Cynthia Chennault, daughter of the legendary late U.S. General Claire Lee Chennault, still remembered how her beloved father described his feeling on the victory over Japan during the Second World War.
“He was confident that with adequate support, the Allies would drive out the Japanese invaders,” the professor emerita with the University of Florida, told Xinhua.
“He worked hard for this goal,” said the 69-year-old, who traveled frequently between the United States and China, dedicated to cultural and people-to-people exchanges, an effort she deemed vital for the friendship long forged by the two nations.
In 1941, General Chennault, commander of the U.S. 14th Air Fleet, recruited the American Volunteer Group, which was later known as the “Flying Tigers.”
During the war, the U.S. general trained, organized and inspired both American and Chinese pilots to overcome language and cultural barriers. The “Flying Tigers” helped transport arms and other materials to support China’s fight against the Japanese invaders.
Calling the “Flying Tigers” history “a great success story of mutual friendship, respect and collaboration,” Chennault said the experience means more to her father.
“It completely changed his life,” she said. “He had never been to China before, and within a very short few months, he developed profound respect for Chinese people, and their bravery and perseverance in such difficult circumstances.”
“It was an opportunity for him to prove his aviation theory and his fighter pilot theory. So it’s a dream come true for him,” she said.
When her father died in 1958, Chennault was only eight years old. She made her first trip to the Chinese mainland in 1981 during which she explored more about her father.
“When talking to people on streets, some had memories of that time and said my family helped to build the runway,” she said, while recounting that visit.
She was even surprised that there were many more “Flying Tigers”-themed museums set for the past years, which she thought was “very positive” as the joint efforts have been widely recognized and remembered.
The expert in Chinese culture, who attributed her career choice largely to her father, said she expects a new chapter could be written based on the U.S.-China WWII friendship.
Chennault has been echoed widely by other “Flying Tigers” families on the significance of shared golden memories and the joint efforts to continue the friendship.
“I know that the Chinese people called the Flying Tigers heroes. But my father always said that the Chinese people are the heroes, because they saved his life,” Edward Beneda, son of U.S. Flying Tigers veteran Glen Beneda, told Xinhua.
Beneda’s father was assigned to China as a fighter pilot in the U.S. 14th Air Force in 1943 at the age of 19.
The sacrifices Chinese and Americans made side by side in the war are our common heritage which should be cherished by our two countries, said Beneda, vice chairman of the Sino-American Aviation Heritage Foundation (SAAHF).
“We disagree from time to time, but the important thing is remembering the history, remembering the investment that we have in the lives of the Chinese and the Americans,” he added.
Beneda said his father regarded the China experience a valuable lesson, namely to be good to others and to serve.
“We consider the Chinese people as part of our family. I’m not talking about just the ones that saved my father’s life, but we have a very profound and strong relationship with all the Chinese people,” Beneda said emotionally.
For 63-year-old James Bryant, son of Flying Tiger veteran James E. Bryant, who joined the army in the early 1940s and went to China after receiving pilot training in 1944, it was the shared dream by peoples of the United States and China that led to the wartime victory.
Bryant told Xinhua that he honored all of the American and Chinese veterans during the wartime for their bravery and sacrifice. “The world that I grew up in would have been a lot different if America and China had lost the war,” he said.
“Friendship never happens accidentally. They’re the consequence of shared dreams and common experiences during the Flying Tiger times. So, that’s exactly what evolved between the Flying Tigers and the people of China,” Bryant emphasized.