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National Affairs: Marine King

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“The United States might eventually be forced to occupy Liberia by treaty, as it did Haiti; in which event, one important difference would recommend itself to the Government: The occupying force should consist of Negro soldiers and Negro officers, instead of brutal, arrogant, prejudiced white Marines. Intelligent Negro officers are available on the reserve list, and they could bring to their task of ending slavery a sympathy and a tact that were conspicuously missing in the American occupation of Haiti.”

So wrote last week the Negro editor of Harlem’s Amsterdam News But “brutal, arrogant, prejudiced” were no words to apply in Negro newspaper or elsewhere to at least one U. S. Marine in Haiti, the Marine known as King Wirkus I of La Gonave, whose Haitian career, unusual and newsworthy, approached its end last week.

Out of the Pittstown, Pa., coal mines at 17, stocky, square-faced, blue-eyed Faustin E. Wirkus enlisted in the Marine Corps, was shipped to Haiti in 1917 as a sergeant. While serving at the tiny outpost of Anse à Gallet, he saw a hard-boiled tax collector drag in a big black Haitian woman who had defied the law. She said she was Queen Timemenne of La Gonave. Sergeant Wirkus smoothed out her troubles, got her free.

In 1922 as a lieutenant in the Haitian Garde he was put in command of a squad of native troops on La Gonave, a sparsely settled, primitive island (35 mi. by 3 mi.) three-and-one-half hours by motorboat from Port-au-Prince out in the bay. The black islanders swarmed down to greet Lieut. Wirkus, for Timemenne, their queen, had told them of his great goodness. Later tom-toms tommed. Clarine† flowed down black throats. Ebony girls danced soberly. And upon the unruly yellow hair of the white man was put a tall crown of silk, glass bits, sea shells. The natives called him King Wirkus I and he ruled jointly with Queen Timemenne for eight years.

The natives built him a concrete house on the northeastern shore of the island. He circled his domain in a motorboat, rode over it on horseback. He doctored adults with castor oil and quinine, treated babies according to the rules laid down in Dr. Holt’s Care and Feeding of Children. He served as midwife. He showed native fishermen how to fix their nets, farmers how to irrigate their gardens. He dispensed ready but gentle justice.

Last year King Wirkus I was transferred back to Port-au-Prince. In March he will return to the U. S., to be discharged from the service. Now 35, shrewd, reticent, he will be adopted by a wealthy man in Florida. Soon to be published is his book The White King. From Haiti he will bring with him cinema films of Voodoo cere monies, wild tribal dances, mystic sexual rites which his friends fear no censor will pass.

†From sugar cane.

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