“Mick” Biggs was a humble man. Here, I want to give you a brief glimpse into what the man meant to me.
You might ask why this has any place on Beijing Travel Report. The answer is simple. He is the reason that I joined the Marine Corps, and he is the reason that I have investigated the Peking Foreign Legation Quarter. He is my first connection to China. Without him, there would be no Beijing Travel Report.
I became friends in college with one of his sons. This is how I introduced to Chester. The first memory that sticks in my mind was the taste of his excellent buckwheat pancakes that he loved to make on Saturday mornings for the kids. He was happy to make them for the enjoyment of the family. …but if you got up too late, you probably did not get any. He would just say “You are too late, sleepyhead”. He loved to serve, but he would not let you turn him into a servant.
Chester had served in North China, specifically in Beijing in 1940 and 1941 as an US Embassy Guard. The Marine Corps maintained a detachment next to the US Embassy. All of this was contained inside the Foreign Legation Quarter with the other. He was there when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and was taken prisoner by the Japanese the very next day, December 8th. The Japanese kept him prisoner for the rest of the war, first moving him to Shanghai, and then on to Japan. After being liberated from the camps, he went on to serve in the Marine Corps until his retirement as Sergeant Major in 1959.
Like so many to World War II, he had gone through great suffering and came out the other side the sort of man that built America into the dominant power of the second half of the 20th century. Yet, like so many of those same men, his past was not his focus. He did not wallow in the self-pity of the suffering he had endured. To him, the present have plenty that needed to be done without dwelling on the past.
“Mick” was a “Get your work done and wash up” sort of guy. Never lazy and never idle, he was always working about his projects. He kept one of the best yards I’d ever seen. In fact, I often wondered if I could bounce a quarter off of it, much as we were expected to do with a Marine Corps bunk. Yet, I never heard him say “Look at my excellent work”. He practiced a quiet excellence in everything that he did.
He was also quick to wit. Not like myself who loves to make jokes and then wait for people to congratulate me on how clever I am. No, his was a quick “snap” that made you sit up straight, reminded you what you were supposed to be doing, and made you chuckle all at the same time. Mostly one liners. He was not given to excessive words.
While we were never “buddy buddy”, he always had a kind word for me. He allowed me into his family, for the time I was around. Whenever I visited later in life, he always showed interest in how my life was progressing and if my goals made sense. There was no better model of what a man should be for his family and country. For that, I am grateful to have known him.
There is much more to be said about Mick, his life during the war, his life in the Corps after the war, and his life after military service. But others will say it elsewhere. To know more from his own words, check out his books on his book page. You will catch a glimpse of his wit and his perspective.
So, when it came time for me to consider a military service, only the Marine Corps would do. I followed in his footsteps, and reached beyond what I thought was possible for me. It made me a better man. I have never regretted that step into the proud tradition of the Marines. And I can say that it was a direct result of being inspired by Mick.
Chester M “Mick” Biggs passed on to the heavenly realms on December 7th, 2011. The irony is that it was already December 8th in China when he passed. That made it exactly 70 years to the day that he was taken captive by the Japanese. The Marine Corps honored him well. His family and friends honored him well. I was privileged to be grave side and to honor him in person.
So, I move forward in my life with this example still in my mind. May I continue to honor him in my life and service to others.
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