Almost from the first days of the 23rd Fighter Group in China, the Army pilots who replaced the AVG were calling themselves "Flying Tigers," a mild deception that was encouraged by Stilwell, Chennault, and the War Department, which didn't want the public to know that the invincible Tigers of Burma and China had gone home or switched to flying transport planes, all except five who were commissioned on July 4, 1942. Though it distresses AVG families and admirers today, that conflation was perfectly understandable, so it didn't bother me particularly when the government of China set out in recent years to borrow the Tigers' fame to enhance their own self-image in the "Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945," as it is called today. But even more recently, I've noticed what seems to be a deliberate melding of the American Volunteer Group and the USAAF fliers who replaced it, not only in the People's Republic but also on the former Nationalist island of Taiwan. Here for an example is a "blood chit" worn by Delee Boyd Crum of Baton Rouge, who flew for the 14th Air Force in China. It's on display at the Armed Forces Museum in Taipei, in an exhibition "dedicated to the American Volunteer Group (AVG) or Flying Tigers, volunteer airmen who flew missions against Japanese forces on behalf of the Republic of China." But AVG fliers and ground crew were issued chits with much lower numbers than this one — see the blood chit story here.
Got a nice email from a gent who'd purchased an AVG flight jacket formerly worn by "Van Johnson, Jr." of the 3rd Squadron. Of course there was no such Flying Tiger, but come to find out, it really says "Van Shapard, Jr." So yes, it's likely genuine! Evander Shapard was one of the flight instructors recruited in the fall of 1941, many of whom joined the combat squadrons in the spring of 1942, Van among them. I also heard from the family of John Hennessy with fresh information about his life, which is posted here.
Their stories, along with those of the other men who were recruited to fly for China in the summer of fall of 1941, are told in 100 Fair Pilots: The Men Who Became the Flying Tigers, a $2.99 e-book available from Amazon stores worldwide and most other e-tailers. I'll be updating the text as new information comes in, as it regularly does. The cover photo, by the way, was taken by R.T. Smith and shows Ken Jernstedt, Chuck Older, and Tom Haywood against the background of R.T.'s Number 77 Tomahawk, used with the kind permission of his son Brad.
Meanwhile, I've posted a fourth installment of pilot biographies, from Maurice Maguire to Pappy Paxton. See them here. I'll be adding to this each month until I've exhausted the supply, which thanks to the flight instructors actually comes to 110. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford
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Posted September 2015. Websites ©1997-2015 Daniel Ford; all rights reserved.