The Last Powder Monkey

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Our arrival in Shanghai ended my cruise. Dad put me aboard SS President Harrison , bound for Manila, arranging for the captain to keep an eye on me. The first night out word got around that I had been at Nanking, and I was asked to appear in the ship’s lounge to tell about what had happened there. Like all sailors, I got carried away with a good story. My description of being in Noa ’s crow’s-nest watching the whole show while trying to catch passing bullets in a baseball glove was enthusiastically received, if not universally believed.

AS IT TURNED OUT, DAD’S prediction that opening fire at Nanking would get him a medal or a court-martial was mistaken; he received neither. He was recommended for a Distinguished Service Medal, but for various reasons he was not in the good graces of the chief of staff, Asiatic Fleet, and the recommendation never went any further. He did receive warm letters of commendation from the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Navy, and, on Hugh England’s recommendation to the Admiralty, from King George V.

Years later, long after Dad’s retirement, Congress passed an act providing for promotion on the retired list for personnel who had been decorated or commended at the secretarial level for combat service. Friends persuaded Dad to apply for promotion on the basis of his commendations for Nanking. Eventually the Department of the Navy replied that his request had been considered but was declined; although it met the spirit of the law, Nanking could not be considered “combat service.” A couple of days later Jack Wilson came by to visit Dad and said he had just been informed that he’d been promoted from boatswain to chief boatswain on the retired list because of his Navy Cross for Nanking.

A final note on the Nanking affair: Chiang Kai-shek was so angered by the behavior of his Communist troops and so embarrassed by the ultimatum his deputy had had to accept that he made a complete break with the Communists. He threw them out of the Kuomintang and fired all his Soviet advisers and commanders. These actions led ultimately to another Chinese civil war and the eventual victory of Mao Tse-tung.