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Charlie Two Shoes, Part One - 2003-03-06

Charlie Tsui Chi Hsii, known among his old Marine friends as “Charlie Two Shoes” was born in Shading Province in China. In December 1945, at the end of the Sino-Japanese War, the U.S. Marines arrived in Tsingdao, to assist the Chinese government. At the time the local economy was devastated, and fresh foods were a rarity. Charlie was 11-years-old; he lived in a village near the U.S. Marine base. Like other kids his age, he was curious about the Marines. Now nearly 50 years later he would see one of his childhood dreams come true. Charlie has been chosen to be an honorary Marine. Carolyn Weaver has the first of two reports chronicling his story.

“There he is, that’s him!”

Charlie Two Shoes and Wayne Rowe first met at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Tsingdao, China almost half a century ago. In 1945, Wayne Rowe, himself only 18, became Charlie Two Shoes’ mentor. Today, the 74-year-old is attending the ceremony that will induct Charlie as an honorary U.S. Marine.

“Once a Marine, always a Marine, I guess you think that way. There’s a lot of camaraderie between us.

So where did it all start? Why the name “Charlie Two Shoes?” George McDonald was one of Charlie’s friends at the base.

GEORGE MCDONALD “We couldn’t pronounce his name, we didn’t even try. Tsui Chi Hsii…well it sounded like Charlie Two Shoes.”

When George McDonald arrived in Tsingdao, China, he was only 17.

“Charlie was a perfect example of a Marine. He would scold at us when we came in late in liberty, we might be a little messy and he would say, “you’re no good, you know.” His English was broken, but he’d shake his finger at you.”

General Charles Robertson recalls his first encounter with Charlie.

“I was holding an inspection, I went through the barracks, and there was this little bunk. I said, “whose is that?” The First Sergeant said, ‘Oh, that’s Charlie’s.’ I said, ‘Who? Charlie’ ”

The Marines loved hanging out with Charlie, but they also felt a sense of responsibility for him. Wayne Rowe decided that he needed to go to school.

“Each month we would collect from all the guys about 50 cents each – it was only ten bucks per month. Every morning Charlie would be there with his suit and tie, ready to go to school.”

Charlie talked to the Marines about his family, about life in the village. The Marines in turn told him all about America, thus planting a seed of the American dream.

“We were 10,000 miles away from home, the other side of the world. We always talk about that ‘if you dig deep enough, you come out of China.’ The Chinese kids, if they dig deep enough, they’d come out of America (laugh).”

As time passed it became very hard for Charlie to part with his American soldier friends. The soldiers felt the same way towards Charlie and promised him they would not leave him behind.

“I was about 18 or 19. We were just kids ourselves. But I remember the stories we always told Charlie:‘the States is just wonderful, we’re taking you back to the States with us, you can be our little brother.’”

“It was very sad when those Marines, one by one, got discharged and went back to the States. Whoever’s leaving, they always tell me,‘Charlie, we’re not going back forever. We’re going back to the States temporarily. We’re not leaving you here for long. And I believed them.”

But in 1949, as the last Marines started their journey home, China came under the control of the Communists. Across the Pacific Ocean, the Marines returned to their hometowns. But in China, Charlie’s ties with his American friends made him a political target. His American dream of reuniting with his Marine friends seemed to be fading into the distance as time went by.

(Continued in Part 2)