Friday, January 15, 2010

Commemorating the Flying Tigers in Taiwan, China and the US

On December 21, the American Flying Tiger Historical Organization (FTHO) announced the start of a campaign to raise US$400,000 and to collect historical mementos for a Flying Tiger Heritage Park at Yang Tang Airport in Guilin, Guangxi, China. The exhibit will honor the friendship between the Chinese and American pilots who fought together during World War II.

During the press conference held at Half Moon Bay, California, FTHO chairman James T. Whitehead, Jr. Major General USAF (Ret.), president Larry Jobe, director K.C. Ma, senior advisor Michael Bianco, and volunteer Steve Martin talked of their aspirations for the park. In the World Journal, Bianco spoke of his plan to purchase a Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, the fighter aircraft the Flying Tigers used during WWII, to display at the Flying Tiger Heritage Park. The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk planes made an indelible impression with their shark’s teeth logos and a 12-point sun, the symbol of the Nationalist Chinese Air Force.

During World War II, the Flying Tiger pilots flew out of Half Moon Bay Airport to deliver military supplies or join the Nationalist Chinese Air Force in fighting the Japanese. After more than 60 years, there are still 29 aircraft flying and about 30 in museums across the United States.

Credited with creating the unit was US Army Air Corps officer Claire Lu Chennault, who was the military aviation advisor to Chiang Kai-shek in the early days of the Sino-Japanese War.

During the first years of WW II, Washington took a neutral stand. The American military pilots “resigned” their commissions to serve in the new unit as volunteers or private citizens. The group was formed in mainland China, staffed with Chinese and American pilots and support crew, and led by Chennault under the general command of the Nationalist Chinese Air Force. As a retired officer, Chennault had no problem acting as a private citizen in command of the volunteer pilots.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the United States placed more responsibility on the Flying Tigers. In July 1942, the American Volunteer Group (AVG) was disbanded and became the US Army Air Corps’ China Air Task Force, and Chennault was given the rank of brigadier general. As such, the Tigers were also known as AVG, the China Air Task Force or the 14th Air Force.

The Flying Tigers did a great job in protecting southern China against invasion by the Japanese. American pilots who were forced to bail out of their damaged aircraft often hid with the help of Chinese villagers. Knowing this, Japanese soldiers showed little mercy toward villagers suspected of aiding Americans, chopping off the fingers of Chinese suspected of hiding pilots. On the flying jacket of the Tigers, a patch in Chinese proclaimed, “This foreigner has come to the aid of China. Let the government and the people jointly protect him.”

Working together towards a shared interest and a desire for peace, a strong bond was forged between the United States and the Nationalist Chinese. Even after the Nationalist Chinese government moved to Taiwan, the friendship survived. One of the most visited monuments in Taiwan was dedicated to Chennault and the Flying Tigers in Taipei’s New Park, which was later relocated to the Air Force Base in Hualien.

Just a year ago, US Congressman David Wu (D-Oregon) honored Major Arthur Chin, one of the Tigers from the Oregon area. He was born in Portland, Oregon in 1913 to a Chinese father of Cantonese origin and a Caucasian mother of Peruvian background. He joined the AVG and later integrated into the Nationalist Chinese Air Force to fight the Japanese invasion in the late 1930s. He destroyed six Japanese aircraft and helped his comrades defeat another three. One day while flying, he was hit by three Japanese fighters, bailed out of his plane by parachute, and was seriously injured. With the help of Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Chin was able to return to the US for medical treatment, according to Taipei-based Central News Agency.

He returned to his hometown of Beaverton, Oregon and worked in the post office there for the next thirty years. After his death in 1997, he was immortalized at the Hall of Fame at the American Airpower Heritage Museum in Midland, Texas as the first American ace, and an officially recognized Chinese American World War II hero.

In January 2008, Congressman Wu introduced a House Resolution to rename the post office where Chin used to work as the "Major Arthur Chin Post Office Building.” The resolution was unanimously approved by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and signed into law by former President George Bush Jr.

In September 2009, Taiwan’s Defense Minister inaugurated a “Chinese War Fighter Ace Arthur Chin Exhibition” at the Air Force History Museum in southern Taiwan, and also renamed the student activity center of the Air Force Academy as the “Arthur Chin Building.”

This January, relics from the Flying Tigers will be on display in Taipei. The fundraiser hopes to build a permanent exhibit at the Flying Tigers Heritage Park in 2011.

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About Me

The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.