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The Flying Tiger aces

Here are the nineteen pilots credited with five or more air-to-air victories during their year with the American Volunteer Group, based on my research and that of Frank Olynyck. (Click here for victories attributed to AVG pilots in the air and on the ground.) Where scores are tied, I list the names alphabetically. If you have additional information about any of these men, please send email. Meanwhile, thanks to Skip Guidry, Tom Pearson, and Rick Siciliano for helping update this file.

1 - Robert Neale

A Seattle resident, Bob Neale was a dive-bomber pilot on Saratoga when he joined the AVG. He took over the 1st Squadron Adam & Eves after Sandy Sandell was killed, and was decorated by the British government (Distinguished Service Order) for his exploits in Burma. Awarded the Ten Star Wing Medal by the Chinese. Neale was one of the pilots who volunteered two weeks' additional service in China after the group was disbanded; during that interim, he commanded the U.S. Army's 23rd Fighter Group--as a civilian!--pending the arrival of the designated commander, Colonel Robert Scott. After returning to the States, he served as a civilian transport or ferry pilot for Pan American World Airways. Postwar, he returned to Seattle and ran a fishing resort until his death in 1994. The AVG records credit him with 13 air-to-air victories:

2 - David Lee (Tex) Hill

Born in Korea to a missionary father who later became chaplain to the Texas Rangers, Tex Hill was also a Navy dive-bomber pilot when recruited for the AVG, serving on Ranger on the east coast. He replaced Jack Newkirk as commander of the 2nd Squadron Panda Bears in March 1942. He was decorated with the British Distiguished Flying Cross and the Chinese Nine Star Wing Medal. Devoted to Chennault, he was one of only five Flying Tigers who accepted induction into the U.S. Army in July 1942. He was given the rank of major and the command of the 75th Fighter Squadron. On his second combat tour in China, he served as commander of the 23rd Fighter Group, scoring six more air-to-air victories to become a triple ace. Postwar, he served in the Texas Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, retiring as a brigadier general. He died in 2007. The AVG record credits him with 10.25 air-to-air victories:

3a - George Burgard

A native of Pennsylvania, George Burgard was born August 12, 1915. He attended Bucknell and spent six years as a newspaperman before joining the Army. Trained in B-17s, he was serving as a Ferry Command pilot when he joined the AVG. He was awarded a Ten-Star Wing Medal by the Chinese. Following his AVG service, he flew for American Export Lines. Postwar, he ran a machine shop in Pennsylvania, dying in 1978. The record shows him in a three-way tie as a double ace:

3b - Robert Little

Bob Little is shown as a native of Spokane. Likewise recruited from the Army Air Corps (probably from the 8th Pursuit Group at Mitchel Field), and likewise a double ace, he was killed in action while bombing Japanese positions on the Salween River, 22 May 1942. He was hit by anti-aircraft fire, which may have exploded a bomb on his P-40E Kittyhawk.

Flying Tigers

3c - Charles Older

An honors graduate of UCLA, Chuck Older joined the marines as a breather before law school. He was awarded a Nine-Star Wing Medal by the Chinese. Following the AVG, he joined the Army and returned to China with the 23rd Fighter Group, credited with six more victories and ending the war as a lieutenant colonel. He earned his law degree from the University of Southern California. He was recalled to active duty in 1950 and flew a Douglas B-26 Invader during the Korean War--probably the only Flying Tiger to fly as a U.S. Air Force pilot in another conflict. Appointed to Los Angeles Superior Court in 1967, he presided most famously over the bizzare, ten-month murder trial of Charles Manson. He died in 2006.

6 - Robert T. Smith

A native of Red Cloud, Nebraska, R. T. Smith was serving as an Army flight instructor at Randolph Field when he joined the AVG. He was awarded a Nine-Star Wing Medal by the Chinese. He rejoined the U.S. Army when his tour was finished, serving with the 1st Air Commando in India and Burma and ending the war as a colonel. His facsimile diary, Tale of a Tiger, is one of the best of the AVG memoirs. Postwar, he flew for Trans Word Airlines, wrote radio scripts and screenplays, co-owned a toy company, worked for Lockheed Aircraft and Flying Tiger Line, and served with the Air Force Reserve. He died in 1995. The record shows him with 8.90 air-to-air victories:

7 - William (Mac) McGarry

One of the few AVG recruits who'd actually flown fighter planes--Curtiss P-40s for the 1st Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field--Mac McGarry was shot down over Chiang Mai, Thailand, on 24 March 1942. (Portions of his Tomahawk are now on display at the Chiang Mai airport. It was the discovery of those relicts that prompted me to write my Flying Tigers novel Remains.) After a rough interrogation by the Japanese, he was handed over to the local authorities and the comparative comfort of a Thai jail. Postwar he lived in California. He died I think in the 1990s. The record shows him with 8 air-to-air victories:

8a - Charles Bond

Charlie Bond was born in Dallas on April 22, 1915. As a high-school student, he joined the ROTC and eventually the Texas National Guard. In 1935 he joined the Army in hopes of attending the West Point Preparatory School at Camp Bullis, Texas--a route for enlisted men to attend the Military Academy. Failing to win an appointment, he tried again as a flying cadet. He succeeded in becoming an officer, but was disappointed to be assigned to the 2nd Bomb Group at Langley Field, Virgina, instead of flying "pursuit" as every young pilot dreamed of doing. He was ferrying Hudsons to the RAF when an AVG recruiter caught up with him. The British awarded him the Distinguished Flying Cross for his services in Burma, and the Chinese a Seven-Star Wing Medal. After his AVG tour--which included two weeks' extra service during the transition to the 23rd Fighter Group--he became a career officer, retiring from the Air Force with the rank of major general. In 1984, he published his memoirs as A Flying Tiger's Diary. He died in 2009. He was credited with 7 air-to-air victories with the AVG:

8b - Frank Lawlor

Born in North Carolina in 1914, "Whitey" Lawlor graduated from the state university and joined the Navy in 1938. He was a fighter pilot on Saratoga when he joined the AVG. He was awarded a Seven-Star Wing Medal by the Chinese. He returned to the Navy after his AVG tour, ending the war as a lieutenant commander. He died in 1973 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He tied Bond and Jack Newkirk with 7 air-to-air victories:

Remains - A Story of the Flying Tigers

8c - John Newkirk

His family called him "Scarsdale Jack," to distinguish him from a cousin with the same name. Born in 1913, he received his Eagle Scout badge from no less a hero than the Antarctica explorer Richard Byrd. He learned to fly as a student at Rennselaer Polytechnic, where he eventually accumulated the two years' study that would qualify him to become a cadet aviator in the US Navy. He was a fighter pilot aboard Yorktown, flying the F4F Wildcat, when he volunteered for the AVG. At the age of 27, with his leadership training, he was already a dominant figure in the group by the time he arrived in Burma. By the time he was killed on the Chiang Mai raid, he too had been credited with 7 air-to-air victories, though some AVG veterans hinted broadly that were skeptical of his claims. (It is certainly true that the squadron leaders, who had the primary responsibility for signing off on victories, generally built up their scores more quickly than the other pilots.) For more about the crash, see here.

11a - Robert Hedman

Duke Hedman was the only AVG pilot--and one of very few Americans--to make ace in a single day. (The record was confused when one of his victories was shifted to an earlier day, and again when his flight agreed to share all bonus credits equally.) He attended the University of North Dakota and was serving with the 1st Pursuit Group at Selfridge Field when he joined the AVG. He was awarded a Six-Star Wing Medal by the Chinese. He stayed on in China as a civilian transport pilot for the national airline, CNAC. Postwar, he was a pilot for Flying Tiger Line until he retired in 1971. Though his CAMCO bonus account stands at only 4.83, he was actually credited with 6 victories, putting him in a three-way tie as tenth-ranking AVG ace, and one of very few Americans who achieved acedom in a single day. Death date uncertain.

11b - C. Joseph Rosbert

Joe Rosbert (his first initial stands for Camille) graduated from Villanova as a chemical engineer before joining the Navy in 1938. He was piloting a stately PBY Catalina for VP-44 in San Diego when the AVG signed him up. He was awarded a Six-Star Wing Medal by the Chinese. He served two extra weeks during the transition to the 23rd Fighter Group, then joined CNAC as a transport pilot flying cargo over the "Hump" of the Himalayas. Postwar, he was one of the original founder-pilots of Flying Tiger Line before moving over to Chennault's Civil Air Transport, the predecessor of Air America). Later he ran several "Flying Tiger Joe" restaurants and published Flying Tiger Joe's Adventure Story Cookbook. He died in 2009. He too had six victories in the record:

11c - J. Richard Rossi

Dick Rossi was born April 19, 1915. He attended the University of California and served a hitch in the Merchant Marine before joining the Navy. He was a flight instructor at Pensacola when he joined the AVG. He was awarded a Six-Star Wing Medal by the Chinese. Like the other six-victory aces, he declined to rejoin his country's armed services after the AVG disbanded, staying on in China as a CNAC pilot. He flew for Flying Tiger Line until his retirement in 1971, and was the president of the Flying Tiger Association for over 50 years. He died in 2008.

14 - Robert Prescott

Born May 5, 1913, and therefore the oldest of the AVG aces, Bob Prescott grew up in Texas but moved to California in 1934, where he attended junior college and enrolled in Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He dropped out to join the Navy, serving as a flight instructor before he was recruited by the AVG. He was awarded a Five-Star Wing Medal by the Chinese, Returning to the U.S. when his tour with the AVG ended, he flew briefly for Trans World Airlines before heading back to China to fly for CNAC. Postwar, he founded the Flying Tiger Line, the only "non-sked" established by World War II veterans that survived and prospered, at least until it was absorbed by FedEx. (Until the FAA put a stop to it, he used to fly AVG veterans to their annual reunions.) He died in 1978. The record shows him with 5.5 air-to-air victories:

100 Hawks for China

15a - Percy Bartelt

An engineering graduate of the University of Iowa, Bartelt had served four years in the Navy when he joined the AVG. He quit the AVG in March 1942 and thus received a "dishonorable discharge" from Chennault, depriving him of the veterans' benefits and Silver Star that were later awarded to those who stayed with the group to the end. He was the only ace to be so treated, and probably for that reason I could find no photograph of him in the AVG records. (The mug shot above is cropped from a photo of him as a US Navy pilot, sent to me by his son Rick.) He returned to the Navy as a lieutenant and served as a flight instructor until being hospitalized with a lung infection. He received a disability retirement in 1951 and worked for the state of Minnesota until retirement in 1974. He died in Fargo, ND on March 29, 1986. The record shows him in a five-way tie as the AVG's fifteenth-ranking ace:

15b - William Bartling

A 1938 graduate of Purdue in chemical engineering, Bartling joined the navy and flew a dive bomber off the USS Wasp. He was awarded a Five-Star Wing Medal by the Chinese. He was one of the AVG pilots who volunteered two extra weeks' service in China to ease the transition to the 23rd Fighter group, and he afterward flew for CNAC. Postwar, he was an executive at National Skyway Freight Corporation, which morphed into the Flying Tiger Line, the most successful of the "non-scheds" established by veterans flying war-surplus aircraft (in this case, Douglas C-47s with a rather bemused shark-mouth painted on). He died November 1979.

15c - Edmund Overend

Born May 31, 1914, Eddie Overend was an honors graduate of San Diego State in 1939. A Marine pilot when recruited for the AVG, he had earlier served two years in a machine-gun company--presumably also in the Marines. He became a Flying Tiger ace shortly before his 28th birthday, a fairly advanced age for a fighter pilot in the 1940s, and was awarded a Five-Star Wing Medal by the Chinese. He rejoined the Corps after his AVG tour ended, flying Corsairs with VMF-321 in the Pacific. He tallied 3.5 more combat victories and finished the war with the rank of major. For a time he was head of the UNESCO mission on Taiwan. He died in 1971 and was buried at sea.

15d - Robert Sandell

A former Army flight instructor at Maxwell Field, Sandy Sandell somehow ended up as squadron leader of the AVG 1st Squadron, called the Adam & Eves. He was not particularly liked, but in his short combat career at Rangoon he became one of the first of the AVG aces. He was killed on 7 Feb 1942 when his recently-repaired Tomahawk shed its tail on a test flight over Mingaladon airport.

15e - Robert H. Smith

Sometimes called Snuffy, sometimes Smitty, this Bob Smith attended Kansas State College and served in its ROTC detachment; he had 18 months in the Army Air Corps when he was recruited for the AVG. He was awarded a Five-Star Wing Medal by the Chinese. He rejoined the Army after his tour as a Flying Tiger, commanding the 18th Fighter Group in the Pacific, flying 83 missions, and ending the war as a major. Postwar, he operated a resort in Wisconsin before retiring to Florida, where he died in 1998.

Click here for victories attributed to AVG pilots

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