” -- fifty years later. His story today on New American Voices.
Charlie sings Marine's Hymn “From the Halls of Montezuma”
“It’s a lifetime dream come true. My citizenship, of course -- I’ve always dreamed of becoming an American citizen ever since I became a Marine, and that was 50 years ago. And I’ve been dreaming of being an official Marine. It’s been so long, I almost forgot this dream, and now this dream came back, and it’s come true.”
On April 22, 2002, sixty-eight year old Charlie Two Shoes was inducted as an honorary U.S. Marine at a ceremony in Camp Le Jeune, North Carolina. Charlie’s saga began almost a half-century ago, when a company of young American Marines arrived in Tsingdao, in Northern China, at the end of the Sino-Japanese war to help the Chinese government. The Marines adopted the malnourished, cold and frightened but resourceful boy who lived in a mud hut just beyond the marine camp’s barbed wire, and traded kindling and eggs for the Americans’ K-rations.
“We couldn’t pronounce his name, we didn’t even try. Tsui Chi Hsii… well, it sounded like Charlie Two Shoes.”
George McDonald was one of the Love Company Marines who took young Charlie under their wing. The soldiers gave Charlie a bed, a uniform, and taught him how to spit-polish their shoes.
“Charlie was a perfect example of a Marine. He would scold us when we came in late in from liberty, we might be a little wobble-legged, you know, and he would say, ‘You’re no good!’ His English was broken, but he’d shake his finger at us.”
The Marines sent Charlie to a school for Americans where he learned English from Catholic nuns. He kept his bunk straight and his uniform pressed, and even got a Marine haircut. Wayne Rowe, another of the Marines stationed in Tsingdao, remembers that Charlie talked to his American friends about his family and about life in the village, while they, in turn, told him all about America.
“I was about 18 or 19, I suppose. We were just kids ourselves. But I remember the stories we always told Charlie. ‘Oh, the States is just wonderful, we’re taking you back to the States with us, you can be our little brother.’”
But one by one the soldiers finished their tour of duty and returned home. Then in 1949 the Communists came to power in China and all the Marines were forced to leave. Charlie’s hopes for joining his friends in America were dashed. Because he refused to denounce his connection with the Marines, and because he was a Catholic and spoke English, Charlie was suspected of being a U.S. spy. For the next twenty-some years he lived in fear and poverty, even spending some time in jail and under house arrest. But after 1972, when President Richard Nixon visited China and the two countries normalized diplomatic relations, Charlie decided to try to get in touch with his old friends from Love Company.
“For many days and many nights I spent thinking, trying to remember their names, the way they looked, their addresses. It just so happened that a couple of addresses came to my mind. So I wrote a letter. The first letter was returned, but I didn’t give up. I wrote another letter using the address that I thought was right. It WAS right. William Bullard.”
William Bullard was deeply moved to receive the letter from the little Chinese boy his company had adopted all those years ago.
“One morning I went to the mailbox – we lived in the country, and I went to the mailbox, and pulled out a letter. It was from Charlie Two Shoes. I hadn’t heard from him in 32 years. Tears overflowed with joy. I was so thrilled, I just couldn’t hardly bear it.”
William Bullard contacted his old Marine Corps buddies, who petitioned the U.S. Congress, the State Department and the White House on Charlie’s behalf. Finally, in 1983, Charlie, armed with a tourist visa, got on an airplane for America. He admits he was a little nervous.
“I knew that these people are not like they were 32 years ago. Back then they were all youngsters, 18-year-olds, 19-year-olds, we had a lot of fun, a lot of good times together. We played, we joked. But now, everybody’s grown up.”
Charlie need not have worried. The Marines of Love Company, aging now, gathered at the airport to greet him. One of them built a special addition to his house so that Charlie could live there. And then the Marines came through on their long-ago promise to their young friend, and secured a special dispensation from the Attorney General of the United States that allowed Charlie to stay in this country.
“The Marines said to me, ‘Charlie, you just don’t worry about it, we won’t let you go back.’ You know the Marines are stubborn people.”
Two years later, Charlie’s family – his wife and three children – joined him in America, and began the new life Charlie had dreamed about all those years ago at the Marine base in Tsingdao. Today his son Jeff is the chef of the family’s restaurant, the other two children, Susan and David, are doctors. Charlie and his family have become American citizens.
“It is a true American dream. But I never dreamed it would be this beautiful. I dreamed to be an American because I have sacrificed for the cause of it. I’ve always been loyal and faithful, that is my belief.”
(Marine Band plays Marine's Hymn)
Honorary U.S. Marine Charlie Tsui Chi Hsii. For the material on which this feature is based we are grateful to VOA TV and to our colleagues Yiru Wang, Enming Liu and Ming Zhang in VOA’s Mandarin Service.