Al­lies and friends

Chi­nese and US pi­lots and their fam­i­lies re­mem­ber a shared com­mit­ment to de­feat the Ja­panese and end their wartime oc­cu­pa­tion of China, as Zhai Xi­ang, Xu Xiaoqing and Wang Cong re­port for Xin­hua.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

Shared strug­gle re­called as only 2 Fly­ing Tigers re­main

Nell Cal­loway, grand­daugh­ter of the late United States’ Gen­eral Claire Lee Chen­nault, re­mem­bers her grand­fa­ther as a gen­tle, or­di­nary man with a beau­ti­ful gar­den and a love of sto­ry­telling.

Cal­loway was 8 years old when Chen­nault died. It was only later when she saw a photo of him in mil­i­tary uni­form that she be­gan to un­der­stand that her “or­di­nary” grand­fa­ther had lived an ex­tra­or­di­nary life.

Cal­loway is now di­rec­tor of the Chen­nault Avi­a­tion and Mil­i­tary Mu­seum in Mon­roe, Louisiana. The mu­seum is the only one in the United States ded­i­cated to Chen­nault’s heroic deeds and the his­tory of the Amer­i­can Vol­un­teer Group, the air corps that fought along­side the Chi­nese against Ja­pan dur­ing World War II.

“Many Amer­i­cans seem to have for­got­ten that China and the United States were close friends in the fight against Ja­pan,” Cal­loway said. “I hope my work helps re­mind oth­ers of this im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship.”

China was the first na­tion to fight the Ja­panese. The strug­gle started on Sept 18, 1931, when Ja­panese troops be­gan their in­va­sion of North­east China.

On July 7, 1937, Ja­panese troops at­tacked the Lu­gou Bridge, also known as the Marco Polo Bridge, on the south­west­ern out­skirts of Bei­jing, sig­nal­ing the start of a fullscale in­va­sion.

Through­out WWII, China was a ma­jor bat­tle­field in the fight against the Ja­panese and the ma­jor Asian bat­tle­field in the global war against fas­cism. China fought shoul­der to shoul­der with the other Al­lies.

In 1941, close to 300 young US na­tion­als reg­is­tered to join the AVG and de­parted for Asia.

Or­ga­nized and com­manded by Chen­nault, the AVG was a vol­un­teer band of pi­lots and ground staff whose sole pur­pose was to help China fight the in­vad­ing Ja­panese troops be­fore the United States of­fi­cially en­tered the war.

They came to be known as the “Fly­ing Tigers”.

Friends in life and death

While vis­it­ing his son in Los An­ge­les in 2000, Zhou Bing, a re­tired of­fi­cial at the Civil Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion of China, saw an old friend on tele­vi­sion. Star­ing back at him from the tele­vi­sion set was Dick Rossi, Zhou’s copi­lot dur­ing WWII. The two men had not seen each other for more than half a cen­tury.

Rossi, from Cal­i­for­nia, was en­rolled in the elec­tri­cal engi­neer­ing pro­gram at UC Berke­ley at the out­break of WWII. In his me­moirs, he wrote that though he saw the flight-train­ing no­tices plas­tered all across cam­pus. “I never re­ally dreamed I would be able to make it,” he wrote.

Rossi signed up for the AVG in 1941, and ar­rived in China as a pilot. On Dec 20, the AVG had its first air bat­tle in China, shoot­ing down nine Ja­panese bombers that at­tacked Kun­ming, the cap­i­tal of the south­west­ern prov­ince of Yun­nan.

In just seven months, the AVG shot down 299 planes dur­ing more than 50 bat­tles against the Ja­panese, force­fully de­fend­ing crit­i­cal air space on China’s rear front.

Rossi achieved ace pilot sta­tus with 6.25 con­firmed vic­to­ries dur­ing his ser­vice with the AVG. After the AVG was dis­banded in early July 1942, Rossi con­tin­ued to de­fend China as a pilot with the China Na­tional Avi­a­tion Corp. That was where he met Zhou.

In 1944, after grad­u­at­ing from Na­tional South­west­ern As­so­ci­ated Univer­sity in Kun­ming, Zhou en­tered CNAC. He was tasked with trans­port­ing sup­plies be­tween In­dia and China on a dan­ger­ous, but vi­tal, air­lift route over the Hi­malayas, known as the “Hump”.

The Hi­malayan route was the Al­lies’ pri­mary means of de­liv­er­ing sup­plies to China after Burma fell to the Ja­panese. The Burma Road, which con­nected Lashio in north­ern Burma to Kun­ming, was cut off in 1942 by the in­va­sion.

The le­gendary air route was opened through joint en­deav­ors by Chi­nese and US pi­lots.

Due to the ex­treme al­ti­tudes, un­for­giv­ing to­pog­ra­phy and bad weather, Zhou’s route over the Hi­malayas was a per­ilous one. Hun­dreds of planes crashed along the route: more than 1,500 Chi­nese and US pi­lots died or were re­ported miss­ing at­tempt­ing to bridge the gap be­tween the Al­lies and the Chi­nese.

Be­tween 1942 and 1945, Rossi suc­cess­fully flew 735 trips over the Hump — an un­par­al­leled record.

After Zhou saw Rossi on tele­vi­sion, his son promptly con­tacted the Rossi fam­ily. Zhou was amazed to learn that Rossi and his fam­ily still lived in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. The two long-lost friends quickly ar­ranged a meet­ing.

Zhou’s son, Zhou Jisong, was de­lighted to have an op­por­tu­nity to learn more about his fa­ther’s past. “My fa­ther al­ways kept a low pro­file about his WWII ser­vice,” he said. “I never heard much about it. Not un­til that meet­ing.

“I learned that my fa­ther was study­ing in Kun­ming at the time,” he said. “He was a hot-blooded young man, and the Ja­panese bomb­ing of Kun­ming made him feel he needed to con­trib­ute to China’s re­sis­tance. He didn’t want to see China be­come a con­quered na­tion.”

In 2005, Rossi was in­vited to Bei­jing to cel­e­brate the 60th an­niversa- ry of the end of WWII. He was seated at the top ta­ble with the then­pres­i­dent Hu Jin­tao. Hu shook Rossi’s hand and in an emo­tional trib­ute to the aid the US pro­vided dur­ing WWII said he hoped the friend­ship be­tween the peo­ples of China and the US would last for­ever.

“The Chi­nese lead­ers came around to toast him,” said Ly­dia, Rossi’s wife and ex­ec­u­tive sec­re­tary of the Fly­ing Tigers As­so­ci­a­tion. “The Chi­nese peo­ple have never for­got­ten us. We were in­cred­i­bly touched by their grat­i­tude ev­ery time we vis­ited China.

“After re­con­nect­ing with Rossi, he (Rossi) and my fa­ther met with each other al­most ev­ery year,” Zhou Jisong said.

Zhou Bing and Dick Rossi died in 2007 and 2008 re­spec­tively, but their sto­ries en­dure as re­minders of the close his­tor­i­cal part­ner­ship be­tween China and the US.

The last Fly­ing Tigers

More than seven decades have passed since nearly 300 Fly­ing Tigers ar­rived in China and wrote a le­gendary chap­ter in China-US re­la­tions.

Now, most of them have al­ready died — not in bat­tle — but of old age.

Only two sur­vivors are left; Frank Loson­sky, squadron crew chief, and the last sur­viv­ing Fly­ing Tiger pilot, Carl Brown. Ar­morer Charles Bais­den died in Fe­bru­ary.

Loson­sky was both a pilot and me­chan­i­cal spe­cial­ist when he ar­rived in Asia in 1941 at age 21. He was the youngest crew chief with the Fly­ing Tigers, re­spon­si­ble for main­tain­ing the shark-nosed P-40 fight­ers.

“I love Chi­nese peo­ple. They have pure hearts,” Loson­sky said, when he spoke with Xin­hua. “It was dan­ger­ous in China, but I was happy to be there.”

After re­turn­ing to the US, he worked for Gen­eral Mo­tors and later ran three restau­rants and a cater­ing ser­vice. He also worked with his son, Terry, to pub­lish his wartime diary.

Only once after WWII did Loson­sky climb back in­side a P-40. Dur­ing a Fly­ing Tigers re­union in At­lanta last year, he ac­cepted a flight in a P-40, which per­formed two bar­rel rolls.

“I felt OK. No prob­lem at all,” he said after­ward.

He al­ways wanted to tread Chi­nese soil once again. His wish came true in 2015, when he was in­vited to visit for the Vic­tory Day pa­rade in Bei­jing, and was also made an hon­orary ci­ti­zen of Kun­ming.

“China has changed so fast and so much,” he said, adding that the places he lived in the 1940s were now un­rec­og­niz­able.

“I am ex­tremely ex­cited about the progress China has made. I am sorry for the atroc­i­ties caused by the Ja­panese back then. The Chi­nese peo­ple were res­o­lute in de­feat­ing them.”

Brown at­tended Michi­gan State Univer­sity un­til 1939, when he sus­pended his stud­ies to join the US Navy. Dur­ing his train­ing in Florida, he be­came one of only a few pi­lots who could land a plane on an air­craft car­rier at night.

In 1941, after be­ing in­tro­duced to the AVG by friend Tex Hill, who be­came one of the AVG’s ace pi­lots, Brown signed up for the unit and won an hon­or­able dis­charge from the navy.

“Most of those pi­lots were just two to three years out of high school,” Brown re­called.

“In Burma in 1941, the alert sta­tus was es­pe­cially high. There was one rather heart-pound­ing ex­pe­ri­ence; we had never em­ployed a P-40 at night.”

One night when Brown’s squadron was guard­ing the Burma Road, the noise of trucks echoed around, sound­ing like a squadron of bombers with un­syn­chro­nized en­gines.

“So we had our big bomb alert and every­body took off be­cause of the truck noises,” Brown said of the false alarm.

He re­called a real alarm that hap­pened dur­ing a mis­sion in May 1942 when a plane be­ing flown by an AVG pilot plane ex­ploded by his wing: “I was thank­ful to have got­ten back after that tragic en­counter.”

After the AVG dis­banded, Brown spent three months train­ing Chi­nese pi­lots, be­fore be­com­ing a pilot for CNAC. In to­tal, he clocked up more than 1,000 hours over the Hump. He also flew air­ships across the At­lantic from New Jersey to West Africa and then In­dia at least three times.

In 1945, he re­turned to the US, re­sumed his un­der­grad­u­ate stud­ies and grad­u­ated in 1946. He went on to re­ceive his med­i­cal de­gree in the 1950s and gained a doc­tor­ate in law in the 1980s.

For Brown, the hor­rors of WWII il­lus­trate how des­per­ately the world needs non­vi­o­lent so­lu­tions to in­ter­per­sonal con­flicts, and he pur­sued his de­grees in this spirit of peace­ful res­o­lu­tion, he said.

Brown will cel­e­brate his 100th birth­day in De­cem­ber.

Keep­ing mem­o­ries alive

“I was glad to serve the Chi­nese peo­ple,” Jay Vin­yard said.

Vin­yard joined the US Army Air Forces in 1942. In 1944, he was as­signed to fly the Hump, ul­ti­mately com­plet­ing 87 suc­cess­ful mis­sions. Prior to the 2015 Vic­tory Day pa­rade in Bei­jing, Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping awarded Vin­yard a medal for his ser­vice.

“With sev­eral other WWII vet­er­ans, I was seated on the same level as Pres­i­dent Xi to watch the pa­rade,” Vin­yard said. “I am deeply im­pressed by what China has achieved.”

All these years later, it is clear that the pi­lots’ con­tri­bu­tions were not made in vain.

“The Chi­nese peo­ple and the Amer­i­can peo­ple can work to­gether to make the world a bet­ter place,” Vin­yard said.

Loson­sky added, “China’s role was in­stru­men­tal in the Al­lied vic­tory in WWII.”

Although China’s con­tri­bu­tion to WWII has of­ten been un­der­val­ued, a grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple are point­ing out the huge sac­ri­fices that were made and will not be for­got­ten.

“Mem­o­ries of WWII have faded,” said Rana Mit­ter, pro­fes­sor of his­tory and di­rec­tor of the China Cen­ter at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford in Eng­land.

“But let’s not for­get that China held off the Ja­panese forces. If China had sur­ren­dered, WWII would have ended dif­fer­ently.”

HUO YAN / CHINA DAILY

Former Fly­ing Tiger pilot Jay Vin­yard vis­its a me­mo­rial park ded­i­cated to the Amer­i­can Vol­un­teer Group in Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion, in 2015.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Top: Frank Loson­sky dur­ing his days as a mem­ber of the Fly­ing Tigers in China. Bot­tom: Loson­sky climbs out of the cock­pit of a P-40 in At­lanta, Ge­or­gia, last year.

Top: Carl Brown in China with the Fly­ing Tigers dur­ing World War II. Bot­tom: Brown pic­tured last year.

Claire Chen­nault, the founder of the Amer­i­can Vol­un­teer Group, aka the Fly­ing Tigers.

Zhou Bing, a Chi­nese pilot with the Na­tional China Avi­a­tion Corp, drinks Coca-Cola dur­ing a flight in WWII.

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