Flying Tigers: Connecting past and present

Descendants of legendary pilots and Chinese civilians tell stories of courage, sacrifice and friendship

By MINGMEI LI in Dayton, Ohio | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-04-22 09:22
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Descendants of Doolittle Raiders visit the landing site of pilot Ross Wilder in Fangyuan village, Zhejiang province, on Tuesday. Huang Zongzhi / Xinhua

In the photo exhibition at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, put together by the Sino-American Aviation Heritage Foundation and the museum, more than 40 panels and 150 photos provided by Flying Tigers' descendants are exhibited. It runs until October.

April 18 marked the 82nd anniversary of the Doolittle Raid by the US on Tokyo and the largest Japanese island, Honshu, in World War II. It was the first US air operation and retaliation to strike mainland Japan after the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941.

The exhibition records the story of how the Flying Tigers helped Chinese people fight the Japanese invaders together, and demonstrates how Chinese people rescued and saved US pilots.

The exhibition, representing people-to-people friendship between Chinese and US people more than 80 years ago, also attracts people who care about the relationship and want to extend the friendship from generation to generation to evoke memories to tell their story or their families' stories.

"I was born three weeks after my father arrived in the China Burma India Theater to begin training Chinese mechanics on how to work on the American B-25 airplanes," said Margaret Mills Kincannon, daughter of James Mills, a B-25 bomber crew chief of the Flying Tigers.

"He was away for all that time, and so I didn't get to be with him when I was a child until I was old enough to walk when he came home for Thanksgiving.

"He didn't tell me much about the war, but he told me about some friends of his who were also mechanics he worked with."

Kincannon said she was highly impressed when she heard her father pronounce some of his Chinese friends' names.

"He remembered their names 70 years later, and he also remembered some of the words and phrases that they taught him in Chinese.

"He said that he was able to go into villages and bargain with the shopkeepers and buy things. So he sent home a beautiful silk cape, a child's cape, when I was just a little girl, and it had beautiful, embroidered flowers, butterflies and birds. I still have that."

Serving in the Flying Tigers, her father taught the Chinese how to work on US aircraft, including using equipment, operating the plane properly and firing their guns.

"It was a joint effort. They worked together as brothers, they worked side by side, and they had this sense of family that developed between them.

"The Flying Tiger spirit is about overcoming hardships, overcoming disagreements, continuing to work together, cooperating and building a good relationship. And striving toward a common goal is what they did back during World War II."

Her father's generation did that 80 years ago, and "so could people today- pass the spirit of the Flying Tigers to promote the current relationship between China and the US", she said.

Her father passed on the indomitable spirit of the Flying Tigers to her. She continues to pass on this legacy through her writing, preserving the history and memories of that era. Her book The Spray and Pray Squadron identifies 120 men who served with her father in the same bomb squadron, and she contacted their families."I just feel that I must continue that legacy that he established," she said.

Kincannon visited China in October and some of the cities where her father was stationed or visited during the war.

"I was so grateful to be able to have that experience. I hope to be the one to preserve the history and pass on the Flying Tigers' spirit."

Carl Molesworth is also an author who specializes in World War II and has documented the story of the Flying Tigers.

His book Sharks Over China tells the story of the US Army Air Corps unit that continued the fight in China when General Claire Lee Chennault's Flying Tigers disbanded.

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