A Nurse with a Gun

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Brunching with a Legend

Prior to WWII, during the summer of 1941, 300 men posing as tourists and carrying passports that identified them as teachers boarded boats for Burma. These brave American men secretly infiltrated China, and took advantage of a clandestine opportunity to fly and fight Japanese imperialism without waiting for their country to enter the struggle. They were led by Claire L. Chennault, a retired Air Corps major who had served as special advisor to the Chinese Air Force since 1937. This group of men was secretly known as the American Volunteer Group (A.V.G) nicknamed the Flying Tigers. The squadron consisted of approximately 100 pilots and 200 groundcrew personnel and was equipped with obsolete P-40B airplanes. Months of combat ensued and the Tigers, greatly outnumbered in the air and operating with precious little resources on the ground scored a very impressive kill ratio against the enemy, 286 Japanese planes shot down at a cost of 12 A.V.G. pilots killed or missing in action. These were the men who wore the commonly seen "blood chit" in case they were shot down. This was the squadron who painted a shark's mouth on their aircraft and set out to fight the Japanese while their country waited for Pearl Harbor. These are men who performed a service that became the stuff of legend.

One of my patients is one of those men. Dick and his gracious wife invited my family over for brunch this morning, and we chatted for hours. He has been battling venous ulcers on his legs, all of which I recently helped him heal. I showed him how to don his compression stockings, and we sat down to swap war stories while the ladies prepared chicken salad sandwiches.

Dick shared a few stories of his combat days with my daughter and me, but he was much more interested in showing off his paintings of rural North Louisiana. He told about his recent visit to Barksdale AFB and seeing a young man in a fighter jacket with a 23rd Fighter Group patch sewn on. This made Dick not angry, but extremely proud. It wasn't until 1992 that the men of A.V.G. were finally recognized as members of the US military during that seven month period of combat. Finally, they were made eligible for veterans' benefits on the basis of that service, and survivors were awarded medals for their heroism. Any boy who has ever dreamed of flying has at least seen the squadron emblem of the Flying Tigers and wondered what it represented. Any boy who has dreamed of flying has seen the blood chit and puzzled at it's significance. Official recognition for these men arrived too late for many, but they had solidly made their mark on history. They had been part of something bigger than themselves, and a legend that will live as long as men take to the skies to combat aggression.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe you should change the first sentence to read "prior to American involvement in wwII" because the war started in 1939.Y'all just drug your feet a bit about getting into the fray.Lots of Brits and Canucks had already lost their lives before Pearl.No offence intended.

7:37 AM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Prior to US involvement, it was not a World War.

I am not attempting to diminish the sacrifices of the many men Brit, Canuck or Yank who fought for a free world prior to the US declaring war in 1941. The US government may have drug their feet, but obviously many Americans, as evidenced by Claire Chennault and the A.V.G. and other such groups did not.

8:04 AM  
Blogger Sterno said...

My Wife's grandfather was a Flying Tiger too. He wasn't much for telling war stories either. He took all the things I would've liked to have known with him to his grave. I wonder why that is?

9:27 AM  
Blogger Paul Simer said...

As a teenager in Little Rock, I mowed the lawn of a gentleman in my church who was one of those men, as well. He'd just smile and shake his head when I'd ask him a question about those days. The only useful information I ever got from him was some instruction in how to operate a flight simulator I had bought with yard-mowing money.

Heck of a man, though. I think he's still kicking over there.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous MDL said...

Sterno, the reason they don't talk about it is becuase most heroes don't think of themselves as doing anything beyond what anyone else would have done. In their view they didn't do anything special.

9:21 PM  
Blogger Pawpaw said...

Didja know that General Chennault was a Louisiana boy? Hailed from the environs near Cloutierville, in Natchitoches Parish. He has kinfolk still there.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Yep. Chennault retired in seclusion not to far away from me. He had a Chinese wife who would run interferrence for him. Dick told me about going to see the old man for the last time, and having to play twenty questions just to get in the door.

6:17 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Links to this post:

Create a Link