December 13 marks what would have been the 100th birthday of Carl Kice Brown, the last Flying Tiger pilot, who passed away peacefully at his home in Corcoran, California, three months ago.
"He had been doing well and then suddenly took a turn for the worse at the end of August and passed Sept. 8, 2017," said Julia Brown, one of the late pilot's daughters, in an email to Xinhua.
Born in 1917, Brown attended Michigan State University until 1939, when he suspended his studies to join the U.S. Navy.
In 1941, close to 300 young Americans registered to join the American Volunteer Group (AVG) and were deployed to Asia.
Organized and commanded by Claire Lee Chennault, the AVG, which came to be known as the "Flying Tigers," was a volunteer band of about 300 pilots and ground staff whose sole purpose was to help China fight invading Japanese troops before the United States officially entered WWII.
Through the introduction of his friend Tex Hill, who would go on to become an AVG squadron leader, Brown received an honorable discharge from the Navy and signed up for the AVG.
"Most of the pilots were just two to three years out of high school," Brown recalled earlier this year.
Brown participated in the Flying Tigers' first battle on Dec. 20 that year. The fighting took place over Kunming in southwest China and brought down nine Japanese planes.
According to a tribute provided by his family, Brown also took part in a mission over the Nujiang River, during which double ace pilot Bob Little was killed while flying on his wing.
After the AVG disbanded in July 1942, Brown flew as a pilot transporting supplies between India and China on a dangerous but crucial airlift route over the Himalayas.
"My father indicated that he was honored to do his duty and help the Chinese people during the war. My father spoke fondly of the Chinese people," Julia told Xinhua. Brown still drank Tsingtao beer when he was 98 years old.
In 1945 the legendary pilot returned to the United States, resumed his undergraduate studies, and graduated in 1946. He went on to receive his M.D. and J.D. degrees in the 1950s and 1980s, respectively.
"My memory of Carl Brown is that he was a great friend of my late husband," said Lydia Rossi, wife of late ace pilot Dick Rossi.
"Whenever Dick had a medical question he would call Carl and get an educated and helpful answer. They would talk on the phone to each other every month and keep abreast of what was going on in each other's lives," Lydia said.
Brown is survived by six children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Julia is the only child who has travelled to China. The trip, which she made when she was 19 years old, covered Keelung, Kaohsiung and Hong Kong.
"I truly loved traveling to China and the culture was fascinating to me as a young person," Julia said. "I would love to visit again!"
"Carl was a man who took his own path in life and did not concern himself with doing the latest popular thing. He was his own man, but he respected others," Lydia told Xinhua.
From December 1941 to July 1942, 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. Their bravery penned a celebrated chapter in China-U.S. friendship.
Julia said she was proud that the United States stood up to help and sent the Flying Tigers to work with the Chinese people to defend themselves.
By now, most of the Flying Tigers have passed away -- not in battle, but from old age. Squadron crew chief Frank Losonsky, 97, is now the last surviving Flying Tiger.