Mem­ory of Fly­ing Tigers hon­ored

The Amer­i­can Vol­un­teer Group has leg­endary sta­tus in China, and the US pi­lots who flew as mem­bers of the Chi­nese air force have now been hon­ored in the town that was their main cen­ter of op­er­a­tions, as re­ports from Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

China has paid trib­ute to the 1st Amer­i­can Vol­un­teer Group, bet­ter known as the Fly­ing Tigers, a team of US pi­lots who as­sisted the fight against Ja­panese oc­cu­pa­tion dur­ing World War II, by open­ing a her­itage park in Guilin in the Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion.

Vice-Pre­mier Liu Yan­dong hosted the open­ing cer­e­mony with Guangxi Party chief Peng Qinghua, and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the United States.

The park — which cov­ers an area of 17 hectares, and com­prises a mu­seum, a cave com­mand post on a nearby moun­tain, bar­racks, hangars and flight strips — was funded by the Fly­ing Tigers His­tor­i­cal Or­ga­ni­za­tion, a non­profit group in Grov­e­land, Cal­i­for­nia. It was con­structed on the site of the for­mer Yang­tang air­port, which was built by the lo­cals and the US vol­un­teers in 1942 un­der ex­tremely danger­ous con­di­tions.

Lo­cal vil­lagers, gov­ern­ments and the FTHO have do­nated hun­dreds of relics re­lated to the Fly­ing Tigers to the mu­seum, and Florence Lee Fang, the FTHO’s hon­orary pres­i­dent, will do­nate a C-40 trans­port plane, the dom­i­nant model used by the US army air forces in the Pa­cific theater, which will soon go on per­ma­nent dis­play.

Liu’s pres­ence at the cer­e­mony demon­strated the sig­nif­i­cance China at­taches to the Fly­ing Tigers’ le­gacy in the 70th an­niver­sary year of the victory over the axis pow­ers. A global dream

Peace is not only a “China Dream”, but also a dream of all peo­ples around the world, ac­cord­ing to FTHO Chair­man Ma­jor Gen­eral James White­head. “The park is an im­por­tant be­gin­ning to ed­u­cate the peo­ple and their chil­dren about the his­tory of a time when two peo­ples fought to­gether for a com­mon goal, and about the he­roes.”

Liu said: “Re­call­ing the his­tory of when the peo­ple of China and the US fought evil side by side is of great im­por­tance for the estab­lish­ment of new type of big-power re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two coun­tries. I hope China and the US can in­crease ex­changes and co­op­er­a­tion, con­tinue in­ter­per­sonal friend­ships, and make a larger con­tri­bu­tion to world peace.”

Peng hopes Guilin can con­tinue to ex­pand con­struc­tion of the park and “make it an im­por­tant win­dow to foster mu­tual un­der­stand­ing be­tween Guangxi and the US, and to deepen bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion in eco­nomics, trade, cul­ture and tourism”.

The Fly­ing Tigers squadrons, led by Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Claire Chen­nault, were set up in Ran­goon, Myan­mar, in 1941 to re­sist the Ja­panese in­va­sion of Asia, and to safe­guard the air trans­port route, known as the “Hump course”, which con­nected South­west China with the rest of South Asia.

In June 1942, Chen­nault ar­rived in Guilin with dozens of P-40 Warhawk fighter planes and built three mil­i­tary air­ports in the city, which stood on the front line with the Ja­panese army.

Chen­nault trained, or­ga­nized and in­spired his pi­lots. He taught them to fight in pairs; to use speed and div­ing power to make a pass, shoot, and break away. With the suc­cess of the early warn­ing net that Chen­nault had de­vised, the Amer­i­can Vol­un­teer Group de­stroyed al­most 300 en­emy air­craft, while only los­ing 12 of their own in just six months.

On July 4, 1942, the group was dis­banded, and re­placed by the 23rd Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Forces, which was it­self later ab­sorbed into the US 14th Air Force with Chen­nault as com­man­der.

In the two or so years that fol­lowed, the 14th Air Force de­stroyed more than 2,600 en­emy air­craft, sank or dam­aged 2,230,000 met­ric tons of en­emy mer­chant ships, and 45 navy ves­sels, and killed more than 66,700 en­emy troops in South China — a re­mark­able achieve­ment for the small­est and most re­mote air force of WWII.

Chen­nault, who with­drew from Guilin with his pi­lots in Oc­to­ber 1944, ended his mem­oir Way of a Fighter with th­ese words: “It is my fond­est hope that the sign of the Fly­ing Tiger will re­main aloft just as long as it is needed and that it will al­ways be re­mem­bered on both shores of the Pa­cific as the sym­bol of two great peo­ples work­ing to­ward a com­mon goal in war and peace.”

At the cer­e­mony, Nell Cal­loway, Chen­nault’s grand­daugh­ter and direc­tor of the Chen­nault Avi­a­tion and Mil­i­tary Mu­seum in Mon­roe, Louisiana, said: “We come to­gether un­der the sign of the Fly­ing Tigers, and my grand­fa­ther’s words hold as much im­por­tance now in 2015 as they did in 1949 (when Chen­nault’s book was pub­lished). And we must work to­gether to­ward our com­mon goals: Pros­per­ity, sta­bil­ity, re­spect and un­der­stand­ing.”

Since 1983, hun­dreds of Fly­ing Tiger pi­lots and their rel­a­tives have vis­ited the site of the for­mer air­port at Yang­tang and spo­ken with the lo­cal vil­lagers, hun­dreds of whose an­ces­tors died dur­ing the con­struc­tion of the fa­cil­ity, ei­ther while work­ing in the quarry or dur­ing aerial bom­bard­ments by the Ja­panese air force. Thanks from far away

When he was 9, Long Feng­gao, an 80-some­thing re­tired po­lice­man who at­tended the open­ing cer­e­mony, spot­ted an in­jured US pi­lot in a rice paddy, and acted as a guide for vil­lagers to carry the pi­lot to the cave com­mand post at Yang­tang air­port. When­ever Fly­ing Tiger pi­lots and fam­i­lies visit Guilin, Long al­ways ap­pears and greets them emo­tion­ally like old friends, of­ten with tears in his eyes.

“All my fam­ily died in the Ja­panese bomb­ings. The Fly­ing Tigers helped me to take re­venge. I re­gard their fam­i­lies as my own fam­ily,” Long said. “I am hon­ored to have helped save that in­jured US pi­lot, even though I don’t know his name.”

In the early 1950s, Long vol­un­teered to fight in the Korean War but the ceasefi was signed be­fore he was sent to the front. When asked about the dif­fer­ence be­tween the US sol­diers he greets so ef­fu­sively in Guilin and the ones he would have fought on the Korean Penin­sula, he re­sponded se­ri­ously: “The US sol­diers un­der Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt were good, the sol­diers un­der Pres­i­dent Tru­man were bad.”

An­other lo­cal res­i­dent, a re­served vil­lager called Jiang Jun who lives deep in the moun­tains, was un­able to at­tend the open­ing cer­e­mony, but in 1996, he and his brother-in-law Pan Qib­ing dis­cov­ered a crashed WWII-era B-24 bomber in the moun­tains that had been the Fly­ing Tigers’ home in China. The bomber, which had a crew of 10, hit the 2,000-me­ter-high Mao’er Moun­tain on the night of Aug 31, 1944, af­ter bomb­ing the Ja­panese fleet at Kaoshi­ung port in Tai­wan.

Pan trav­eled to the US af­ter the two men re­ceived a thankyou let­ter from then-Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton for res­cu­ing a US re­porter who fell down a cliff while cov­er­ing the re­trieval op­er­a­tion. Jiang ap­plied for the visa too. But he was turned down, and a US visa of­fi­cial told him: “What you have done is al­ready his­tory.” In­stead of trav­el­ing, Jiang stayed home to care for his sick, el­derly mother.

In 2005, how­ever, he was in­vited to a re­cep­tion for the chil­dren of Fly­ing Tiger pi­lots or­ga­nized by the lo­cal gov­ern­ment in his home­town. “I didn’t know the old US pi­lot who em­braced me so tightly, but we both shed tears. He said ‘thank you’ again and again,” Jiang re­called. “I just smiled in re­turn. I think that old man’s hug was much bet­ter than the US pres­i­dent’s thank you let­ter.”

With the help of the FTHO and the lo­cal gov­ern­ment, the project to build the mu­seum started in 2007, but the com­plex­ity of re­ceiv­ing dona­tions from over­seas re­sulted in the con­struc­tion work pro­gress­ing in­ter­mit­tently for eight years.

The Chi­nese peo­ple’s fight against the Ja­panese army and their sac­ri­fices in WWII are largely un­known in the West­ern world. “Were it not for the Chi­nese bat­tle­field, Ja­pan would have sent more troops to fight the US in the Pa­cific,” said Tom Palmer, a re­tired US Air Force pi­lot from Auburn, Cal­i­for­nia, who was vis­it­ing the her­itage park. “It is mean­ing­ful to have the park to tell young Amer­i­cans and Chi­nese about the mu­tual as­sis­tance of the Chi­nese and Amer­i­can peo­ples.”

As an 8-year-old, Her­man Leong, a Hawai­ian-born Chi­nese-Amer­i­can who is also known as Liang Rim­ing, wit­nessed the Ja­panese attack on Pearl Har­bor in 1941. He later served as a nav­i­ga­tor in the US Air Force from 1956 to 1968.

“Although I am third­gen­er­a­tion US-born, I am al­ways con­cerned about the devel­op­ment of China,” said Leong, who gave stir­ring ren­di­tions of the Chi­nese and US na­tional an­thems at the park’s open­ing cer­e­mony. “The Fly­ing Tigers were my child­hood he­roes. Their ex­pe­ri­ences in China tell us that the two peo­ples share the same be­lief in peace. And we have so many com­mon in­ter­ests to­day. There is no rea­son for China and the US not to be­come good part­ners to safe­guard world peace.”

While vis­it­ing the newly opened mu­seum, Jay Vin­yard, a 93-year-old re­tired pi­lot who reg­u­larly flew the danger­ous Hump route in the 1940s to de­liver goods to oc­cu­pied China, was asked about the lessons he had learned dur­ing the war. The el­derly man looked thought­ful for a while, and then replied: “In war, luck is your best as­set.” Huo Yan, Li Ziyu and Nell Cal­loway con­trib­uted to this story. Con­tact the writer at liyang@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

HUO YAN / CHINA DAILY

Nell Cal­loway

XIN­HUA

Mem­bers of

Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Claire

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