A HISTORY OF CHINA POST 1
Part I – 1919-1959
1 JULY 1988 YEAR OF DRAGON 4686 (You can download the entire China Post 1 Pictorial History Parts 1&2 with pictures in .pdf format by clicking on this link)
Following is Part I of a brief Pictorial History of our Post which covers the period 1919-1959. It can in no way give the complete story nor credit to all those who have made this Post so great. We have divided the history into two parts so we could properly research and prepare the whole story as accurately as possible. We hope to publish Part II covering the period 1960-1988 within the next 6-8 months. In addition, we hope to add to the history each year with stories and pictures of others who have helped us become the Post we are today.
Each and every member of our Post – both past and present – is part of its history and an important part of what we are, what we have done, and what we hope to do. We call ourselves The Soldiers of Fortune Post. No, we are not soldiers of fortune in the sense of being mercenaries with no allegiance but to money. We are patriots who follow their convictions wherever they may take us – whose strong love of country may lead us to faraway places to work and fight to keep our own country free or to aid others in their quest for freedom. May we never forget who we are, nor what we stand for!
The Post was formed in 1919, one year after the “great war” and was chartered by the American Legion on 20 April, 1920. It was the first and only American Legion Post in China at that time and our original name was General Fredrick Townsend Ward Post No. 1, China. Following is the heading of the earliest letterhead we could locate in out Post Archives:
WHERE MEMBERS MET:
The Post’s original meeting place and home while in China was at the American Club, Shanghai at 209 Foochow Road. An article in 1935 edition of the Shanghai Evening Post & Mercury described the club saying, “No institution in Shanghai plays a greater or more important role in the social life of Americans than does the American Club… It is more than just a club; it is a meeting place for American businessmen and their friends; it is a social rendezvous; it is equipped with a fine library, a comfortable bar, residential rooms, a large dining room and small private dining rooms; it boasts excellent American-style cuisine, and it is in every respect an institution of which the officers and members have a reason to be proud.”
In 1940, a beautiful and unique 7-foot “Commanders’ Table” was presented to the Post and the American Club, Shanghai by Post Commander Mark L. Moody. The following picture shows Secretary Chapin of the Club (left) and Adjutant Mortimer (right) in the American Legion Corner of the American Club receiving the table. The table was described as having been over two months in the making and a beautiful specimen of the woodworkers craft. The center had a silver presentation shield and in the outer circle were inlaid silver plates with both the names and terms of office of all Past Post Commanders from 1920 to 1939 inclusive. (Note: We can find no record of what happened to the table.)
OUR ORIGINAL NAMESAKE:
Very little has been written about General Frederick Townsend Ward, possibly because while he was fighting in China against the Taipings in the 1860’s, the United States was embroiled in its own civil war. Also later, Major Charles George “Chinese” Gordon would recieve much of the credit for defeating the Taipings.
Although Ward was born in Massachusetts, he ran away to sea at seventeen and by the time he reached China had already soldiered with Garibaldi in Italy and Austria, with the French in Crimea and was involved in William Walker’s 1850 attempt to found a “Yankee State” in Nicaragua. In China, he found the Taipings were using religion to mask their looting and rebellion against the Manchus. It was said of the Taipings, “Wherever they go, they plunder and destroy. Civilization and even animal life seem to disappear before them, and their march may be tracked by bodies of murdered peasants and the ruined habitations which they leave behind.” Frederick Townsend Ward contracted with the Manchus to capture the designated Taiping city strongholds and led his “Ever Victorious Army” to numerous victories against staggering odds. The Manchus elevated him to Mandarin – Third Class and made him a general. He was mortally wounded at Tsikee near Ning Po in 1862. Knowing death was imminent, he urged his officers to continue and crush the Taiping Rebellion.
In photocopies of old Consular records in our Archives, there is a letter to Wm. H. Seward, Secretary of State, dated October 6, 1862. In it the writer (presumably the U.S. Consul in Shanghai) said, “I believe he (Ward) was the first to recognize the advantages of training the Chinese soldiers in western tactics, which has since been adopted by the British Government as the course most likely to succeed in dealing with the Taipings. The only force of the kind worth mentioning was under his command at the time of his death.”
Years later, on March 17, 1877, Charles Schmidt who had serverd under General Ward in his “Ever Victorious Army” forwarded to U.S. Consul General in Shanghai “an extract of some notes I kept about the late General Ward.” In these notes, Schmidt said, “General Ward was beloved and respected by all who knew him; although not a highly educated man, he was schrewd and had common sense, and while in action he was very brave. This was not a reckless bravery but a cool and daring bravery so requiste in a good leader. He would never send a man to a place where he would not go himself… Especially was he always careful that his men did not wantonly oppress the people, and always managed to do something for the crippled soldiers and the families of men fallen in action…”
To honor General Ward, the Chinese enshrined his remains in a tomb at Sungkiang, a small walled city 27 miles from Shanghai (many of his battles had taken place in that and the surrounding areas). They also made him a Saint in the Confucian calendar.
In the early 1920’s, the Post obtained authorization from the Chinese Government to act as caretakers of the Temple and renovations/repairs were carried out. References in the Archives indicate that the Post was even given a Deed of Trust for the Tomb. A letter of 30 Sept 1947 to the Post from former commander Frank Mortimer said, “There should be among the papers I left behind a Chinese deed. As I understand it, the ground enclosed by the brick wall that the Legion built some 20 years ago was declared a shrine by the Chinese National Government and the Legion was given a document to this effect… There should be no question of ownership. The Legion never actually owned the ground, but rather had a deed of trust for it… Shrines, as I understand the regualations, cannot be owned by anyone…”
On Memorial Sunday, 29 May 1921, the work of rehabilitation had been completed and a new dedication ceromony was held – this time it was carried out entirely by Ward’s fellow countrymen. More than one hundred members of the Post and their friends traveled from Shanghai to Sungkiang by special launches and appropriate ceremonies were held. The Post made this pilgrimage to General Ward’s Tomb and annual event on Memorial Day every year from then until 1938.
THE POST DURING THE WAR YEARS:
The Post thrived in the 1920’s and 1930’s holding meetings and socials. But China was changing and the war was about to begin. On 7 July 1937, the Japanese Army invaded China.
Post members joined the Shanghai Volunteer Corps to protect the international settlement; however, the Japanese strategy at the time seemed to be directed mainly against the Chinese, and would not be until Pearl Harbor that remaining Americans would be placed in the Pootung Internment and POW Camps.
In 1940 the Post was still having socials and on 7 March raffled off over U.S. $30,000 in prizes and the the grand prize being a car. The caption under the picture in our Archives reads, “To the winner of the American Legion Raffle for Charity goes this beautiful 1940 Plymouth Deluxe Touring Sedan but not the beautiful ‘extra accessories.'”
To protect the Post records, Adjutant Frank Mortimer had them bound into volumes and hid them camouflaged area in the attic of his company warehouse (godown). After Pearl Harbor, Adjutant Mortimer was placed in the Pootung Internment Camp where he would remain until the end of the war. During this period, the Japanese quartered troops in his warehouse and had they discovered the Post records, Frank would have been executed.
OUR SECOND POST NAMESAKE:
Just before the Japanese invasion, the man who would also become a Post namesake, Retired U.S. Army Captian Claire Lee Chennault, arrived in China. The Chinese requested he make a confidential appraisal of their Air Force – their offer was for 3 months at $1,000 per month plus expenses and the right to fly any aircraft they had. When the Japanese struck, Chennault offered his services to the Chinese to help stop Japanese invaders. He was accepted and appointed a Colonel in the Chinese Air Army/Air Force (CAF).
Then in 1940, President Roosevelt authorized the recruitment of American pilots and air support crews for an “American Volunteer Group” to help the Chinese Air Force. Claire Chennault organized and trained the AVG which would gain world fame as the “Flying Tigers.” Using tactics devised by Chennault, the AVG had a record of more than a ten to one aerial kills against the Japanese. It was disbanded in July 1942 and was replaced by the China Air Task Force (CATF) again commanded by Chennault; however, by Oct 1942, he had less than 50 flyable fighters. On 10 March 1943, the 14th Air Force – with now Major General Claire Lee Chennault Commanding – was activated. Between 20 Dec 1941 and V-J Day – the AVG, CATF, and 14th AF had lost only 500 airplanes in combat caused while destroying 2,600 enemy planes plus 1,500 more probables. They had sunk and damaged 2,230,000 tons of enemy merchant shipping, 44 naval vessels, 13000 river boats or small tonnages, knocked out over 500 bridges, and killed thousands of ground troops.
As the war drew to a close, General Chennault was recalled to the States and retired from military service. He returned to China where he established a civilian flying operation using surplus C-46 and C-47 aircraft and some of his old flight and line people. What had begun on a shoestring would later be call Civil Air Transport or CAT and would prove to be the lifeline of Nationalist China.
THE POST AFTER WWII:
The Post was reactivated and General Chennault, now a civilian, became the Chairman of its Executive Committee. The war years had taken their toll on Ward’s Tomb and it had fallen into disrepair. The Post decided to make the necessary repairs/restoration and on 9 May 1948, the Commander, Adjutant, their families and other members traveled to Sungkiang to view the Tomb and make a survey of work required. On 10 May 1948, Post Adjutant C.A.S “Cash” Helseth wrote a report on the results of that survey.
The repairs were made with Cash Helseth handling the renovation and General Chennault paying for much of the rebuilding out of his personal funds. Upon completion of the work, a formal re-dedication ceremony was planned. However, the civil war in China and the rapidly deteriorating situation made this impossible. Therefore, Post Commander Otis R. Fitz, Post Adjutant Cash Helseth, and a small party “made a quick trip to Sungkiang, raised two flags, stood the traditional minute of silent prayer, saluted, took a few pictures, and lowered the flags. The flags were then cased and turned over to Reverend Wu, the local missionary in Sungkiang, who so ably assisted the Post in the rehabilitation. A non-paid but free-quarters-furnished watchman was left in charge of the Tomb. Someday we will return.” (This re-dedication took place in Oct 1948 as reported by Cash Helseth.)
The situation continued to worsen and a meeting of the Post Executive Committee was held. General Chennault, as Chairman, instructed that all Post records be boxed up and forwarded to American Legion National Headquarters in Indianapolis. This was accomplished in November 1948 with the Post going into exile from Shanghai on 22 November 1948.
In June 1949, while on temporary assignment in Hong Kong, Post Adjutant Helseth talked to several members in the area and a meeting was called. On 3 August 1949, the meeting was held at the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon and a set of guidelines were established for keeping the Post alive until it could return to China. Cash Helseth was to be Commander, Adjutant, and Historian and empowered to do whatever was necessary to ensure survival of the Post.
Later that same month (Aug 1949), Commander Helseth wrote and published the first newsletter or “POOPSHEET NO. 1.” In it he described the Post’s departure from China and the meeting in Hong Kong. One of the statements made in that first Poop Sheet was that, “All members realize that just because we cannot act as a Post Unit, we are still Legionnaires and dedicated to the sevice of the community, state and nation.”
OPERATING IN EXILE –
THE POST DURING THE 1950’s:
Cash Helseth had fought and been wounded during World War II. Now he was to begin another battle – for the Post’s survival in exile.
As Commander, he would find that operating the Post in exile posed many problems. The first – but not necessarily the least – was to continue to generate interest in the Post which had no home and could no longer offer social contacts or community involvement to its members. The only ties binding it together would be the newsletter (Poop Sheet) and the determination to maintain its identity until it could return to Shanghai.
In addition, the Post was something entirely new in the annals of the American Legion itself. Therefore, during the Fifties – and over the years – Cash would work closely with National Headquarters to establish guidelines for maintaining our Legion status, while at the same time allowing us to survive and retain our unique identity as a Post in Exile. He would be ably counseled and guided by Henry H. Dudley, National Adjutant (who assisted even after his retirement), Emil A. Blackmore (who was of immense help until his untimely death), and later by C.W. “Pat” Giele, Director of Internal Affairs, who would be called in for assistance and advice.
Cash, Emmy, and their son Chuck would also be living abroad in the early 1950’s. This together with the lack of Post funds, mailing problems, long hours and little time away from his job would make it difficult to publish the Poop Sheets on a regular basis and keep interest alive. In Poop Sheet No. 10 dated 11 November 1951 (written while they were in Casablanca), Emmy would say, “I was notified several weeks ago that I would be ‘shanghaied’ for duty as typist… At least this is one way I can keep him away from the job on Sundays.” She would remain ‘shanghaied’ and together they would keep the Post going through the even more difficult times ahead.
In 1951, General Chennault who was by then in Taipei considered starting a new Post or possibly reactivating the Frederick Townsend Ward Post there. However, the Post membership in response to his request “for consideration to reactivate the Post in Taipie voted in favor of non-reactivation unless in Shanghai.” The Post pledge would be:
We pledge that with the help of Almighty God, at
such time and place as designated by the American
Legion, the Government of the United States, and
the Government of Free China, we within our abil-
ities and resources, will proceed to the City of
Shanghai, Province of Kiangsu, China, there to re-
establish and reinstate the Frederick Townsend
Ward Post No. 1, China of the American Legion, in
its home, and promulgate the principles of the
American Legion and help restore the traditional
friendship of the American and Chinese people…
We shall return!
In 1953, the Legion advised that we – like several other foreign and outlying posts – had been operating under a temporary charter. They said we could either apply for a permanent charter or continue under the temporary one until the Post was reactivated. The membership was polled and it was decided to apply for the permanent charter which was granted in early 1954.
In the 29 June 1953 American Legion Magazine, a short article appeared on the Post which read in part, “Shanghai Post in Exile operates as active unit… though badgered and pestered by wars and the dispersal of its members to the far reaches of the earth, General Frederick Townsend Ward Post No 1. Shanghai, China, still maintains its status as an active unit in the Legion organization. It is now operating in exile at Los Angeles, California under Post Commander C.A.S. Helseth with a total reported membership of 21 on May 1st. For more than 20 years, this Legion unit served as an American outpost and rallying center at Shanghai. It managed to survive the early wars and Japanese occupation, but was dispersed when the communists came into power in China… members of Ward Post managed to smuggle out the colors and other Post property… since that time, the Hqs. of Ward Post has been wherever the Post Commander happened to be… Commander Helseth gets out an occasionally chatty newsletter which he sends to members in the homeland and to a dozen or more foreign countries – that is the one means of keeping contact…”
Also in that year (1953), hearing the American Legion had arranged a pilgrimage to World War I battlegrounds in Europe and finding no Post members could attend, Cash and Emmy made a personal pilgrimage on behalf of the Post. He would later write “…We laid out a part of our European tour so that our Post ‘In Exile’ could be represented in our own bastard way with our own pilgrimage as it did not look as if any of the membership could be in the regualar trip…” To each and every Post member, he then sent a picture for a keepsake and said, “for those of you who were in the First World War and whose names may conjure memories poignant to you and yours, you are requested to make a silent toast at the next appropriate occasion to those who have gone before.”
By 1954, our chances of returning to Shanghai had diminished to the point where General Chennault would write, “We had just as well resign all hope of ever returning to re-establish our old business and social contacts.”
Cash and Emmy continued to publish the Poop Sheet and to do things which would keep the Post’s presence known. In 1956, they attended the American Legion National Convention in Los Angeles and Otis R. Fitz, Yu Kam Moon, and Cash marched in the parade behind the color guard carrying the United States Flag and Post banner.
Cash would write, “…Our Post received more than its share of the limelight…We were greeted and honored as Distinguished Guests. In Legion parlance, at a convention, this is no small honor. Other distinguished guests included our nation’s greatest names. The Tuesday, 4 September edition of the Los Angeles Examiner would describe the Legion Posts taking part in the parade ending with, “All winning applause…but none quite like that won by the unit which suddenly, unexpectedly reminded everyone the American Legion is still fighting a battle, a never-ending war against communism…that was the Legion’s only ‘Department in Exile’…The Shanghai China Post.”
To further encourage interest, a joint Chinese New Year Celebration would begin with American Chinese Post #628 in Los Angeles. The flyer going out to our Post members announced it was giving the details, “…on our first meeting since October 1948 in Shanghai.” The program included a speech by both the Department of California Commander as well as Carroll Alcott, the American newsman who dared Japanese official to execute him when he was caught behind enemy lines in World War II.
Mrs. Peggy Chennault Lee, daughter of General Chennault, would also be a guest and a picture of her and Hiram Kwan, Vice Commander of the Chinese American Post #628 would appear in the March 5th edition of the Los Angeles Times drinking a toast in honor of our Post Pledge – We Shall Return.
The joint dinner proved to be a great success and would be repeated on other Chinese New Year’s in the future.
CHANGE IN THE POST NAME:
At a meeting held before the Post went into exile, a motion was made and carried that General Chennault’s name be added to the official name of the Post. The General had expressed appreciation but said that he understood that this was an honor which could only be bestowed on “Someone Who Has Gone Before.” Thus the Post name could not be changed until he had met his “Final Qualification.” By the late 1950’s, General Chennault was locked in a life and death struggle with cancer. He wrote Command Cash Helseth in April 1958, “Thanks for the Poop Sheet 53 dated April… The report on my receiving nitrogen mustard treatments at Ochsner Hospital was, like many newspaper reports; greatly exaggerated. I am scheduled to take a treatment early in May, however. Anna and I are now looking forward to attending the joint AVG-14th AF Convention Reunion at San Francisco Aug 7, 8 and 9.” He would never attend the reunion. In late July 1958, Lt. General Claire L. Chennault (Ret) met his final call to destiny.
Many things have been written about Claire Chennault’s life and career but probably he would like to tell you for himself. Following are excerpts from Post Questionnaire which he completed and returned to the Post in 1948:
NAME:Chennault, Claire Lee
DATE OF BIRTH: September 6, 1890.
WHERE BORN: Commerce, Texas.
BUSINESS OR PROFESSION: Aviation Executive.
ENTERED WORLD WAR I SERVICE: Aug 26, 1917, at Ft. Ben Harrison, Ind.
ENTERED WORLD WAR II SERVICE: July 7, 1937, at Loyang, China.
RETIRED: April 30, 1937, Washington, D.C.
RETIRED: October 31, 1945, Washington, D.C.
WITH RANK OF, GRADE OF: Major General.
WAS APPOINTED, PROMOTED, COMMISIONED AS FOLLOWS: Grade: Major General.
Date: May 3, 1943. Organization: 14th Air Force.
TOOK PART IN THE FOLLOWING BATTLES (MAJOR OPPERATIONS): Battle of Burma, Battle of China.
AS A MEMBER OF: AVG, CATF, 14th Air Force, CAF.
RECIEVED CITATIONS, MEDALS, DECORATIONS, ETC., AS FOLLOWS:
AMERICAN: Air Medal with Palm; DFC with Palm;
Legion of Merit, DSM with Palm
CHINESE: White Cloud Banner, 7th & 5th Class and
White Cloud Banners Special Order;
Blue Sky and White Sun; Army, Navy &
Air Force Medal. Long Sword of
BRITISH: Commander British Empire (CBE).
FRENCH: Croix de Guerre with Palm, Legion of Honor.
POLISH: Chavalier, Polonia Restituta.
The man died – the legend remained. As Winston Churchill had summed it up in WWII, “Thank God he is on our side.”
Claire Lee Chennault had met the Final Qualification and the Post was renamed in his honor to Generals Ward & Chennault Post No. 1 (China).
As the Fifties drew to a close, the Post had survived its first ten years in exile. However, it had not been easy. In the spring before General Chennault’s death, Cash would write him, “..these last couple years I was getting desperate in trying to obtain help. The old members were gradually dropping off and losing interest since we have so little to offer…” The 1960’s would prove no easier but he and Emmy would keep trying.
END PART 1 – PICTORIAL HISTORY
Part II – 1960-1989
1 JULY 1989
YEAR OF SNAKE 4687
This is Part II of the Pictorial History of China Post 1. The first part published last year covered the Post’s illustrious past from the time it was formed in 1919 in Shanghai until the end of the Fifties. During this period and by the time the 1960’s had rolled around, the United States had suffered a stock market crash, a depression in the 1930’s, a second world war, a Korean conflict, and was already involved in Indo-China. There had been both hot wars and cold wars. The Post had survived it all–even its exile from China; however, the next forty plus years would prove no easier for either the country or the Post. Post Commander C.A.S. “Cash” Helseth would face numerous problems in keeping the Post alive during this turbulent period.
In the August 1949 meeting in Hong Kong, Cash Helseth had been elected Post Commander, Adjutant, and Historian and empowered to do whatever was necessary to keep the Post alive until it could be fully reactivated in Shanghai. It was not necessary for him to be physically present in Shanghai or Hong Kong in order to maintain the Post; wherever the Commander/Adjutant was–or would be–would be considered Headquarters. Later he would jokingly say that the Post is “wherever the Commander hangs his hat.” For awhile, this would be overseas; but by the 1960’s Cash was living and working in California. Then in 1963, two medical setbacks, an unbelievably heavy work schedule, and a service-connected disability caused him to ask for a transfer to a less demanding position in Arizona. Upon company approval of his transfer request, he moved to Scottsdale where he and Emmy would run the Post out of their home there for close to 25 years. For a long time, they worked out of a small bedroom converted into office space but as the Post began its rapid growth in the 1970’s, this became impossible. Accordingly, as soon as they were able, they built a small office in what had been their carport storage area.
Later in the 1980’s – due to the huge workload generated by the dramatic and continuing increase in membership and the staff require to handle it – the office would be expanded even further.
Post Headquarters would remain in Scottsdale until 1986/1987 when Cash’s health had deteriorated to the point where he felt he could no longer continue. It was then, in July 1986, that the day-to-day operation was transferred to Slidell, Louisiana with the Archives/Museum following less than a year later.
From the time of its charter, CP#1 operated directly under American Legion Headquarters, as had other FODPALS (Foreign Operating Departments and Posts of the American Legion). However, this was to change. In June 1960, we were advised that all posts without department affiliation must effect such affiliation as soon as possible. Cash and other officers did not feel such a change would be to the benefit of the Post and relayed to National Headquarters their concerns and objections; namely, that CP#1 could lose its unique identity and that the dues increases involved might well spell the end of the Post. In addition, the Post would not longer deal directly with National Headquarters. Instead we would be responsible to a department which would act as a go-between—with all membership cards, dues, correspondence, etc., channeled back and forth through them.
In 1961, the Post was advised that there was no provision in the National Constitution for a post, which was not a part of a department. Although a number of posts had been chartered in territories and foreign countries and were not department-affiliated, the 1940 National Convention had resolved to correct this situation. WWII and the Legion’s rapid expansion afterward had delayed compliance. In May 1959, the National Executive Committee passed a resolution setting forth its intention to bring about compliance. G.W. “Pat” Giele (then National Membership Director) would write, “We appreciate the problems of maintaining a Post such as yours and are grateful for the service you have rendered and are continuing to render the American Legion in doing so…However, we are still not relieved of the necessity of complying…May I urge your cooperation in effecting a prompt and voluntary affiliation with an existing department.”
Although opposition continued, it became apparent we would either affiliate voluntarily with a department of our choice or be assigned to a department of National’s choosing. It was decided to join a smaller department as a larger one could “swallow us up” and our identity could be destroyed. The possibility of creating a new department—the Department of the Orient—was ruled out when it was determined no new departments could be formed under the National Constitution. Since Cash was originally from North Dakota and their department was small, they were contacted but failed to respond.
As the deadline approached, a decision was made to attempt affiliation with the Department of Hawaii. In the Post’s letter to Hawaii we would note, “After a considerable amount of writing and getting the considered opinions of some of the world-wide scattered membership, it is believed your Department could best serve this Post’s interest in maintaining its individual history as the only Post in the world that has survived two wars, an army of occupation, internments and still exist in exile.” On July 18, 1962, the Hawaii Department Commander would respond affirmatively advising we would be assigned a new Post Number, No. 43. Although National had indicated other posts in a similar position had retained their original number, Hawaii advised it was their policy to assign new numbers—in numerical sequence by date of affiliation. Our letterhead would now show us as “Generals Ward and Chennault Post No. 1 (China) – Post No. 43 – Department of Hawaii.”
In business transactions with the Department we were Post 43 but in the hearts and minds of our members and friends we were still and would always be China Post 1.
In 1976, it was decided to change departments. At that time and through the able assistance of Post member and now Senior Vice Commander Marc Wood, we would begin our affiliation—still in effect today—with the Department of New York. The Post 43 designation was dropped and the New York Department accepted us as the Generals Ward and Chennault Post No. 1 (China) or China Post 1!
BUT NOT FORGOTTEN:
Post namesake Claire L. Chennault had passed in the late Fifties but he was not to be forgotten. On 14 April 1960, the Chinese unveiled his statue in New Park in Taipei, Taiwan. The Post Commander received an invitation and note from the General’s widow Anna saying that her late husband would be the first foreigner to be so honored. Although Cash could not attend, another member did who would later write, “The bust of General Chennault is indeed most impressive and quite worthy of the appropriate tribute to our great friend and gallant leader. The ceremony was well attended by a large delegation of dignitaries. And of course, the unveiling honors were performed by Madame Chiang in a most impressive and memorable manner.”
Frank Delacy Mortimer, who during WWII so bravely hid the Post records from the Japanese at the risk of his own life, met his final call to destiny on 15 April 1969. Cash would write to his family, “Frank epitomized this Legion Post in its struggle for survival. What he did to keep us going during the Japanese occupation of China and while in internship during WWII was magnificent.” Frank would die as bravely as he had lived. He would dictate a short note to Cash on 30 March 1969 and have his daughter type it. However, without her knowledge he would scribble “This is it” across the bottom of the letter before sending it off. His time had come and he was ready. His courage and dedication to the Post will remain an important part of the Post’s survival and history. He will not be forgotten.
A LEGION PRESENCE:
The Post continued to maintain some sort of Legion presence even though in exile. The joint Chinese New Year dinners with American-Chinese Post 628 of Los Angeles became an annual event. At the 1960 “Year of the Mouse” dinner, CP#1 presented them with a walnut and sunray plaque “in grateful appreciation for your continuing assistance in our efforts to survive.” Several Legion dignitaries attended and it would seem that the Year of the Mouse—and the decade—would start off with a roar!
The Post Commander and his wife attended National Legion Conventions whenever possible. In 1962, Cash would again march in the parade. Since there was no color guard to identify the Post, he would stop about 2 or 3 times each block and say, “This is Free China Post No. 1 reporting in. Our members are scattered all over the world but one of us is here. The only Post in exile in Legion history we survived two wars, an army of occupation and still keep going in exile.” This always drew heavy applause. Later, at a business meeting and luncheon, he would describe the “ways and means” used to keep the Post alive. He would end by introducing one of the secrets of his success, “Behind every man is the woman who does all the work. My good wife, Emmy.”
In 1974, a loyal contingent of members, on their return to the States from the war in Southeast Asia, attended the Hawaii Department Convention in Honolulu on behalf of the Post. Two would be elected delegates to the National Convention to be held in Miami, Florida a few months later. The Post was to pick up seven Department awards based on membership. CP#1 members attending the National Convention would not only march in the parade but would ride Thai-style in a samlor (bicycle cart) through the streets of Miami. Many would be wearing Post Chinese-style outfits designed for the occasion. The crowds did not know quite what to make of it but everyone loved CP#1. They realized that this–the Post in exile from Shanghai–was something unique and special in the annals of the American Legion.
WAYS & MEANS OF SURVIVAL:
It became obvious in the 1960’s that merely existing in exile was not enough. The Post must keep up the morale of a dwindling membership while also keeping the Post’s name alive–to let people know what we were, who we were, and that although in exile, we should not be counted out! To do this, the Post used a number of different programs and even a few gimmicks or “conversation getters” as Cash called them. In discovering that his son had grown taller than he had, he would produce a wallet-sized “SOUP” CARD (Society for Undersized Poppas).
Then there would be a “SCREWBALL” card. An eligible screwball need only to have committed a “super colossal, bonehead, inexcusable social blunder.” This card was written up in the American Legion Press Association publication and was a hot item. Everyone who read or heard about it knew not only one, but usually quite a few, qualifying screwballs–so the Post’s “Soup to Nuts” program would pay off, not monetarily but as a morale booster and by keeping the Post name alive in Legion circles.
In a more serious vein, there would be the flag presentations or its membership recognition program. In PS-72 dated August 1961, Cash mentioned the possibility of a flag program whereby presentations would be made of 3×5 U.S. flags (and possibly a smaller battle flag). He hoped to obtain flags flown over the “White House” with the “Presidential Household Custodian” attesting to this via an accompanying certificate. What began as a note would become a longstanding and popular Post tradition. Over the years, flags flown over the U.S. Capitol with accompanying certificates signed by the “Architect of the Capitol” would be presented to members–and to others–for their service to their country or for helping the Post survive.
The first flags were obtained through California Congressmen; however, after the move to Scottsdale, they would be obtained through the kind auspices of Post member and Senator from Arizona, The Honorable Barry Goldwater, and his staff.
In 1984, Cash would send a letter of gratitude to Senator Goldwater and ask that he pass it on to the Capital’s Architect, George M. White. In Mr. White’s reply to Senator Goldwater he would say, “Comments like those of Commander Helseth reinforce one of the great rewards of working in the flag office–the knowledge that we are playing a role, however small, in fostering a spirit of patriotism and support for our nation’s basic democratic principles.”
During the 25th anniversary of the Post’s operating in exile in 1974–and afterwards–many flags would be presented. The success of the program can best be noted by a letter from Edgar “Pop” Buell, the legendary American farmer who helped the H’mong tribesmen during the war in Laos. Upon receiving his flag, he would write, “I have in my time received awards. But I must say the flag I received a few nights ago at Udorn, Thailand meant more to me than any other I have ever received. Why? It was the Flag of the United States of America. In 1960, I was living in Northeast Laos working with refugees who were fleeing from the communists with nothing to eat, no place to sleep, dying like flies. I would walk from village to village with nothing to offer but myself plus a small pack on my back filled with medicine which would soon disappear. When I would get ready to leave for the next village, many people would get down on their knees, come up with their hands, and in their simple language say, ‘It seems somebody cares.’ To each and all of you who are members of the Generals Ward and Chennault Post No. 1 China–most of whom I know personally and who have probably done more to spread good will for the U.S. and help human beings in need than I have–I would like to say in my simple language. . . It seems somebody cares. Bless Ya All.”
After the 1949 meeting in Hong Kong, Cash Helseth–armed with a membership roster of those in the Post at time of exile–would begin his long and sometimes almost thankless job of keeping the Post alive. Each member on the roster would be encouraged to continue his membership in the “Post in Exile.” Their 1949 dues would be paid out of funds still remaining in the Post treasury. But there was little else to offer them. The membership was dispersed; there was no longer a meeting place, social events, business meetings, or the ability to function as a normal Legion Post. Still they would have the Poop Sheet and be able to keep in touch with friends and former co-workers–others who had fought and served overseas. It would be the Poop Sheet that would prove to be the tie that binds.
Even so, the membership would begin a decline during the 1960’s. This was due in part to Cash’s inability to publish Poop Sheets on a regular basis because of work and health problems. He would advise the members that “until affairs ease up, will be lucky to get out a couple letters a year.” By 1964, the membership was at an all-time low with only 56 members and he would remark, “We think this has been due to our inability to keep the Poop Sheets rolling.” However, he refused to give up–and keep them rolling he did!
In the Sixties during our lowest membership years, the Okinawa Post (then the largest in the world) and a few Hawaii Department officers would feel a kinship for CP#1 and would pitch in to do what they could to keep us afloat. In addition, there remained a small but ever-loyal group of members who would stubbornly hang on. Many of these had remained in the Far East, a number with the Civil Air Transport (CAT) operation who had known and worked for Claire Chennault. They were now involved in a war in Southeast Asia and with other airlines associated with CAT at the time; namely, Southern Air Transport (SAT) and what would at one point be the world’s largest airline Air America (AAM).
These airlines flew throughout the Far East and Southeast Asia. By the early 1970’s, word of the Post would be spreading through Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia and membership would increase accordingly. A new era was beginning; however, there would be yet another exile in the Post’s future as well.
Even when the war ended, the Post membership would continue its phenomenal growth. The conflict had produced another group of individuals who wanted to remain in contact not only with buddies and co-workers but also with others with similar wartime backgrounds and experiences. Once again, the Poop Sheet would prove to be the tie that binds, and in the late 1970’s the Post would surpass its goal of 2,000 members and become what is known as a “King-sized Post.”
A NEW ERA:
The war in Southeast Asia would have a dramatic effect on the Post. While demonstrations against the war took place in the States and the media worked at making it an “unpopular” war, those involved in helping to fight it would find a patriotic rallying point in China Post1. In late 1969, J.C. Bond was recruited for the Post in Tachikawa, Japan. In 1970, upon his transfer to Laos, he would place a notice on the Air America bulletin board describing the Post and asking those interested to contact him. No one did. On flights and ground stopovers, he was able to recruit a few others. The enthusiasm of these few would do it. They would begin a recruiting campaign both in the air and on the ground and word would spread.
The membership in Laos grew rapidly. J.C., as Executive Committeeman for the area, would arrange a flag presentation to U.S. Ambassador G. McMurtrie Godley, and the Ambassador and Mrs. Godley would host a cocktail party at their residence in honor of the event.
Later in 1973, as the situation was phasing down and many were leaving Laos, J.C. would plan a meeting/buffet at the Air America Club in Vientiane. At the last minute—unable to attend himself—he would have his wife Janet host it and read his speech. In it he would note, “The Post has no club; nothing it can give a member except pride in its existence and the hope that one day we will no longer be in exile and that we’ll be around to see it! It is a fantastic way to keep in touch with friends and co-workers—through the Poop Sheet . . .So let’s keep in touch.” The response was gratifying and many at that meeting remain Post members today. Between 1970 and 1975, the membership had increased from 106 to 1190.
The Laos group was called a “Chapter” because they were a new entity within the Post. This Chapter would be the forerunner of the Divisions as we know them today. Groups were also organizing in Thailand and Vietnam, etc., and J.C. suggested to Cash a “Division” concept whereby members in different areas could meet, socialize, and—where possible—become involved in community service and charitable works. It was a unique concept for a unique Post. As the first few Divisions were formed, they were named after members killed in action. However, because there were so many KIA’s, choosing a Division name became difficult. Therefore, to honor all who had made the supreme sacrifice, the Divisions would be called “Memorial Divisions”—the name used today.
As the U.S. involvement in the war was ending and the tragic evacuation of Saigon occurred, most members had already gone or were on their way home or to jobs elsewhere. But amazingly, the membership did not decline as it had after the exodus from Shanghai; it increased. Wherever members went, they would renew and recruit others. The Poop Sheet was once again the adhesive binding the membership together.
As for the Divisions, there would be more–some in the U.S. and some in overseas locations. A few would meet regularly, some only once a year, and some would go into exile from places like Iran.
For the first time, a large number of Post members would be residing in the States. This would lend itself to the creation of another Post tradition, the Annual Reunion. In 1974, two pilots based in Laos would offer to hold a Post Reunion in Pinedale, Wyoming the following year. It would be noted in PS-129 that “They are trying to set up a reunion deal for 4 July 1975. . .Don’t know details but mark your calendar. They may be the start of something very worthwhile.” And that it was. The Reunion took place on 4 July as scheduled. Although Pinedale was a small town, well off the beaten path, it would have the famous (infamous) Cowboy Bar and a wonderful citizenry that would welcome the Post. The Reunion was such a success, Cash would send a letter for publication in the “Pinedale Roundup” which would “express appreciation to the community and citizen of Pinedale for their hospitality during our recent reunion – Also at the same time to help honor native sons of this Wyoming area who inspired it: Charles ‘Chuck’ Taylor, Wayne Landen, and Henry ‘Hank’ Edwards.” After Pinedale, it was taken for granted here would be other reunions. They would be held in different areas so that all Post members no matter where they lived would at one time or another have the opportunity to attend.
As the membership grew, the volume of paper and administrative work would increase proportionately. The workload would be impossible for Cash and Emmy to handle alone and they would hire a small staff of hourly-paid employees to help. Business concepts required to handle such a rapidly expanding organization would also be implemented to include incorporation in 1976. In addition, an appropriate Constitution and By-Laws would be developed. In forwarding these documents to the membership, Cash would note, “It was a heck of a job to marry the National/Department/our own Headquarters and the Divisions and preserve the integrity of all. Also to provide for legal technicalities of incorporating too. Gawd only knows the sweat and time which went into that. But it is done.”
In 1976, the membership–wanting to honor Cash for his many years of dedicated service–decided to rename the Post to include his name upon his meeting “The Final Qualification.” Cash was overwhelmed when told but did manage to remark that he hoped to put off that distinction (final qualification) as long as possible!
In 1980, Cash discovered he had cancer, slow moving but incurable. His heart problems would complicate treatment. The doctors felt he could live a number of years–but there were no guarantees. What would happen to the Post? For over 30 years, he had run it; could it survive without him? He realized to ensure its survival, decisions would have to be made and implemented while he was still in fairly good health. He contacted then Deputy Commander J.C. Bond who would make a commitment that when Cash could no longer continue, he and Janet would do whatever was necessary to keep the Post going.
Cash would seek advice from Co-Chairman of the Executive Board Martin Kaufman, among others, on how best to preserve continuity should something happen to him. Accordingly, a plan for succession was drawn up which Cash would forward to the members in the form of a ballot and ask that they vote for or against it. The vote in favor of the plan was overwhelming with less than 25 votes against.
By 1985, the cancer that had been somewhat in remission began to spread and at the 1985 Reunion, he would advise the Executive Board and the membership in attendance that he could no longer continue. He agreed to remain on as Commander and oversee the Museum activity; however, he could no longer function as Adjutant and that part of the operation would have to be moved.
Because he had actively assisted and advised Cash for a number of years–and in recognition of his hard work and dedication to the Post–J.C. Bond became Deputy Commander in 1974. In 1986, realizing Cash could no longer go on–and honoring the commitment he and Janet had made to keep the Post alive–they would offer to move the operation to their home in Louisiana. Janet would return to the States, go to Arizona to learn the Post operation and then move it to Slidell.
By the October 1986 Reunion in Florida, Cash was undergoing further radiation and would be unable to attend. He would ask that he be relieved as Commander of the Post and become Commander Emeritus on 30 June 1987. Further, he requested that the approved succession plan be implemented. This was accomplished and by a unanimous vote Janet would remain Adjutant and J.C. Bond would become Commander with Alfred G. Plat Deputy Commander effective 1 July 1987.
On 22 November 1987, Cash Helseth met his final call to destiny. For over 40 years and against all odds he and his wife Emmy had kept China Post 1 going. Had it not been for these years of hard work and dedication, there would not be a Post today. As a final farewell to Cash, the Post would hold a Post Everlasting Ceremony for him at its 1988 Ft. Walton Beach Reunion. Having met his “final qualification,” the Post would be renamed the Generals Ward & Chennault & Lt. Helseth Post No. 1 (China). The quotation, “A flame kindled by human decency, courage, and dedication does not die” applies to Cash Helseth. This flame endures in China Post 1.
THE POST TODAY:
The Post is alive and well in Louisiana. However, getting it to this point was not easy. Janet, with the help of son Tim, literally and figuratively moved the everyday operation of the Post in July 1986. They drove a 21-foot Ryder truck loaded with office gear, paperwork, files, and other materials from Arizona to Louisiana. It was a long, hard trip. There had not been time to set up any kind of office in Slidell, so they would unload the truck, unpack as many boxes as possible, and immediately start to work processing memberships in the living-room of the house. The 1987 membership year had begun and there was already a backlog of renewals, new membership applications, and emblem sales orders to fill–plus 60 to 70 letters and renewals arriving daily. In addition, there were a thousand and one details to handle including the establishment of the business procedures required to operate in Louisiana. Because of the volume of work and the monumental amount of paper, etc., it was immediately evident that a living-room operation was not feasible. Accordingly, J.C. and Janet would immediately renovate their home by adding an office to handle Post activities.
Later, they would also renovate the garage to accommodate the storage of the Museum items. In May 1987, Deputy Commander Platt would travel to Scottsdale to arrange and ship the Museum material to Slidell where it is presently stored.
Since moving the Post activities to Slidell, the membership has been sustaining well. Our Ladies Auxiliary, which was established in 1979, has been going strong with a small but continued increase in members over the years since its formation. The Museum and Brick Fund Donations–dedicated for the establishment of our Post Home/Museum–have been good and none of these funds have ever, nor will they, be used for any purpose other than that for which they were donated. It is hoped that our Post Home/Museum, which began as a dream, will sometime in the not too distant future become a reality
So even though the Post has had more than its share of problems since the move, there have been both continuity and survival. Conventional Legion Post we are not–nor can we be. We are unique with a unique set of problems. But we have the finest group of members any Legion Post has ever had–or ever will have. They have been supportive and loyal through all our trials and tribulations. With a membership like ours, China Post 1 should be able to survive whatever the future may have in store.
This Pictorial was complied to give the members a brief but better understanding of the Post’s history and traditions. It was not meant to be an in-depth study by any means. There were far too many people to name who have helped the Post over the years and who are a part of this history. Therefore, we plan next year to publish a Pictorial on some of these good folks and the contributions they have made to both our history and survival. We feel this will be the best way to give them the recognition they deserve. We will add to this in future publications and will also do a Pictorial on our Divisions–both past and present. We should take pride in our history and the people who have made the Post what it is today. Our history is ongoing as we hope the Post will be–may we, in fact, go on forever!
END OF PART II – PICTORIAL HISTORY
Compiled by Janet Bond
from material in Post Archives
A BACKWARD GLANCE