Today is an exact, but certainly unheralded, anniversary in U.S. military history. It was on this date in 1900 that U.S. forces entered Tientsin, China, during a conflict that had two names.
Officially it was the China Relief Expedition, but to most it was the Boxer Rebellion. It involved several European nations and Japan, allied against an insurgent force known as Boxers, a group opposed to any outside nations doing trade with, or even being in, China.
The brief encounter is perhaps best known today to Americans through the 1963 Charleston Heston movie, 55 Days at Peking. It is still shown periodically on Turner Classic Movies and other vintage movie stations.
Several European countries had an interest in pursuing trade with China, as did the U.S. and Japan. The U.S. contributed a force of some 2,500 soldiers and Marines to the allied force of 19,000, from Britain, France, Japan, Russian, Germany, Austria, and Italy.
It marked the first time since the Revolutionary War that the U.S. had joined with other nations in an allied military operation. Only four years later, two of the allies would be at war with each other, Russia and Japan, and in 14 years Germany and Austria would be at war against all their other 1,900 allies. Ah, world politics.
It was never called a war, and didn't last very long. But evidently there was some red hot action "above and beyond the call of duty," which leads to the awarding of the Medal of Honor. That is because 59 of our highest awards for bravery were awarded during the China Relief Expedition, 33 to the Marine Corps, 22 to sailors, and four to soldiers.
Of those, 10 are buried in Arlington: six sailors, three Marines, and one soldier. They are among the more than 200 recipients at Arlington.
One Army recipient became the subject of a famous recruiting poster many years later. When the relief force reached the walled city of Peking, the 14th Infantry Regiment was ordered to have a soldier climb a ladder and go over the legation wall.
The infantrymen were busy shooting at unseen Boxers, perhaps, which led musician Calvin Titus, an Iowan, to shout "I'll try, sir," as he scurried up the ladder under Boxer fire and jumped over the wall. The poster shows a soldier climbing a ladder.
One of the Navy recipients has an area tie. Ordinary Seaman William Seach received the medal for his actions on June 13, 20, 21, and 22nd, 1900, when he and six other sailors were cited for repulsing Boxer militants and Chinese Imperialist soldiers during a series of skirmishes during the march to Peking.
His son was a decorated Navy submariner during WW II, and his grandson, William B. Seach, served in Vietnam where he was wounded. Grandson Seach lives in the Kansas City area today and keeps in touch with the three Vietnam War recipients in Kansas City and Leavenworth.
Page 2 of 2 - Although it is not mentioned in the Army's official history book, American Military History, one of the infantry commanders in the relief force, Col. E.H. Liscum, was killed in action leading the attack on Tientsin 113 years ago today, and he too is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
The U.S. involvement during the China Relief Expedition continued to whet an interest in Asia. That interest continues today as shown by the new class of international military students. From the Pacific region are students from Australia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and Thailand.
There are also liaison officers at the fort from Australia, Japan, and Korea. The last students from China were during WW II, but today's Chinese army is invited every year.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.