MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE N.C. -- Tsui Chi Hsii languished seven years in a Chinese prison, then endured 10 years of house arrest in Chukechuang, China, simply because he befriended a company of U.S. Marines.
The Marines of Love Company, 3d Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division called him "Charlie Two Shoes." They could not pronounce his Chinese name. The title stuck, and the Marines, who were in China to accept the surrender of defeated Japanese troops in 1945, quickly adopted the then 8-year-old boy.
The boy's family was terrorized by Japanese invaders, according to Arrie A. Sexton of Greensboro, N.C., wife of one of the Love Co. Marines.
Charlie lived just outside the camp perimeter. Unlike other children who came begging for food, he sold the Marines sweet potatoes and peanuts. Eventually he started bringing them firewood and kept their fires burning.
When Love Co. returned to the Marine camp in Tsingtao, Sexton said the Marines took Charlie along contrary to Marine regulations, and fashioned him cut-down uniforms from some of their old ones.
Retired Brig. Gen. Charles S. Robertson, then a captain and commanding officer of Love Company, overlooked the infractions. Sexton said he even looked the other way when the Marines kept Charlie in the barracks.
"Fox Company Marines had been sending Charlie to school and washing his mouth out with soap when he wouldn't stop cursing. They were treating him like a baby brother," Robertson said. "That's how I got to know him. My troops worked on him to make him the man he is today. We love Charlie. He's our brother."
The Love Company Marines bought Charlie a bike and taught him to ride. They also continued to take up a monthly collection to pay for him to attend an American school for the children of American officers and business executives, according to Barbara Calahan of Virginia Beach, Va., who attended school with Charlie in China.
However, in 1949, Charlie's blissful world came to an end. The Marines were ordered out of China, and though each promised to take Charlie with them, it was too dangerous. One by one they left Charlie behind. By May, the Marines were gone.
Shortly after the Marines departure, communism fell over China and Charlie vanished behind the bamboo curtain for 35 years.
During that time, he suffered greatly for his friendship with his Marine family, to include prison and house arrest.
Through the years Charlie wrote numerous letters to his Marine brothers from addresses he remembered in the United States.
"One got out," said Sexton, "and reached former Cpl. William Bullard; one of Charlie's Marine brothers."
The letter ended the years of silence and when U.S. relations with China softened in 1983 under President Ronald Reagan, Charlie was finally allowed to come to America and visit his Marine buddies.
Sexton said the Marines of Love Co. reassembled one more time to keep a "promise made and never forgotten." The reunion took intervention from many Marines, senators and congressmen to keep Charlie in the country and bring his wife and three children to America.
"Charlie is an inspiration to all of us," said Nancy Kelley, one of Charlie's lifelong friends. "He is an example of the American dream that just won't quit."
Sexton said Charlie did not relax once he got to America. He worked hard, saved his money and brought his family from China to the U.S. He has since opened his own business, the popular Charlie's Chinese Restaurant in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Charlie received his U.S. citizenship in 2000. He now had only one other goal to accomplish. Charlie wanted to be a Marine.
Marine Commandant Gen. James L. Jones signed a citation Nov. 16, 2000, appointing Charlie the 18th person to become an "Honorary Marine" since the program's inception in 1992.
2d Marine Division took things one-step further Tuesday when they honored Charlie during a morning colors ceremony at Julian C. Smith Hall here. Maj. Gen. John F. Sattler, 2d Marine Division's commanding general, presented him the citation on the Division's behalf and arranged a tour of the base for Charlie and his entourage.
"I thank my Marine brothers for teaching me what it takes," Charlie told the Love Co. Marines.
The "Honorary Marine" thanked his brothers, friends and family for the many years they kept faith in him and did not let him down. He also thanked God for keeping him all through the years and allowing him to show Christianity and the Marine spirit really work.
"This is Charlie's day," said Robertson. "I take great pride in him. Not only is he my fellow American, he is my fellow Marine. I look with pride on his family and accomplishments since coming to this country."