The 77th anniversary reunion for the World War II Flying Tigers was hosted at the Renaissance Dallas Addison Hotel, Saturday evening, Oct. 13, bringing to close a heartfelt weekend spent honoring the 300 original pilots, mechanics, and support personnel who fought against the Japanese in China during the early days of WWII.
This year’s reunion held great significance with 27 American Volunteer Group (AVG) Flying Tigers pilots recognized for achieving “Ace” status, given only to those with five or more downed enemy aircraft in airborne combat. The ceremony also took on a bittersweet feel with the presence of the AVG Flying Tigers’ last living member, 98-year-old Crew Chief Frank Losonksy.
“My grandfather was General Claire Chennault,” said Nell Calloway, CEO and president of the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum in Monroe, Louisiana. “I think all of these reunions are extremely important, because the relationship between China and the United States is the most important relationship that we have in our world today.
“Remembering what we were able to accomplish during World War II together, putting aside our cultural differences, and uniting is important for our future generations as we try to give them a better life.”
Joining the festivities were Air Force chief of staff General David L. Goldfein, and former executive director of the American Fighter Aces Association Colonel Ward Boyce. Col. Boyce helped present Congressional Gold Medals to family members of recipients who could be there.
Texas was the home state of some Tigers, particularly Charles Bond, a Dallas-native, and David “Tex” Hill. Bond eventually rose to Major General of the Texas-based 12th US Air Force, and Hill, a Flying Tiger and US Army Air Corpsman, was credited with a career total of 18 downed enemy aircrafts.
“I’m just honored to accept this award, because I am humbled by what he did,” Meg LoDolce, daughter of Tiger’s chief armorer Robert Neal, said. “My dad never talked to me about what he did. Never, ever, ever, ever. He never wrote a book, he never really cared to promote himself, and he was the leading Ace of the Flying Tigers.
“He became a commercial airline pilot when he got out of the AVG, but he only flew for maybe four years from LaGuardia to Paris, France, before having a severe engine failure on a four prop. He never flew again, got on an airplane again, or even went to an airport again, so I think he realized his 13 lives were probably up.
“I think I was going to do a report in high school, maybe I was 13 or 14, and it was a history assignment on somebody. I’m in the library going through people like George Washington and the librarian, in this little city outside of this island I lived on 60 miles north of Seattle, said, ‘do it on your dad’” said LoDolce. “I said, ‘Really? He owns a fishing resort with 12 cabins, a store, and a boat house. He fishes out in the Puget Sound for salmon. What does anybody care about that for?’ She said, ‘No. He’s a Flying Tiger hero.’ Then I even said, ‘What’s a Flying Tiger?’”
“I’m the author of ‘The Flying Tigers – The Untold Story of the American Pilots Who Waged a Secret War Against Japan,’” Sam Kleiner said. “I’ve been working on this book for a few years, through collaborating with the Flying Tigers Association and getting access to archival documents and a lot of things that families have kept for decades. I want to bring this story to a broader audience.
“I think as a country, we don’t do a good enough job of preserving and taking an interest in so much of our history. A lot of people knew about the Flying Tigers 70 years ago because of the John Wayne movie and obviously that interest has slid. When Americans think of World War II, we think of the landing at D-Day or the flag-raising at Iwo Jima, but we don’t think of China. So much of what I wanted to do with this book was to bring back an understanding that China was an important ally in the war.”
“I’ve been to China many times and most Chinese people know about this history,” Callaway said. “It’s part of their history books. I blame it on the education system that fails to teach history. There are Flying Tiger museums all over China and statues of General Chennault all over China. We’re partnered with three museums in mainland China. They are doing a much, much better job, but we know a lot of that is because the war was fought on their land, losing between 20 and 55 million Chinese people. But you know, patriotism isn’t necessarily a popular subject right now. Yet, if we remember and look at what our guys were able to do and accomplish, it will show how to make a better future for us.
“I always say, we should use history as a mirror into our future. If you don’t know your history, then you’re really in trouble for the future. I see a lot of young people here tonight, hopefully they will learn a little bit about the importance of this history and be inspired to learn more. I think that’s extremely important.
“We’re only one small voice but, you know, somebody’s got to start saying it. If we’re no voice, then it’s gone, so we have to continue to try in whatever way we can. We’re working on movies, video games, I’m even working with people from Hollywood.”
“We promote bicycle safety helmet week and do all of this different stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with our history and how our freedom is not free,” said LoDolce. “I don’t know; it’s just not politically correct to talk about the atrocities that a war has. It’s a different way to raise kids now compared to the way I was raised.”
Written by Matt Hirst