Flying Tigers inspiring next generation

2023-10-07 08:20:01China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

Visit to China by veteran U.S. volunteer pilots aims to help pass on heroic spirit

This month, Flying Tigers veterans Harry Moyer will turn 103 and Mel McMullen will turn 99, and they will embark on a journey to China during which they will help to pass on the spirit of these heroic flyers to the next generation.

Their enthusiasm to educate people, both in China and the United States, about the history of the Flying Tigers and the U.S.-China wartime friendship, has been recognized by President Xi Jinping.

In a recent reply letter to the two veterans and Sino-American Aviation Heritage Foundation Chairman Jeffrey Greene, Xi said it's also his hope for the spirit of the Flying Tigers to be passed down to the next generation.

In 1941, a group of volunteer U.S. pilots, later known as the Flying Tigers, came to China, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Chinese people to fight the invading Japanese troops. They flew over the Himalayas, helping to ship strategic supplies to break through the Japanese blockade.

Moyer was a fighter pilot in the 14th Air Force and he fought throughout World War II. After fighting in the Mediterranean theater, he came to the airfields in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

McMullen was a gunner on a B-24 Bomber, targeting Japanese ships in the South China Sea.

When asked for his reaction to the president's letter, Moyer said it was "earth-shattering".

"I was terribly honored and humbled that the President of China would take time to reach out to veterans in such a profound way, such a positive way," Greene, the foundation's chairman, told China Daily.

The Flying Tigers' stories and their friendship with the Chinese people are lesser known in the United States because actions in Europe during World War II overshadowed the Pacific war effort, Greene said.

"It's a very prominent thing that President Xi's letter shows that China remembers its old friends," he said.

This month, Moyer and McMullen will go on a photo exhibition tour in China organized by Greene's foundation, and the exhibition will travel to a number of Chinese cities, according to Greene.

Moyer's sons and grandchildren, and McMullen's wife, son and daughter-in-law will accompany them.

"It is very encouraging to me and the board members that President Xi said he hoped for passing the Flying Tigers' spirit on to the next generation," said Greene.

"It's the shared American and Chinese legacy of the Flying Tigers, and our job in the United States is showing the Americans how important that relationship remains after 80 years to the Chinese people," he said.

Jiang Jiang, vice-president of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, said earlier this year: "More than 80 years ago, the U.S. Flying Tigers fought side by side with the Chinese people against Japan's fascist aggression, making a great example of China-U.S. cooperation.

"The Chinese people have always remembered the Flying Tigers'actions of justice as they defended humanity's peace with their blood and lives, and the nation cherishes the friendship forged through standing the test of fire in the war."

Since it was established in 1998, Greene's foundation has been committed to rekindling the spirit of cooperation and educating young people about the Flying Tigers.

The foundation has organized nearly 500 Flying Tigers veterans and hundreds of their family members to visit 26 Chinese cities in 13 provinces.

"We have a remarkable photographic collection of China during World War II, simply because when the board members — 500 plus — joined the foundation, they gifted us their photographs from that time," he said.

In 2021, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Flying Tigers, photo exhibitions were held at the Hornet Museum in Oakland, California, the USS Midway museum in San Diego, California, and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

The exhibition to be held in China this month is scheduled for a larger tour of the U.S. next April, according to Greene.

Rekindling friendship

Greene's organization has signed up three schools in the U.S. and three in China for the Flying Tigers Friendship School and Youth Leadership Program.

The program allows students in both countries to exchange with each other through online classes and summer camps, and it has so far involved about 5,000 students in the U.S. and about 10,000 students in China, according to Greene.

Flying Tigers veterans have been invited to talk to the students through online programs, said Greene.

Zhijiang Dong autonomous county in Hunan province was home to a base of the Flying Tigers during World War II, and the county's No 4 Middle School is nearby this historic site.

The school has a long tradition of teaching its students about the Flying Tigers, according to its headmaster Chen Qingqing.

In May, the school, together with Jack Lund Schofield Middle School in Las Vegas, Nevada — named after a Flying Tigers veteran and former Nevada legislator — signed a memorandum of understanding to become a "Flying Tigers Friendship School".

U.S. Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns visited the school last month during a visit to Zhijiang.

In a post on social media, he said he played basketball, learned about local traditions, and "celebrated our shared U.S.-China Flying Tigers history with students and teachers".

While visiting the Zhijiang Flying Tigers Museum, he also appreciated China's efforts to preserve these great memories, said Wu Jianhong, curator of the museum.

"Together with the people in Zhijiang, the Flying Tigers witnessed China's first major victory against foreign invasion in nearly 100 years," he said.

These days, the museum attracts more than 200,000 students for visits every year, and those interested in the history have become its lecturers and volunteers, Wu added.

"We run this memorial to remember that part of history and how the young Flying Tigers at that time came and stayed in China, and how they joined hands with the Chinese people," he said.


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