Alice Dent finishes the story, begun in Part 1, of her life in China during and after World War II.
Without question, the Japanese military committed many severe atrocities against civilians in Shanghai during the war years. However, though it's unlikely we would ever hear about it, a few Japanese soldiers did on rare occasions perform acts of kindness toward Shanghai citizens. Alice herself was the beneficiary of such a kind deed.
On a cool morning she and a girlfriend approached one end of a small pedestrian footbridge, while not far away two Roman Catholic nuns approached the other end. A Japanese sentry stood guard at each end of the bridge. Unfortunately the nuns failed to give the sentry the required greeting, namely bowing from their waists and saying, “Good morning.” Consequently the sentry angrily stripped away their cloaks with his bayonet, and then used it to kill both of them. Immediately he began walking across the short footbridge.
Meanwhile, Alice and her friend had also neglected to bow to their sentry and speak the greeting. He too was angry! But when he saw the fierce look on the approaching guard's face, he whispered urgently to the girls, “Run. Run!” They did run as fast as they could, and by God's grace they escaped unharmed. That sentry saved their lives.
Alice's mother was not so fortunate. On the contrary, she experienced the utter callousness of the occupying army. Alice, becoming sad as she shared her memories of her mother, proceeded to tell her story. Here's what she said — in her words:
“One morning shortly after the Japanese occupied Shanghai, two Japanese soldiers came to our home to talk with Mother about working for them as a multilingual interpreter. She declined, saying she had an ailing husband and six children to care for, as well as housekeeping chores. They departed following the usual Japanese custom of bowing and smiling. However, the same two Japanese returned several days later accusing Mother of defying the Imperial Japanese High Command's request. She was summarily arrested and taken away. Thereafter we were never notified of her whereabouts, and we never heard from her again.
“After the war ended in the latter part of 1945, I applied for a job working for the Military Assistance Army Advisory Group (MAAG) in Nanking, China; I was accepted. Early in 1946 I met Carl, a U.S. Army Master Sergeant in Nanking, and we dated for several months. Around mid-1946 Carl and I were becoming serious in our relationship and we discussed marriage. Since I was born in China and was not an American citizen, I had to undergo serious questioning before permission could be granted. Since Mother was interred by the Japanese, the question arose: could she possibly have succumbed to constant harassment and then, in the end, have agreed to become a collaborator?
“At that time search efforts were underway by the American Graves Registration Service (AGRS) to locate American and Allied personnel missing, killed in action, or imprisoned. The AGRS Commander requested permission from MAAG's Commanding General to conduct their mission throughout China. Permission was granted. They then discussed my dilemma and, as a courtesy, Mother's name was included in the search. I gave them whatever information I had.
“On AGRS's return, the Commander reported they had discovered that sometime in 1942 Mother was housed in a Japanese hospital in Mukden, China, bordering Mongolia. One of the experiments that had been conducted there was on biochemical warfare. In other words, Mother was being used as a guinea pig. They administered typhus serum, beginning with small doses and slowly increasing the dosage until she reacher her threshold. She died of typhus fever on August 3, 1943, at the age of 53. Unfortunately Mother's remains were buried en masse with countless others, making it virtually impossible to find and separate her remains. Based on AGRS's findings it was declared that Mother was not a collaborator and carl was given permission to marry me.
"Carl and I were married in Nanking, China on April 6, 1947. After the birth of our first child, Caroline, we were transferred to the United States in late 1948. Later we had a son, Carl. Since my husband stayed on active duty in the Army for another decade and a half, the children and I joined him in each and every assignment in the United States and abroad.
"During the last six years of my husband's life he suffered with Alzheimer's disease and diabetes. In May of 1999 he died of congestive heart failure. We had been married for 52 years. In 2005 I moved to the Beatitudes campus where I now live in the South Plaza building."
Closing note: Alice is a remarkable woman who has enjoyed — and endured — many unusual experiences in her lifetime. She is still spry for someone who next January will celebrate her 90th birthday. You may see her from time to time in the Beatitudes campus library where she works as a volunteer. Alice is indeed "An Amazing Lady from China."
This article originally appeared in Roadrunner Extra!, the resident newsletter of Beatitudes Campus.