My Dad the U.S. China Marine

My Dad the U.S. China Marine

Thursday, August 10, 2017

You're Invited: 72nd anniversary of the end of World War II aboard the USS Missouri

On September 2, 1945, Japan formally surrendered to the Allies. Celebrate the 72nd anniversary of the end of World War II exactly where the surrender took place - aboard the USS Missouri. 

This event is free and open to the public, starting at 9:02 AM on Saturday, September 2, 2017. Please see the flyer for more information!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Journey to China: September 1 and 2 Arrival in Beijing

When I awakened on September 1, 2015 I'm fairly certain that we were flying over Manchuria or some area of Northeastern China. 

The landscape below us was dotted with clusters of high-rise apartment buildings with connecting roads and streets. I noted that the skies around us were clear and blue with the sun setting in the western horizon. 

Our descent into Beijing Capitol International Airport was standard procedure and uneventful. I made it a point of expressing my thanks to the flight crew. The experience -especially the food served us- was one of the best. 

I grabbed my carry-on luggage and followed the other passengers as we disembarked at 6:20 p.m./ 18:20 p.m from CA Flight 982. 

As I followed everyone I noticed a young Chinese man smiling at me. His name was Mr. Hao Xiaochen who welcomed me in English. Xiaochen was with the Chinese People's Association for Friendship With Foreign Countries. He took my bags. 

We departed from the other passengers and I was conducted to a nondescript elevator. Down we went. 

When the door opened we were greeted by security officials who took my passport and luggage. The others and Xiaochen were all-smiles, very pleasant and asked me about my flight. It turned out that I was in a receiving area reserved for VIPs, including heads-of-state and diplomats. I felt like I was in a James Bond 007 movie. 

During the whole time I was preoccupied that at long last I had arrived in China. Was I excited? Absolutely. 

My passport and luggage were returned to me. Xiaochen led me outside to a car and driver waiting for us. 

One thing I noticed -this time from the ground- that the skies were clear. In the Western media we are often treated to images of Beijing cover in shrouds of polluted cloud cover. Such was not the case this time. I learned later that the government banned all outside fires and factory-based burning within a 500-mile radius of the capitol. 

We boarded our official car and off we went to Beijing. I rode in the backseat. Chinese music played on the radio. The smell of cigarette smoke seemed everywhere -not unlike a ride in a New York City taxicab. As the sun continued to set I gazed outside at the traffic all around us. Xiaochen and the driver conversed together in Chinese. I was not bothered by this at all, preferring to soak in everything around me.

I'm not certain how long it took us to get to central Beijing. Eventually we arrived at the Grand Hyatt Beijing at Oriental Plaza at 1 Chang An Avenue. Security guards were stationed around the perimeter of the hotel. I would learn later that this was where all the visiting dignitaries were staying -very conveniently located near the Forbidden City, Tianaman Square and the Great Hall of the People. 

The Grand Hyatt Beijing at 1 Chang An Avenue. 

This is the lobby of the Grand Hyatt Beijing.

I was brought inside where I was welcomed by Ms. Ba Cuicui, also of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship With Foreign Countries. 

I was warmly escorted by both Hao Xiaochen -carrying my luggage with a smile- and Ba Cuicui to my room. She would be staying in the hotel during my stay, making herself available 24/7 for me and other invited dignitaries. Xiaochen received my heartfelt thanks as I bid farewell, settling into my room to freshen up. 

This was the view outside my room in the Grand Hyatt Beijing. 

My first selfie in China! Not too bad for someone who's a bit jet-lagged after 13 hours in the sky. 

An evening buffet dinner was being served in the Grand Ballroom on the LG floor, according to my itinerary. 

As I in true jet-lagged form descended the stairs to the Grand Ballroom a sumptuous buffet was set up for us. It was late, so what you see here is a bit toned down. Each day -morning, noon and evening- we were treated to one of the best buffet experiences anywhere. Hotel staff were everywhere for special requests, too.  

Do you see the young people dressed in blue shirts? They were students from Chinese colleges and universities. The students were all very charming, often practicing their English skills. There were many World War II veterans and their families from various countries, so none of them were ever alone. Word got around of my background in teaching English as a second language, so I was something of a conversation magnet for them. They also admired my chopsticks skills.

The cuisine was an assortment of Western and Chinese, all fresh and truly delicious. 

It was open-seating in the Grand Ballroom, and it was crowded. It was not hard at all to meet members of our "Greatest Generation" and their families. The blue-shirted students were ever-attentive to us, asking if we wanted anything and simply getting it for us. I'm fairly certain on that evening alone I gained some weight. 

There was abundant conversation as stories of a world deep in crisis and conflict were exchanged. As we say, I felt like a kid in a candy store. 

The hour was late -and upon reaching my room that bathtub caught my attention. I was finally in China! I climbed into bed, drifting off assured that my late-father smiled from Heaven that at last our reconnection with the people of China was underway. 

On Wednesday, September 2 all of the invited veteran dignitaries and descendants like me were interviewed by the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. The dress code was casual, though I decided to wear my suit.

I was asked by my father's service, some of the stories he shared with me, and how much importance the continued friendship between Americans and Chinese were to him and me. At one point I was somber and emotional -not in a hostile way, of course. The devastation at the time of the surrender by the Japanese Empire was horrendous. I remember reading about "cholera ships" containing repatriated Japanese nationals from China sitting in Tokyo Bay -with no way to allow them back to their homes. Who knows how many thousands died? 

For the remainder of the day and evening we all stayed in the hotel. At one point I wanted to go outside for a walk. Upon doing so I found we were confined to the front area of the hotel. Guards were scattered around the hotel's campus. I noted that the Chinese soldiers were very tall. As I walked back inside I waved at one of the guards, who smiled in return. 

I wondered what memories he would share years from now? Would I be one of them? 


Later, all of us were presented with these medals in appreciation of those who served in combating the enemies of China. It was a very touching gesture and one that I will always cherish.

That night after dinner a group of us sat around several tables in the Grand Ballroom exchanging contact information and war stories. We laughed ourselves well into the late evening -until the hotel staff told us we had to leave. 

They were right to do so, for we were scheduled to  breakfast at 6:20 a.m. the next morning. A military parade and "commemoration rally" like none I'd ever seen would unfold before us. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Journey to China: The Invitation Arrived -and Nothing Would Be The Same

Jet-lag is a state of being that I know all too well. My acquaintance with flying long distances was renewed just before July 4, 2015. The non-stop flight from Honolulu to New York City was uneventful. 

As is the case every year in recent memory I was invited to attend the official Independence Day celebrations at Town Hall in my ancestral home town, Greenwich, Connecticut.  I was there among family, relatives and friends as a descendant of one of the town's founders in the 17th century. The event was fun, patriotic, somber at times and traditional. 

That's me with Davidde Strackbein, Chairman of the Board of the Greenwich Historical Society. 

It was relatively routine on that Saturday morning in front of what was at one time my late-father's high school, now today the seat of the town government. After the speeches, ceremonies and recognitions were concluded all attendees filed into the front entrance of Greenwich Town Hall for slices of cake, water and conversation. I always find it a pleasure meeting up with old friends to catch up on things. 

Unbeknownst to me I was soon to receive an invitation -one that would represent a turning point that I still live with today. Turning points rarely arrive by email, but this one did. 

And so on July 8 a personal message arrived:

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression as well as the World Anti-Fascist War. In accordance with the common practice and in reference to routines of other countries, the Chinese government will hold the grand commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression as well as the World Anti-Fascist War, in a bid to memorize the history, honor the martyrs, cherish peace and open up to the future. President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders will attend these activities. The Chinese side will also invite leaders from major belligerent states in the Second World War, Asian countries as well as countries in other regions, international organizations and foreign friends who contributed to the victory of China's war of resistance or their family members to these events.

Therefore, the Chinese government sincerely invites you representing your father Mr. Herbert Bingham Mead to attend these events.

The framework program:
On the Morning of September 3: commemoration meeting including military parade
On the noon of September 3: commemoration reception
On the evening of September 3: artistic performance

Suggested itinerary:
Arrival: September 1
Departure: September 4

The Chinese government will sponsor your international ticket and stay in China.

I look forward to hearing from you soon. Should you have any further inquiry, please do not hesitate to contact me.

This message was signed by Zhu Jianzheng, vice consul of the Consulate of the People's Republic of China in New York City.  

My God. 

I just froze, read the email several times and just sat quietly. It wasn't the jet-lag, that's for sure. Never in my life did I expect this. 

I really owe this invitation to Mr. Liming Guan of The China Press and to Dr. Dave Wang, too. 

Dave and I met online regarding his pioneering research on the influences China had on the U.S. Founders in the eighteenth century as primarily published in his blog U.S. Founders and China. We had only recently met in person -in the Grand Concourse of New York City's Grand Central Terminal. 

Dave, in turn, introduced me to Mr. Liming Guan, a fantastic reporter for The China Press based in New York City. Liming interviewed me for an article (click here) about my late-father, Herbert Bingham Mead:

That was a fun day with the three of us delighting ourselves with Chinese cuisine and lots of conversation, laughs and all the stuff that makes for fond memories. 

It also helped greatly that The China Press is a Chinese language publication that is freely available in China and across the USA and the rest of the online-connected world. 

The first thing I did was share the invitation from Vice-consul Zhu to friends Dr. Yiping Wan at Manhattanville College, Liming and Dave. Needless to say all were in agreement: 

"Great! If I were you I'd take the offer!"

And so I did. 

This would be my first trip to China. It would be a dream come true. But not just for me. Dad had always wanted to return to China. Cold Wars, geopolitics and other factors intervened not just for him but for so many of the U.S. China Marines who served there. 

I was working mostly by email with Vice-consul Zhu's staff at the Chinese Consulate (pictured above). They were just terrific. My preparations included a trip to the Chinese Consulate off West 42nd Street in New York City to obtain my visa. 

My friends were right: bring a book and be prepared to wait. It was worth it, and admittedly I got a lot of work done.

Initially, I thought about flying out of Honolulu for Beijing, but I was convinced that it was wiser to fly out of New York City for the 13-hour flight. 

News arrived that I would be staying longer than the 3-4 days on the original itinerary. I was offered the opportunity to stay longer and visit as many of the sights and places Dad visited during his tour of duty in Beijing. My Konica-Minolta camera would be stretched to the limit -even to the point it overheated during the September 3 military parade in front of the Forbidden City. More about that later. 

On the day of my departure I arrived at the Air China terminal in New York's Kennedy Airport. It was a partly-sunny September afternoon. I travel lightly. In my case I brought a computer briefcase and a collapsable duffle bag I'd been using for travel since I was nineteen years old. Both fit perfectly in any overhead compartment or under the seat in front of me. 

Everything was routine when I approached one of the few staffed Air China counters. One of the agents smiled as I asked what gate I was to go to board. 

He cheerfully looked at my boarding pass -and what he did afterward made my afternoon much sunnier. 

After happily taking by luggage he walked me through all of the lines of passengers, moving me to the front of a very short line at the security screening. This experience was quite a new one for me. I felt it best to just go along and smile. I thanked the agent for his very kind services, went through security in the blink of an eye, and headed off to find my gate. 

I lined up with all the other Air China passengers. Again, I found myself the object of courteous treatment -this time by a number of my fellow Econony-class passengers.

I should mention that when I travel I tend to dress-up a bit, harkening back to a time when air travel was, shall we say, more elegant, polished and refined. It's true what is often said: flight crews, airline personnel and even fellow passengers treat you better when you dress up stylishly and tastefully. 

While it was pleasant, even sweet and endearing at times for passengers ahead of me to smile and ask, "Would you like to go ahead of me?" I drew the line when an elderly woman from India offered to have me go ahead of her. All the people who insisted on parting the Economy-class line for my benefit stood around with me engaged in pleasant conversation -hardly a habit you find in domestic U.S. airports. 

When I entered the cabin I handed the closest flight attendant my boarding pass, asking where my seat was. That's when the excitement began.

"Oh!!!" She yelled aloud and, joined by two other Air China flight crew smiled broadly and saying, "You're a very important person!" 

Well, how about that? 

One ran and brought me a small bouquet of flowers and presented  them to me. The others smiled and seized my luggage, taking me to the First Class section. 

This was an unexpected surprise. The window seat made my experience even sunnier than it was already. The offers of magazines, drinks, blankets -you name it- made me glow. The empty seat next to me stayed that way. Wow!

With mobile phone in hand I called as many friends and family as I could between New York City and Honolulu to share all this. I never felt more excited. 

It looked like my first flight to China was going to be an exceptionally special one- and it was.

Our 13-hour flight to Beijing took off on-time. Our route would take us north over the North Pole and then south over Eastern Siberia, Manchuria and ultimately to Beijing. 

I fell asleep over Hudson's Bay, Canada and aside from a passenger on the opposite side of the First Class cabin who coughed loudly throughout most of the flight all was uneventful. The food we were served -a service that I miss on American domestic flights- was quite Chinese and superbly so. 

There was no escaping -or any desire to do so- what it was that brought this about. I actually prayed, paying my respects to my late-father in the process. 

The tumultuous times of the Second World War, the horrendous loss of lives and property, an ancient land that had been invaded and the stories of those like my Dad's and others like him was front and center. I was on this trip duty-bound in my estimation to see fit that Dad and the history he witnessed were not to be forgotten. 

What I would soon encounter was beyond my expectations -delightfully so!