Summary of the location of Camp Nine
Camp Nine was built on the plains of the south bank of the Chialing (now Jialing) River about seven miles west of Chungking (now Chongqing), Szechwan (now Sichuan) Province. It was immediately east of Beyerly Hill, which was the eastern edge of Happy Valley. By the end of 1944, the entire complex – Happy Valley, Camp Nine, and outbuildings – was referred to as “the valley.”
On May 18, 1944, 36 American officers and enlisted men slogged through the incessant rain and up the hillside to newly built quarters at Camp Nine; their passages from the United States had been varied. A group of 17 had left Washington for San Francisco by train on December 17 and embarked January 15 on the British aircraft carrier H.M.S. Shah for Cochin, near the southern tip of India. On February 8, ten members of the Coast Guard Reserve, with 25 trained-for-war dogs from Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, left San Carlos, California aboard British Aircraft Carrier H. M. S. Ranee and arrived at Cochin on March 17.
Five others, including LCDR Charles S. Johnston, commander of Unit Nine, traveled by air. While in Washington DC the commander had filled half of an aircraft hanger in Anacostia with essential supplies. This equipment, including motor vehicles, and a group of four more SACO men left New York City on December 17 aboard the Liberty Ship NY-658, named Joseph LeConte. They joined a convoy to the Suez canal and arrived in Calcutta on February 23. The vehicles were disassembled at Jorhat and Chabua (125 miles northeast of Jorhat), flown over the Hump to Kunming, reassembled, and driven to Chungking.
On May 21, 1944, the men of Unit Nine enjoyed their first mess from their own galley; motion pictures followed the evening meal. June 11 was especially noteworthy in that it was the first day hot showers became available.
Camp Nine began unofficially in June, 1944 when the classes moved from Happy Valley to the new complex. General Tai explained to Miles:
“Once China was foremost in the world in law-enforcing but now for centuries she stands still. After the war we will need a modern, well-trained police force. I want my young men to have the courses you give your F.B.I. They need training in recognizing criminals—in filing their pictures—in fingerprinting—in using the lie detector—in identifying guns from bullets, and all the up-to-date new things.” (Miles, 1967, p 193)
The police training courses were led by LCDR Charles S.“Charlie” Johnston with the help of LT Angelo J. “Angie” Meneghin, LT Robert J. “Red” Jantzen, Chief Boatswain’s Mate “Don” Wilcox, and Chief Yeoman Peter “Pete” Moll. The instructors taught for seven or eight hours a day.
General Tai Li insisted on the biggest and best of everything for this camp. Fifty new buildings were built, mostly during 1944. This school for spies and special saboteurs took on the look of a new college during summer session.
The “heart” of the camp was a parade ground. Formal military reviews were held there April 3, 1945 for General Chiang Kai-shek and June 9 for U.S. Ambassador Hurley. A massive staircase of about 90 white stone steps, 8 meters (25 feet) wide and broken into four flights, led up to the auditorium which seated 500 and was equipped for projecting movies as well as with the proper staging for Chinese operas. The steps had been quarried for the mess hall in Happy Valley but there had been a misunderstanding in the dimensions – maybe 8 feet instead of meters for the width. General Tai ordered the steps removed, afraid that they would become an attractive bombing target, and a year later “recycled” them to Camp Nine.
Other major buildings included a large mess hall-recreation room, a photographic lab, student laboratories, lecture rooms, a special movie room for instruction, and living quarters – complete with awnings for their windows – for the instructors both American and Chinese. Barracks for the pupils were scattered across the rice paddies.
There were stables as well as riding fields for the 35 horses which arrived in January; kennels and exercise yards for the 25 American dogs that made up the K-9 corps; pigeon cotes for the 105 birds; a motor pool; motor repair shops, and a huge driving range on which to teach the Chinese to operate trucks, cars, and motorcycles.
Lieutenant John A. Webb and Sgt. C. J. Heitzman, Jr. had accompanied pigeons from the U.S. Naval Lighter-than-air Base at Richmond, Florida; they sailed June 13, 1944, and arrived in Chungking September 1. Only two pigeons were lost during their transport which had been expedited with a story that the pigeons, separated by sex for transport, must be reunited quickly or die. They became known as the “sex-starved pigeons.”
This pigeon business was one of those ideas that looked good but that turned out to be more trouble than it was worth. Away from Chungking we could not keep our headquarters camps still long enough to train the birds to come home, so it was only in Chungking that we could use them at all. But even there it was a constant headache to protect them from falcons (one falcon killed thirteen yearlings during one high, excited, pre-settling flight). Rats got some of them, too. Even snakes, which we had never before seen in our vicinity, did away with a few. (Miles, 1967, p 303)
There was an armory and a rifle range. Captain Harry W. Reeves, USMC, the world’s champion pistol shot and later six times national outdoor champion, was a weapon instructor.
A fifteen-thousand-gallon water-filtration plant serviced the camp; hot showers, a rarity in Happy Valley, were available to all. Many in SACO swore that whatever was not nailed down went to Camp Nine.
From the very beginning, Charlie Johnston provided for his boys. He and the four men who had come with him actually managed to bring in two tons of gear for use in their classes. They had a good reference library—a supply of highly practical teaching aids—our first movie machines and slide projectors—and many specialized charts. And their first class consisted of more than a hundred of General Tai’s very best young men—young men from good families, with good educational backgrounds, and of proven loyalties. (Miles, 1967, p 194-195)
On New Year’s Day 1945, Camp Nine officially opened. The first class, 525 students, graduated in August.
The curriculum had been carefully planned, checked, and rechecked, and these boys were systematically stuffed. In addition to their already arranged seventy-three subjects General Tai wanted them taught “smuggling and anti-smuggling” by his own men, and he also hired a well-qualified Chinese lawyer to teach them Chinese criminal law.
The students were to be prepared for dangerous individual work so they had more “labs” in jiujitsu and unarmed combat than our usual camp training required, and much more work with pistols. Radio and photography instruction was for everyone, not just for a specialized few, and we included all sorts of work with motors and motorized equipment—motorcycles, trucks, and cars. Even General Tai frequently attended classes, and he insisted that the officers of units attend classes with their men.
It was usual in our other camps, as well as at all schools in China, to have almost a hour every morning devoted to the “Three People Principles” of Sun Yat-sen. But there was no time for that in the students’ day at Camp Nine, so they piled it all on Sunday morning. Charlie Johnston tried to preserve time on Wednesday afternoons for the Navy’s traditional “rope yarn Sunday”—time off to mend clothes and clean barracks. But all of Wednesday’s time was already assigned, and when Charlie quite properly insisted that these things were necessary, the Chinese officers assigned the only remaining time—Sunday afternoon. (Miles, 1967, p 304-305)
For recreation there were three movies each week. The men played basketball, softball, volleyball, ping pong, and badminton. The first recorded softball game in camp was on July 4, 1944, the enlisted men beat the officers 24 to 17.
On October 31, 1944, Pat O’Brien and Jinx Falkenburg brought their U.S.O. troop to The Valley. These entertainers were informed that this was a secret operation and agreed to not mention this part of their tour through China. The auditorium at Camp Nine was not finished and General Tai suggested the use of the Li Jen primary school which was on the top of one of the hills between Camp Nine and Happy Valley.
This school was part of the Li Jen orphanage which had been set up by General Tai to take care of the children of his soldiers who died in combat. There were 150 orphans, ages 3 to 14, and the men often dropped up to visit or just play with the children. At Christmastime the men had planned a party with great anticipation; there were games – egg races, pass the bean bag, pin the tail on the donkey, musical chairs – and Santa Claus with toys for every child.
The U.S.O. troop arrived just after dusk at Happy Valley and the hillside was illuminated by bamboo torches which were reflected in the rice paddies. Pat O’Brien looked and sighed “Why, it’s Shangri-La.” The show started at the mess hall with a dinner to which the officers had been “invited” to stay away. The dinner lasted one and a half hours. Then everyone went to the orphan’s auditorium for the main event.
The show was wonderful, but even if it hadn’t been we would have thought so. Most of the boys had not even been to Chungking in months and the applause was stupendous. Three tiny little orphan girls hardly more than two feet high shyly brought in chrysanthemums that were a little taller than they. The smallest, I knew, was motherless, and her father had just been killed—messily—in Shanghai. I thought that the U.S.O. girls would take the little red-dressed, almond-eyed babies right along with the flowers.
But the show was not yet over. It was now the orphans’ turn, and they gave a show for our U.S.O. visitors. Little boys dressed up as sailors had a new song—“Hail SACO”—done to the tune of “Scotland’s Burning” with a background of four little voices repeating “SACO, SACO, SACO.” Next the littlest tots sang “MY HOUSE”—a song that actually brought tears—and then everyone relaxed with “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”—a song that was so familiar to SACO that we could all shriek it in Chinese. And every member of the U.S.O. troop joined in, for at least they understood the tune and the “Ee ai, ee ai, oh.” (Miles, 1967, p 338-339)
The U.S.O. troop honored the request to keep the visit a secret and never said a word. However, at an Air Force event in Chengtu (now Chengdu) Pat O’Brien, unhappy with their treatment, performed wearing a Navy windbreaker.
For us that U.S.O. visit had been a night like home. And for them, they said, it had been the most foreign stop of their tour. Everywhere else they had eaten G.I. food and had met no foreigners. And among the men they had entertained elsewhere at least a few may not have been much of a treat. At any rate, the girls seemed in a glow when they told me that nowhere else had they met such a grand bunch of guys as ours. The best applause, they said, since they had left home. And not a pawing hand! (Miles, 1967, p 340)
During the weekend of August 10, 1957, Admiral and Mrs. Miles hosted the SACO convention in New York city; 200 veterans and wives attended. Jinx Falkenburg took time from her busy broadcast day – a mid-day television show and a 10:30 to 12:30 evening radio program – and helped raise the What-The-Hell Pennant over the marquee of the Warwick Hotel, stood on a chair and told about her trip to China and especially “the valley,” and charmed all at the convention dinner.
Miles, M. E., 1967, A Different Kind of War, Doubleday & Co, Garden City, NY. 629 p.
Provided courtesy of Charles H. Miles on November 20, 2010