WWII Marines’ Little Chinese Buddy Soon to Be Citizen
As a boy in a mud-hut village in China, he befriended a company of U.S. Marines, and later suffered under the Communists because of it.
Now, after an odyssey that lasted 55 years, Charlie Two Shoes, as the Marines called him, is about to become a U.S. citizen.
“I always believed this day would come,” 66-year-old Tsui Chi Hsii said in an interview at the Chapel Hill restaurant he owns. “No matter how many hurdles I had to cross, I always believed victory was possible.”
Sixty of Tsui’s Marine buddies from Love Company have been invited to attend Saturday’s citizenship ceremony. The 5-foot-2 Tsui plans to wear the Marine pants the leathernecks had given him in China in 1946 when he was a boy.
“I don’t know how many Americans would have sacrificed themselves like Charlie did,” said Jack Hutchins of Hazel Green, Ky., a former Love Company Marine. “He was true to himself, true to the Corps and true to his beliefs.”
Tsui’s journey began in Chukechuang, the village of his birth.
After World War II ended, Marines who had fought the Japanese in the South Pacific were shipped to China as the Communists and Nationalists resumed their civil war. Some were assigned to protect an air base near Tsui’s home.
One day in 1945, Tsui brought the men of Love Company, 4th Marines, 1st Marine Division, kindling for their fires.
“He was a giver,” said Hutchins, who befriended the tiny, malnourished child. “He was loyal and attentive and dedicated and honest.”
The boy’s firewood was appreciated by the Marines, who lacked sleeping bags and winter coats as the chill, late-fall winds blew from the Gobi Desert. Tsui returned a few days later with boiled eggs and 10 pounds of warm peanuts. He used the money the Marines gave him to buy necessities for his family.
The Marines called him Charlie Two Shoes because they couldn’t pronounce his name. They taught him English, dressed him in a cut-down khaki uniform and taught him how to spit-shine his shoes. He swapped food and firewood every day for the Marines’ K-rations.
When the Marines left for Tsingtao several miles away, the boy’s father let Tsui go along.
“For his father, it meant there was one less mouth to feed at home,” and a chance for the boy to better himself, said David Perlmutt, co-author of the book “Charlie Two Shoes and the Marines of Love Company.”
The Marines gave him a bunk in their barracks and sent him to a Catholic missionary school. He studied English, became Christian and dreamed of U.S. citizenship.
Then the Marines shipped out in 1949, as Mao Zedong’s Communist army neared victory over the Nationalist forces.
Don Sexton of Greensboro, another former Love Company Marine, still gets choked up when he recalls young Tsui saluting the Marines from the dock.
“We would have done anything to take him with us, but we just couldn’t,” Sexton said.
A grueling loyalty test began for Tsui. The Communists imprisoned him for seven years when he refused to renounce the United States and the Marine Corps. He spent 10 more years under house arrest.
Tsui considered himself an honorary Marine, and therefore an American.
When China-U.S. relations began to thaw in the 1970s, Tsui began sending letters to several Marines’ addresses he had memorized nearly three decades earlier.
In 1983, with the help of former Love Company Marines, he arrived in the United States. They rounded up $5,000, bought him a used car and found him a place to live and work.
But Tsui would also face a 17-year battle with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Tsui came to the United States on a visitor’s visa, but the INS refused to extend it. With Tsui 18 days away from being deported in 1985, a congressman argued Tsui’s cause to President Reagan, and Tsui received an indefinite stay of deportation. A 1992 federal law prompted by the Tiananmen Square massacre gave Tsui the loophole he needed to obtain permanent legal residency and, ultimately, citizenship.
Tsui said the values he learned from the Marines and at the missionary school--loyalty, honor, honesty and love for his fellow man--helped him prevail in his struggle to leave China and become a U.S. citizen.
“These virtues are things that never fade,” he said. “As you get older, they get stronger.”