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Soochow Creek Medal Resurrected
Official medals don't always find their way into the hands of truly deserving warriors -- those who demonstrate boundless courage and tireless devotion to duty.
Fortunately, history does offer a few noteworthy examples of courageous commanders stepping forward to honor these otherwise unsung heroes, creating medals for these men and women to proudly carry and display.
The Soochow Creek Medal is such a medal. This unofficial medal was created in 1932 at the request of one brave Lieutenant of the Fourth U.S. Marines to honor those who defended the area along the Soochow Creek in Shanghai, China during that country's turbulent civil war.
Existing in obscurity for decades, the Soochow Creek Medal lives on today and is now experiencing a comeback thanks to the joint efforts of members of the Third Battalion Fourth Marines Association in conjunction with Northwest Territorial Mint, a private full-service mint located near Seattle, Washington.
Staff Sergeant (Ret.) Jim Wright, a member of the Board of Directors of the association, led the campaign to resurrect the Soochow Creek Medal.
"It's an important part of the history and legacy of the Fourth Marines," said Wright. "We at the association thought it was time to bring it back," he said.
Founded in 1984, Northwest Territorial Mint specializes in the custom design and manufacturing of coins and medallions for military units and associations representing all branches of America's armed forces, as well as government and private entities throughout the world.
"It was critical that our replica portray the exact detail found on the original Soochow medal," Wright said.
"Our goal was to recognize present-day Marines with a medal that truly honors their brothers who served at Soochow Creek," he said.
For fourteen years, from 1927-1941, the men of the Fourth Marines answered the call to protect American interests in what was called the International Zone in Shanghai. Caught in the middle of a growing conflict between China and Japan, a conflict in which the U.S. Government was loath to take sides, the Marines held their ground and waited.
Exposed to shellfire from both sides, which routinely fell upon their positions, they never once flinched, facing grave danger with steely resolve the way Marines have always done.
After enduring the seven-month long battle for Chapei during the winter of 1931-32, one young Marine Lieutenant implored his superiors to allow a medal to be created to honor the courage of his men. The request was denied and the Lieutenant was further reminded that because there was no official war in the eyes of the U.S. Government, there could be no medals, ever.
The Lieutenant then decided to create his own medal, which he planned to distribute to his men personally. Out of his bold leadership and unfailing conviction, the Soochow Creek Medal was born. The first version of the medal was created in 1932 and a second minting took place five years later in 1937. Both versions were produced by a local merchant in Shanghai, China.
Retired Marine Staff Sergeant Jim Wright was given one of the original 1932 medals by a fellow Marine who had actually served in Shanghai.
"He was getting older and he didn't have any close relatives left so he decided to pass it on to me. He knew that it would mean a lot to me as a Marine," Wright said.
"I felt honored to hold it and I'm still fascinated by the story behind it. It's a valued part of the heritage of the Marine Corps." he said.
After discussing it with fellow members of the Third Battalion Fourth Marines Association, Wright took the lead in contacting Northwest Territorial Mint to inquire about recreating the 74-year-old medal.
"The first thing I did was ask them to send me some samples of their work", Wright said, underscoring the importance of having the job done right the first time.
"I was very impressed by the level of detail and the attention to historic accuracy displayed on the coin samples I received. It was obvious to me that Northwest Territorial Mint could handle the job and was excited to take on the project."
The replicas created by Northwest Territorial Mint were designed to include slight variations from the original. For example, the date 9/11/01 is inscribed on the modern medal's reverse, a tribute to the heroes who gave their lives in the line of duty while responding to the attacks on the World Trade Center.
The medals will be distributed to active-duty and retired Marines throughout the coming months and years and will also be presented as part of the Third Battalion Fourth Marines annual reunion in 2007.