Nell Calloway, granddaughter of late U.S. General Claire Lee Chennault, remembers her grandfather as a gentle, ordinary man with a beautiful garden and a love for storytelling.
Calloway was eight years old when Chennault passed away. It was only later when she saw a photo of Chennault 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 located in Monroe, in the U.S. state of Louisiana. The museum is the only one in theUnited Statesdedicated to Chennault's heroic deeds and the history of the American Volunteer Group (AVG), the air corps that fought alongside the Chinese while fightingJapanduring WWII.
"Many Americans seem to have forgotten that China and the United States were close friends in the fight against Japan," she said. "I hope my work helps remind others of this important relationship."
China was the first nation to fight fascist Japanese forces. The struggle started on Sept. 18, 1931, when Japanese troops began their invasion of northeast China.
On July 7, 1937, Japanese troops attacked Marco Polo Bridge on the southwest outskirts of Beijing, mounting a full-scale invasion.
Throughout WWII, China was a major battlefield in the fight against the Japanese fascist invasion and the major Asian battlefield in the war against fascists worldwide. China fought, shoulder to shoulder, with other members of the allies against fascism.
In 1941, close to 300 young Americans 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 invading Japanese troops before the United States officially entered WWII.
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 of 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 over half a century.
Rossi, from California, was enrolled in the electrical engineering program at UC Berkeley at the outbreak of WWII. In his memoir 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."
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 in southwest China.
In just seven months, the AVG shot down 299 planes in over 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 Corporation (CNAC). That was where he met Zhou.
In 1944, after graduating from National Southwestern Associated University, Zhou entered CNAC. Zhou was tasked with transporting supplies between India and China on a dangerous but vital airlift route over the Himalayas.
The Himalayan route was the primary means for allies delivering supplies to China after Burma fell to the Japanese. The Burma Road, which connected Lashio in northern Burma to Kunming in southwest China, was cut off in 1942 due to the invasion.
The legendary air route was opened through joint endeavors by Chinese and American 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: over 1,500 Chinese and American pilots died or went missing attempting to bridge the gap between the allies and the Chinese.