The sound of gunfire and exploding bombs all around should have made his point for him. Nevertheless, Captain Hughes still labored to the end. Some reporters and the last of the Embassy staff had straggled aboard that afternoon but there was still room left for more. He removed his hat and looked over the heads of the small group of foreigners at a city silhouetted in the orange glow of ten thousand fires.
“Time’s up,” he shouted, “Who’s coming?”
“This is our home! These people are... friends. We can’t leave,” replied one spectacled man, a professor at the University.
“No matter how honorable your intentions, sir, the Nips said they’re not going to recognize any International Safety Zone. It’s only safe for you onboard. Once we sail out...”
A second man in the group spoke up in a heavy German accent; a white band was wrapped tightly around his arm, emblazoned with a red swastika.
“I think I speak for us all, and for the two dozen others still at the hospitals and missions here, that we believe once the Japanese have conquered the city, peace and prosperity will quickly be implemented.”
A bomb exploded in the Yangtze just two hundred yards away, sending a plume of brown water that almost reached the ship. The Captain whirled his way across the gangplank and hopped aboard, “Cast off!” He turned to the group again as black smoke gushed from the stack and the ship groaned away, “We’ll be back within a week!”
Three days later, on December 12, 1937, the USS Panay was sunk by Japanese dive-bombers while at anchor miles from the action. Those few foreigners who stayed behind would survive to tell the world of the atrocities of the ensuing seven weeks, now known as the Rape of Nanking.