July 13, 2018

Katherine Marshall and China

In December 1945, Katherine Tupper Marshall accompanied her husband, General George C. Marshall, to the airport for his departure to China. A few weeks earlier, President Harry Truman had asked General Marshall to serve as a special envoy to China to negotiate peace between the country’s Communist and Nationalist parties. Not wanting to face the crowds that had assembled, Mrs. Marshall watched from the car as General Marshall’s luggage was loaded into the plane, the steps were drawn, and the door was closed. Katherine stayed until the plane, which was headed west, was only a little speck in the sky. 

From the airport she drove back to Dodona Manor, the Marshall’s Leesburg, Virginia, home. Katherine packed up her papers, locked the house and headed for Liscombe Lodge, the Marshall’s winter home in Pinehurst, North Carolina. She spent her first three weeks reading and sorting through material that she had collected during the war years to make scrapbooks for General Marshall. Three months after General Marshall left for China, Katherine received a message: “Will you have injections for typhoid, smallpox, cholera and typhus immediately?” She knew that the she would be going with him to China. 

 Within a few weeks, the Marshalls were on their way to Chungking, China. Katherine observed, “Chungking is far into the interior, a purely Chinese city originally of about 80,000 inhabitants. When we arrived it was a seething mass of humanity of several hundred thousand. It had been the most bombed city in China and, while many had been evacuated, living conditions were still deplorable.” Shortly after their arrival, the capital was moved to Nanking and the Marshalls settled into the former German Ambassador’s home. During the extremely hot summer months, Katherine stayed at the residence of the Generalissimo Kai-shek, which was located in the mountains of Kuling. 

 Katherine described the journey to Kuling in her memoir Together:  

Kuling was reached by an hour-and-a-half’s flight, a trip across the Yangtse  by ex-Japanese gunboat, a drive of forty minutes to the foot of the mountain, then a three-hour carry, of six miles, in sedan chair up stone steps cut into the side of the mountain, each chair being carried on the shoulders of six chair-bearers, or coolies, to the mountain peaks.  

During her time at the home of Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Katherine taught them how to play Chinese checkers and they played croquet. 

Katherine left China in the fall of 1946. She arrived in Honolulu and waited for General Marshall to finish his work in China and meet her there. Six weeks later Katherine learned that the civil war between the Communists and Nationalists had resumed. Soon afterward General Marshall arrived in Honolulu to travel back home with Katherine and begin his duties as secretary of state. Commending her husband’s efforts in China, Katherine wrote “For over twelve months he had stood as a breakwater against the seething tides of civil war.” 

 Copies of Katherine Marshall’s memoirs Together: Annals of an Army Wife are available in the Marshall Museum shop. To purchase a copy, please call 540-463-2083.