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F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 2
beach town where we sometimes
summered, and my mother, sister
and I did not return inland to the
university when we usually did.
My child’s understanding of this
decision was murky; but I now be-
lieve that we were advised to stay
put until the United States’ re-
sponse to the outbreak of hostilities
was clear. (It may also have had something to do with
devastating floods.) But in a few weeks we went back
home, and life returned to normal.
Because the medical school where my father taught was
inside the ancient city wall, we sometimes went into town
in a rickshaw with our mother. To enter the gate, we were
required to go through a Japanese checkpoint. One of the
soldiers always smiled at us and often had a small gift for my
younger sister and me. In retro-
spect, I realize he must have missed
his own small daughters. But at the
time, he was just another friendly
adult at the edges of our lives.
By December 1940, war was
clearly looming. For me, though,
life was routine: starting first grade,
climbing trees, helping Mummy
rake leaves, roaming the campus,
playing with friends. But the State
Department had commandeered
three cruise ships to evacuate as
many American women, children
and “unnecessary” men around Asia
as would leave.
Refugees at “Home”
I didn’t know the details of all that until later. All I knew
was that suddenly, in a flurry of packing trunks and organ-
izing documents, our pregnant mother, my sister and I
were going back “home” to America, wherever that was,
whatever home meant. And Daddy was staying behind to
continue teaching.
We took the train to Tsingtao, a port city, hugged hard,
blew kisses and waved good-bye as the tender went fur-
ther into the harbor, and climbed aboard the S.S.
to cross the Pacific.
So on that December Sunday in 1941, along with my
mother and my two younger sisters, I was a refugee. We
lived with my paternal grandpar-
ents in Mississippi, feeling like out-
siders and waiting. Pearl Harbor
determined for what.
On Dec. 8, the United States
declared war. Daddy had already
flown to Hong Kong and then to
the interior of Free China as the
faculty and students moved the uni-
versity. With hostilities declared, he joined the U.S. Office
of War Information in Chungking, putting his expertise at
the service of the war effort. He would not be coming
back to us anytime soon.
Letters arrived rarely, after long delays. Daddy flew out
over the Hump— the name for the eastern end of the Hi-
malayas over which Allied pilots flew transport missions in
and out of China from India during World War II — to
come to the States for consultation
and to be with us, though for only
one summer. By the time he re-
turned for good, I was nearly a
teenager and my youngest sister,
born after we got back to the
States, was no longer a baby.
A New Vocabulary
Everyone was part of the war
effort. To do our bit, we smashed
tin cans and collected newspapers
for reuse. Gas, sugar, shoes and
other things were rationed. (To
this day, I am fussy about shoes be-
cause I had wide feet and only fit
into ugly brown boys’ shoes, one
pair a year.)
Victory gardens were commonplace. We canned what
we grew, churned butter (if we could get whole milk) and
learned to slice bread and squeeze the yellow back into
lardy-looking margarine. Each week, we carried our dimes
and quarters to school to buy stamps toward war bonds.
Everyone knew boys who went off to war, or had fa-
thers who had been called up, or passed houses with a
small flag with a gold star in the window. New places came
into our vocabularies and onto school maps: Normandy,
the Bulge, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Hiroshima.
News arrived via the radio or the newspaper (which
published “extra” editions for major events like President
On that December Sunday in
1941, along with my mother
and my two younger sisters, I
was a refugee.
The author (right), her younger sister, Har-
riet, and their amah, Wong Neinei, in 1940
in Tsinan, China.