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A member of the 2nd American Volunteer Group

Every month, regular as clockwork, I get an email asking why the writer's Uncle Bob or (more often now) Grandfather Tom isn't on my roster of Flying Tigers. To keep the emails down, I pose the question in the Flying Tiger FAQ, and I have a boilerplate letter that I send to people who write me anyhow. (The roster is complete. Really it is!)

So when a woman wrote me asking about her dad, Master Sergeant Alfred Charland, I naturally figured that the sergeant was another Flying Tiger wannabe. Much to my surprise, however, she sent me a batch of military memos in which Sgt. Charland kept asking for credit for the time he'd served with the AVG, along with a memo to the effect that he had indeed been released from the U.S. Army "to accept employment with Central Aircraft Mfg. Co." on November 6, 1941. He was then a private. A native of Nashua NH, Charland had joined the army in 1938 and had served a tour in the Panama Canal Zone.

Charland in the U.S. Army As Sgt. Charland told the story, he served with the AVG as an armament instructor for four months, until February 26, 1942. When recruited by a CAMCO representative (at Windsor Locks, Connecticut), he'd been promised that his AVG time would count towards retirement and longevity in the U.S. Army. CAMCO, he said, paid his salary for those four months, until he "volunteered for service with the United States Army Air Force in Melbourne, Australia." He served with the 35th Fighter Group in the New Guinea campaign and as a flight engineer during the Korean War, retiring in 1959. (At left: Sgt. Charland in U.S. service)

Bingo! This was not the kind of yarn invented by wannabes like Roland Sperry. It is too rich in detail, and the detail is intriguingly different from the published accounts of the Flying Tigers. I'm reasonably sure that Sgt. Charland volunteered for the 2nd AVG, a bomber group entirely recruited from the U.S. Army that was ready to head for Southeast Asia when war broke out. CAMCO hired 82 pilots and 359 technicians for the 2nd AVG. They were to have been equipped with Lockheed Hudson and Douglas Boston light bombers; the Hudsons were on the tarmac at Burbank, California, on December 7, and they and their pilots were promptly re-inducted into the U.S. Army. The plan had been for the Hudsons to fly out under their own power, while the Bostons were shipped by sea.

On November 21, however, the technicians and one pilot had already left for Burma aboard the Noordam and Bloemfontein. They had left Hawaii behind by the time of the December 7 attack, and rather than being sent back to shattered Pearl Harbor the ships were diverted to Australia, where they must have arrived sometime toward the end of December. Here, like the planes they were to have serviced, they were re-inducted into the U.S. Army. Knowing what the U.S. Army is like, and the chaos of that winter of defeats, it's not at all unlikely that Sgt. Charland waited two months to put on uniform again.

I was delighted to pick up this thread of the little-known 2nd AVG, and even more delighted that I paid attention to his daughter's insistence that he really had served with the Flying Tigers. (Well, perhaps not with the Tigers, but with the 2nd American Volunteer Group.)

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford