I'm currently at the midwestern regional conference of the U.S.-China People's Friendship Association. Last night we had two speakers, General Chennault's grandaughter Nell Calloway, who is in charge of the Chennault Aviation & Aeronautics Museum, and General James Whitehead Jr. Both of them spoke of the Flying Tigers, a group of pilots who the Congress wasn't interested in during a time when our country was pulling itself from the Great Depression,but who President Roosevelt signed an executive order to support. A group of pilots who protected the Chinese landscape against Japanese invasion during WWII. One story stuck out for me:
General Whitehead talked about an air-bombing raid mentioned in my new novel, Blossoms and Bayonets. Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle organized a raid over Tokyo in 1942, one of the first attacks on Japanese soil. His pilots planned to raid Tokyo and then fly to safety in Chinese fields. Of the sixteen pilots, 11 were killed or captured by the Japanese who were scouting for them. The remaining crew were rescued by the Chinese. As punishment for their rescue efforts, the Japanese killed 250, 000 Chinese.
Said General Whitehead, "During the war, 95% of pilots shot down were rescued by the Chinese, and they returned to fight again." He said an amazing bond was formed during the war, one which involved incredible trust and sacrifice on both sides. "How can we not work to bring back this friendship that was?"