The court will now receive the evidence
After World War II my father was posted to China with the 1st Marine Division. At the time, he was the commanding officer of the headquarters battalion of that Division. His duty station was the site of the former Italian Legation in the port city of Tientsin (now known as Tianjin.) Tientsin is located on the Grand Canal at the point of its closest approach to the Yellow Sea. One of the consequences of the headquarter’s battalion being quartered in the barracks at the Italian Legation was that my father’s office had the largest safe under Marine control in Northern China.
After the Soviet Revolution, many White Russians fled to Northern China. Because of the scarcity of legitimate employment, it came to pass that White Russians gained control of most of the illegal opium traffic in that area of the world. Being accustomed for generations to corrupt governments--from the Tzar’s Imperial Russia, through Pu Yi’s puppet empire of Manchukuo, to Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist China--the White Russians assumed the Marines were similarly venal. As a result, some White Russians approached a Marine pilot with a request for him to fly some refined opium from Tientsin to another location in China. The Marine pilot played along and then promptly reported the offer to his superior officers.
When the White Russians returned to consummate the deal, they were met by Marine MP’s who confiscated the opium and turned the White Russians over to the local authorities. After confiscating the opium, the MP’s were confronted with a problem: where could they store the twenty kilograms of refined opium they had seized until the trial of the White Russians? They didn’t have anywhere secure enough to store anything that valuable. When told of this problem, a very simple solution appeared to the Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division, he instructed the MP’s to turn the opium over to Major Cox because not only did he have a good safe, but that safe was surrounded by a battalion of Marines.
Once my father assumed custody of the opium, the story got stranger. As commander of the headquarters battalion, one of his duties was to inspect all the local nightspots to determine which would be off-limits for Marines. Up to this point, all the local Chinese businessmen with whom my father had contact had looked down on Americans as if they were some sort of hairy monkey that could talk. Once word spread that my father had control of twenty kilograms of refined opium, he was greeted by the owners of the businesses he inspected as if he was a long-lost brother. Invariably, the conversation would turn to schemes whereby my father would allow the opium to be stolen. He was assured that the opium would be replaced by a substance that looked identical to opium, that all they needed was a wax impression of the lock on his office door, that no one would ever suspect him, and so forth. In exchange for his help, my father was promised vast sums of money to be deposited in any currency in any bank in the world.
Of course, Dad rejected all these offers and duly reported them to the Commanding General of the 1st Marine Division. The Chinese businessmen attempting to bribe my father simply could not conceive that he would not accept a bribe, so they just assumed that someone else had outbid them and raised their offer. After a while the offers became so outrageous that the Commanding General’s Chief of Staff started jokingly inquiring about what his cut of my father’s bribe was going to be.
Not a moment too soon for Dad, the day arrived for the trial of the White Russians. Based on how quickly the word spread that he had the opium, he kept his own counsel and told no one of the route he was taking to the trial. He merely instructed a lieutenant to have his platoon armed and ready to move out on a moment’s notice. When the day and time to depart for the trial came, Dad picked an arbitrary and roundabout way to drive to the court and arrived without incident.
Once at court, the opium was offered into evidence and the Marine pilot and Marine MP’s testified. The three Chinese judges, acting as both judge and jury, quickly found the White Russians guilty and sentenced them to death. As was the custom, the White Russians were immediately taken out behind the court and shot. At this point, the Chinese judges instructed my father to turn the evidence over to them for disposal. However, Dad had received explicit instructions to the contrary. He was not to turn the opium over to the judges because it was believed that they would promptly sell it on the black market. The judges were enraged at my father’s impertinence. They threatened to find him in contempt of court, they threatened him with imprisonment, and they threatened him with the same fate as had just befallen the White Russians. But Dad was not overly concerned by these threats, because he knew that no one in that court was about to take on a platoon of armed Marines, which he had wisely brought in with him. After listening to the threats and pleadings of the Chinese judges for the amount of time he felt courtesy and diplomacy demanded, my father left, returned to the Italian Legation, and put the opium back into his safe.
With the opium secure, Dad made a complete report of the day’s activities to the Commanding General. At the end of his report, Dad inquired as to what the General wanted done with the opium. The General told my father to dispose of it. Dad asked how he should do this. The General rather curtly informed my father that he expected a major in the United States Marine Corps to have enough intelligence and initiative to handle a simple problem of disposing of twenty kilograms of opium without needing detailed instructions from a superior officer. Or in other words, the General had no idea how to get rid of the opium.
My father’s first impulse was to take the opium to the trash incinerator behind his office and burn it. However, before he could act upon this impulse, his Chinese assistant intervened and told him that such an action would be inadvisable because it would undoubtedly stupefy half of Tientsin. This near brush with disaster gave my father pause and he decided that resolution of this disposal problem required careful consideration. After a day or two, my father hit upon a solution. Then, as now, Tientsin was an industrial town that contained several mills. Each mill had tremendously tall smokestacks to generate sufficient draft for the furnaces. Dad contacted each mill and made arrangements with them to burn something in their furnaces. To avoid any ugly incidents on the road to the mill, my father again kept his own counsel and he never even made up his own mind when or where to go. He merely told a lieutenant to have a platoon armed and ready to go on short notice. One day when the mood hit him, my father mustered the platoon and hit the road with no particular destination in mind. While on the road, Dad picked a mill, drove to it, and threw all twenty kilograms of opium into a furnace. After waiting until it was completely consumed, my father bid a grateful farewell to his dealings with the Chinese opium trade.
Years later when telling this story to his children, one of my sisters suggested that if Dad had only taken the bribe, we would all be living in luxury now. Dad assured her that if he had taken the bribe, the only thing that would be happening now was that he would just be getting out of Portsmouth Naval Prison.