Gail Cooper Baumgartner-Brown (L) and her husband William Brown place a bunch of flowers on the tomb of her father Joseph Cooper in the suburb area of Chicago, the United States, on Aug. 18, 2017. (Xinhua/Wang Ping)
Gail Cooper Baumgartner-Brown placed a bunch of flowers on the tomb of her father in a cemetery about 37 miles (59 kilometers) northwest of Chicago, and her husband William Brown poured some water into the flower bottle, wishing the blossoming flowers can last longer.
The headstone on the ground reads: Joseph Cooper: 1920-2006. Besides being the father of Gail Cooper Baumgartner-Brown, Cooper is also remembered as a veteran Flying Tigers soldier who had served in China.
The Flying Tigers, with General Claire Lee Chennault as its commander, is a household name in China. It is a general name for the First American Volunteer Group (AVG), the 23rd Fighter Group (FG) of the United States Army Air Corp and the U.S. 14th Air Force that once stood shoulder in shoulder with Chinese people in China in its fight against Japanese invaders. The menacing looking shark-mouth design painted on the Flying Tigers' planes has become an icon and the most recognizable image of any combat unit in World War II.
The Flying Tigers bragged an amazing combat record during their stay in China from 1941 to 1945: destroying more than 2,600 enemy aircrafts, 44 enemy warships, 13,000 enemy ships and 335 bridges; killing over 66,000 Japanese soldiers; and transporting 800,000 tons of war supplies and 100,000 soldiers and refugees.
Chicago native Joseph Cooper, then 21, was enlisted in the U.S. Army two days after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. In addition to basic training, he went through mechanic school and flight training at various bases throughout the United States before shipping out of California on the USS Hermitage. He and his fellow soldiers didn't know exactly where they were going until after refueling in Perth in west Australia, they realized they were heading to India.
Once in Mumbai, India, Cooper and the rest of his group finally found out their final destination was China. They left for Chabua, where they would be flying over the Himalayan Mountains, affectionately referred to as "the Hump" by the soldiers.
One of Cooper's roles with the AVG was KP, or Kitchen Police, a role often served as punishment, but Cooper genuinely enjoyed the duty. One day, Cooper was informed he'd be leaving to fly over the hump to Kunming in southwest China, and his fellow KP would follow on the next flight.
But the flight on the next day never landed as it crashed into a mountain in the heavy fog, killing all on board. Cooper was the only one of the eight KP that survived.
This was just one of the five narrow escapes through Cooper's military career.
By training, Cooper was a mechanic and an engineer. He never intended to be a gunner. However, when one day in darkness one Japanese bomber opened their bomb bay door, and inadvertently left a light on, Cooper and others in his group jumped on anti-aircraft guns and began to fire.
"He got a gun and just tried to do his best to take aim and follow the light as best as he could," Gail said. "He didn't know if he ever actually scored a hit because other fellas were shooting too, but he did find out that plane never dropped a bomb that night. He or somebody did get him and it went down."