Don Chesnut's World War II Experiences

China, 1945-1946

Don Chesnut ©1946, digital photos DRC©2009

If you have any additional information about the names, dates, places or history mentioned below, please contact me by e-mail.

The following is Don's account of his experiences in China in 1945 and 1946 with all the photographs described and linked. Or, if you just want to see the photographs, use thumbnail directories A, B, C, and D.

During the later stages of World War II, Don Chesnut, Bill Griffin and Earl Gill left London, Kentucky and went to Cincinnati, Ohio to see about joining the Merchant Marines. They wanted to join the Merchant Marines before they got drafted into the Army. Earl was a couple of years younger and just went along for the trip. At the Merchant Marines recruiting center, Bill was rejected when he told them he slept walked. They told Don and Earl that they would be contacted in the future when they were needed. Don waited for several months hoping to be contacted before he would be drafted. Realizing that he would be drafted before the Merchant Marines contacted him, he joined the U.S. Navy. Earl, too young to be drafted, joined the Merchant Marines when they finally contacted him.

Don went to Boot Camp at Great Lakes, Illinois. After Boot Camp, he was granted leave and went home to London, Kentucky before heading overseas.

The Japanese surrendered 14 August 1945 (US calendar, 15 Aug in Asia) and the formal ceremony was 2 Sep 1945. However, in China the war continued as various factions of Chinese fought against each other for control of the country. The two major factions were the socialists led by Mao Tse Tung and the nationalists led by Chiang Kai Shek. The US supported both factions during World War II, but threw its support to the nationalists at the end of the war. The socialists took over the mainland and the nationalists eventually retreated to Taiwan.

After leave, Don went by train to San Francisco and boarded the USS War Hawk, a LaSalle class transport commissioned in 1944. The War Hawk had seen heavy combat in the Pacific before this cruise. It turned out to be one of the last cruises for the War Hawk. The War Hawk sailed past the Golden Gate 6 Oct 1945. It called on Pearl Harbor, Buckner Bay in Okinawa and arrived at Shanghai on 8 Nov 1945 (see map link below).

 [Items in italics are handwritten notes on the back of the photos.]

When the ships arrived in Shanghai harbor, floating brothels came out and tied up to the ship. Men would board the brothel boats to be entertained. This was tolerated by the command.

Tangku (now Tanggu), China

On 12 Nov 1945 the War Hawk left Shanghai and lay offshore of Tangku (now Tanggu), China on the evening of the 12th. Don and several others were offloaded and sent to GROPAC Thirteen Service Force (GROPAC 13), previously a Japanese base near the harbor at Tanggu. GROPACs served as an onloading, offloading and supply storage facility. This Gropac was a huge supply dump open to the elements. It had a fence surrounding it and Don and several others were Shore Patrol guards posted around the fence to keep locals from stealing the supplies. GROPAC 13 also received Japanese soldiers and civilians and shipped them back to Japan. The Japanese would arrive by train, truck and by foot and were guarded by the Chinese military and police as well as by the US military.

A Chinese acrobatic group came to perform...

Don's hometown friend Earl Gill, who joined the Merchant Marines (see above) arrived offshore of Tanggu on the USS Check Knot, a C1-M-AV1 of the US Maritime Commission. Don went to visit Earl on his ship.

Don made several excursions out onto the upper tidal flat near Tanggu. The following are photos in the countryside and the tidal flats.

Part of the time spent at Gropac was spent receiving Japanese soldiers and citizens and shipping them back to Japan. The following photographs show part of this process.

The following are probably in Tanggu...

The following are photographs taken in the city of Tanggu (they were labeled Tangku on the back).

While stationed at Tanggu, Don and friends had liberty in Tanggu and weekend liberties at Tientsin (now Tianjin). The following pictures are from Tanggu, Tianjin or even later in Beijing. If you know these localities, please let me know so that I can update and correct the files.

   This group of photos is of the British Concession in Tianjin. The park was known as Victoria Gardens. The large building with crenellated parapets was Gordon Hall. Gordon Hall was built in 1890. Tianjin Customs and Revenue Secretary Detring (British) recommended the construction and the hall was designed by (Sir William?) Chambers as a Medieval-style castle. Gordon Hall was built at a cost of 32,000 taels of silver (a tael was about 40 grams of silver). It was named after British officer, Charles George Gordon who played an important military role in northern China (for more information about Charles Gordon, visit this Wikipedia link). He had died just five years before the building was constructed.
     At the dedication ceremony, Governor Li Zhili, Minister Tian Bei, the United States Embassador, Chinese merchant-steamship managers, and Foreign Consul Jin were invited to participate. Gordon's huge portrait hung in the central hall. Governor and the Northern Province Minister Li announced the official opening of the building. The British Concession municipal offices were located in Tianjin's central green space, and concentrated around the concession buildings were a number of important buildings: Global Hotel, Astor Hotel, Swire Pacific Tower, Tianjin Branch, Bureau of Mines Building, Kailuan (CPC Tianjin Municipal office Building). In 1922, the British Concession General Assembly decided to rebuild the Municipal Building, but plans ran aground for some reason and Gordon Hall continued as the British concession City Hall.  
    After 1945 (after the British, Americans and Nationalists left), this concession became the Tianjin Municipal Government and the park was renamed the Liberation-of-the-North Garden. In 1976, the Tangshan earthquake severely damaged the building. It was demolished in the 1980’s and a new City Hall was built on the site.

     From information sent to me by Li HongLu
(2009). My apologies for any errors or misunderstandings.


After Tanggu, Don was assigned duty in Beijing. The US took over an old language school near the Four Arches in central Beijing and turned it into a hotel for officers' R and R. There were eight sailors and a lieutenant; after the lieutenant, Don was next in charge. Don was put in charge and ran the entire operation. The men were provided $7 subsistence pay per day, which, at the time, was excellent. They would pick up officers at the train station, take them to the hotel and then take them on sightseeing tours. Don became familiar with all the famous sites around Beijing.

Return trip to the US

The American forces left China in the spring of 1946 as the nationalists retreated. The American bases in Beijing and Tanggu were abandoned and US forces were shipped home or elsewhere. Don and the others boarded the USS Monrovia, APA-31 (originally AP-64), a Crescent City class attack transport. It was commissioned in Dec 1942 and deactivated after the Spring 1946 cruise back to America (it was decommissioned 12 Aug 1946).

     On the way to China, the USS War Hawk encountered many floating mines. When one was spotted, the ship would circle it and the battle-hardened anti-aircraft gunners would shoot it from a distance to blow it up. The AA gunners were excellent shots.
     On the way back from China, The USS Monrovia also encountered many floating mines. The ship would circle spotted mines and the AA gunners would fire at it. However, the gunners were inexperienced and couldn't hit the mines. It took
far longer to destroy the mines.

The following shots are in Shanghai harbor and are most likely on the return to the US in 1946, although it's possible that some of the shots were from the arrival to Shanghai in 1945.

The Monrovia sailed to the Panama Canal. While there, Don was on Shore Patrol for 12 hours while the crew had liberty. After passing through the Canal, the Monrovia sailed to Norfolk, VA where the crew and passengers disembarked. This was the last voyage of the Monrovia; it was decommissioned shortly after arriving in Norfolk. Don went to Great Lakes Naval Base and was discharged from there. He married his highschool sweetheart, Madge Westbrook, in London, KY in August 1946, two weeks after being discharged.