Stories of Chinese rescues of downed Flying Tigers
First let me define for you who the Chinese consider Flying Tigers. While we in our country separate them by various names- the Chinese do not. Fighter pilot, Bomber pilot, Transport pilot- AVG, 14th Air Force, 10th Air Force, CBI all are considered Flying Tigers in China.
In years gone by we have been fortunate to have Americans on our tour, both pilots and ground personnel, who fought side by side with the Chinese against the Japanese in WW II. The respect and honor paid to these Americans by the Chinese people was very moving and hard to convey by words alone.
The Chinese contribution has all but been ignored and yet these unsung hero’s sacrifices are what allowed our American flying forces to achieve the success they did. So I would like to tell you some of the Chinese side of the story.
During the ten years that I have been visiting the great country of China I have witnessed its phenomenal growth. Seemingly to have sprung up overnight it is an example of just how much the Chinese can accomplish in a short period of time.
In WW II the Chinese also accomplished the seemingly impossible.
Western road engineers had estimated it would take many years to build the Lido road. The Chinese, working alongside American army engineers, built it in less than two years using nothing more than picks and shovels.
In just three months, with up to 90,000 Chinese working on a single air field, the Chinese built all the airfields General Chennault needed for the 14th Army Air Force. This allowed General Chennault to take the war to the Japanese very early on in the conflict.
The early warning network consisted of Chinese guerillas and civilians in the field who, at great risk of capture and death, called in information on Japanese aircraft movements. Most of these calls came into the command cave the FTHO is restoring.
But the greatest comfort and aide of all was the knowledge by our pilots that if they were shot down and picked up by the Chinese they had a good chance of escaping the Japanese and returning to their base alive. 95% of downed pilots picked up by the Chinese made it back to their base to fight again.
Now to the stories as told to me by the people who lived them. I had a Flying Tiger who accompanied us to China in 2005 who was shot down and he related the story of his escapes to me.
He was picked up by the villagers near where he crashed. They took him to their village and took his boots away. He spoke no Chinese and they no English. His thought was “Oh great they are going to strip me of anything of value and turn me over to the Japanese”.
Two of the villagers took him to their home and when the Japanese came they hid him in a chamber below their bed. It is a chamber used for hot coals in the winter to keep warm.
Two Japanese soldiers entered the home and began to beat the two Chinese homeowners unmercifully in an attempt to discover his whereabouts. At one point he said he could have reached out and touched the boot of the Japanese solider.
Then another Japanese solider came and said something to the two that were there and all three soldiers left the home and the Japanese left the village. Only then did the pilot discover that the villagers had given his boots to a young man who had left a trail out of the village which the Japanese fell for.
Later a missionary came to guide the pilot back to his base and he asked the missionary to ask the two villagers why they risked their life to save his? They said “when the Japanese come we see fear in the eyes of the Chinese, when the Flying Tigers come we see fear in the eyes of the Japanese”.
The men of the CBI and 14th Army Air Force set aerial combat and transport records, under the worst of conditions, which have never been equaled and never will be.
They tied up a Japanese Army of 1.2 million men and an air force of over 1000 planes while destroying another 2500 Japanese planes. Imagine if you will what MacArthur’s Island hopping campaign might have gone like if those resources had been available to the Japanese war machine.
Until the Lido Road was opened late in the war The Hump transport pilots, or CBI group, supplied the fighting forces in China with everything they needed to fight the war.
All supplies were brought in by air right down to items like toothpaste and paper clips.
These (CBI) transport pilots did this over one of the worst areas in the world to fly. Mountains that reached higher than some of the planes could climb forced them to fly through passes, weather that was unpredictable and treacherous caused many to break up or crash because of turbulence and icing and, last but not least, were the Japanese fighters that regularly patrolled the passes shooting down the unarmed and slow transports.
This supply route became known as the Aluminum Trail due to the large number of wrecks dotting its path. More Hump pilots were killed than fighter and bomber pilots combined. In fact the Hump pilot’s accomplishment was so great that it became the model used for the Berlin airlift.
The Chinese solider depended on this airlift for all his arms and supply. Always short of what he needed to fight a well-armed and equipped Japanese army, he none the less performed heroically in the defense of his country.
A story that was told to me by one of the Hump pilots demonstrates just how much the Chinese solider was willing to sacrifice for his country.
This Hump pilot was flying a C 47 full of Chinese soldiers from India, where they had trained, back to China over the Hump. They hit weather and the plane iced up making it impossible for the pilot to maintain altitude.
On board was an English speaking Chinese officer whom the pilot told to have the troops prepare for a crash because they were too heavy and could not maintain altitude. Not to long thereafter the plane began to climb, the Chinese officer came forward and when the pilot looked back the cabin was empty. All the troops had jumped out to lighten the load and when questioned by this pilot the officer’s simple reply was that “the plane and the material that it could supply to the Chinese army was more important to China’s survival than the troops”. With that he went back and also exited the plane.
The fact that this pilot could relate this story to me tells you that he survived because of the sacrifice made by those Chinese soldiers. Jimmy Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo was a devastating blow to Japanese moral and a huge boost to ours.
We all know that part of the story. But did you know that after bombing Tokyo all the planes were slated to land in China? When they arrived over China they could not find their intended landing strips and all the crews crash landed or bailed out.
Eight pilots were captured by the Japanese, the rest were rescued by the Chinese and returned to American bases.
The Japanese, in retaliation, killed every man, women and child in any area that those bombers could have landed, in all over 250,000 Chinese civilians were killed.
These rescues often put the Chinese at great risk. WE went to the largest village in China, Shesadawang, (7 million people) with four Flying Tigers from the 528th Dragonflies Fighter Squadron. Their visit had been touted in the local papers for several days. When we arrived at the city outskirts we were met by 300 police and escorted to our hotel down a boulevard lined with people.
When we arrived at the hotel there were bands playing, dignitaries meeting us, flowers for the Tigers wives and a red carpet leading to the hotel entrance. One of our guides came to me and said there were some Chinese gentlemen who wanted to talk to me in the crowd at the hotel. I went with the guide to meet these gentlemen. They had all rescued Flying Tigers during the war. One gentleman had a picture of ten airmen, with himself, from a bomber crew he helped rescue. He wanted to know if I could tell what had become of these men. At the time I knew little of the internet and the photo wasn’t in enough detail to give me a clue as to their unit or plane type. I told the gentleman that I was sorry but I could not tell him what had become of the men he had rescued.
He then told me the story of their rescue.
The bomber crew, 10 men, were picked up and dispersed in the country side near the Chinese village where the bomber crashed. The Japanese came into the village and attempted to discover the bombers crew’s whereabouts by torturing the villagers.
First the Japanese took the old women of the village and cut their fingers off one by one. They did not talk.
Then the Japanese took babies from mother’s arms and threw them down wells. Still they did not talk. Then the Japanese began bayoneting the men of the village and still mno one talked.
Trying the Japanese left the village and all ten airmen made it back home alive because of the sacrifice made by those Chinese villagers.
On another trip to China we were accompanied by a Flying Tiger fighter pilot who had to bail out over enemy territory. He was picked up by Chinese villagers. This is his story.
He was taken to the village and hidden in a secret room with a young Chinese mother and her baby. Shortly thereafter the Japanese entered the village and began searching for him. The baby began to fuss so the young mother held the baby to her breast to keep it quiet.
When the Japanese finally left the village the baby had died of asphyxiation. This Flying Tiger made it home because of that young mothers sacrifice.
These are just some of the stories of many that I have heard from the people who lived them. Stories of courage, sacrifice, cooperation, hardships and of friendship. All these stories emanate from one of the most perilous periods the world has ever faced. A time when the American and Chinese people worked together to defend their countries from a vicious and merciless invader.
The Flying Tigers and Chinese built a bridge between our two cultures that we can cross today. The bonds of friendship are there for us to enjoy and employ.
They sacrificed their youth and shed their blood so that we could have freedom of choice. We can honor them by working together to insure a better world for all people.
To paraphrase a great man, Winston Churchill, it can truly be said of the Chinese – Never have so many sacrificed so much for so few and paid such a heavy price.
WHY THE FLYING TIGER HISTORICAL PARK
The Obvious Answer
The obvious answer is it is a chance to honor, preserve the memory of, and record for history the remarkable story that is the Flying Tigers, the Chinese and the CBI theater of World War II. A history that for many reasons has been overlooked, forgotten, or buried.
Many books have been written about the Flying Tigers and the pilots who flew the Hump but for the most part the story and record set by these combatants has been passed over when reporting on the larger history of the Pacific War in WW II. The Chinese contribution has all but been ignored and yet their sacrifices where what made it possible for our American fighting men to achieve the success they did.
So, within the park grounds, the museum and the cave, we will tell their story. We will have memorial walls and statues honoring those who gave the ultimate sacrifice on foreign soil. The museum will have archives which will hold records, books and personal accounts of that dark period in our world history. Photographs and artifacts, both military and personal, will be on display. Archival film footage will allow one to revisit that time and experience a little of what these warriors experienced.
The Less Obvious Answer Is More Compelling
People and governments tend to forget what happened, sanitize what happened, or distort the record of what happened for their own ends. Nowhere is that more true than in the CBI and China theater of WW II.
In the late 1990’s the Japanese government published a text book for their high school students which depicted the Japanese Army of WW II as an “Army of Liberation”. This text book failed to mention the rape of Nanching, unit 731- the Japanese chemical and biological experimentation unit which used Chinese civilians and prisoners of war as guinea pigs, Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March, Korean comfort women, or any of numerous other atrocities committed by the Japanese military forces in WWII.
When the Asian nations who had these crimes perpetrated upon them learned of this text book there was hue and cry which demanded that the Japanese remove the text book from their schools. The book was withdrawn but it exemplifies the lengths that will be gone to in order to cover up and remove from history that which is undesirable or embarrassing to a people or a nation.
On a tour to China while in Guilin we came across a couple of Japanese tourist who were asked if they had sensed any hostility from the Chinese for the atrocities committed by the Japanese against the Chinese in WWII. Their answer was eye opening. “Oh we weren’t in China in WW II.”
These Japanese tourist didn’t know because their government has chosen to keep this embarrassing part of Japan’s history from them. History ignored or forgotten is history to be repeated and we never want this kind of history repeated again.
Guilin is rapidly becoming the fourth leg on the tourist route to China and, as such, the Flying Tiger Historical park and General Chennault’s Command and Operation Cave will be on a well traveled path and accessible to people of all nations. This should insure that the widest possible audience is exposed to the history that occurred here and in the rest of China.
The last reason for the park is we have an opportunity to strengthen and build on the genuine feelings of good will left by the Flying Tigers. The Chinese have never forgotten what these men accomplished on their soil for their benefit and the Flying Tigers have never forgotten what the Chinese did for them. 95% of all Flying Tigers who were shot down in enemy territory and who were picked up by the Chinese made it back to their own lines to fight another day. Often the Chinese rescuing the Flying Tigers paid the ultimate price protecting the Tigers.
The Flying Tiger Historical park will be a place where our two great nations and people can come together to remember and honor the past while working for a bright and peaceful future.