Even though my home was thousands of miles away from the raging turmoil of the battlefronts during World War II, living practically on the beach along the Pacific coast we were constant hostage to attack. Although most people don't know it or they don't remember it, the hostilities of the war visited our shores more than once, and sometimes so close it was like it was in our front yard. Japanese submarines prowled the waters all up and down the coast with shipping being hit, torpedoed, damaged and sunk. The mainland being hit with shells, bombs, and by air attacks. A two-man Japanese midget submarine washing up on shore next to the pier in the town where I lived and said to have had two dead Japanese officers inside. Sure, it was nothing like what was happening in either of the two major theaters, but happening none the less. See:
WORLD WAR II COMES TO REDONDO
TWO-MAN JAPANESE- MIDGET SUBMARINE MOUNTED
ADJACENT TO THE MOTHER SHIP'S CONNING TOWER
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For me, as a kid, almost all of the whole Pacific Theater was tied together in one big lump because the common enemy throughout was the Japanese --- starting from our own coastline westward to Hawaii into the South Pacific, across China and over the Hump into Burma and India. In Europe you had stalwart American Generals such as Eisenhower and Patton while in the Pacific, Generals such as Douglas MacArthur and Joseph Stilwell.
While it is no doubt that MacArthur was up there for me General-wise, Stilwell along with the Flying Tigers commander Claire Chennault reigned supreme in my life for personal reasons. As the Japanese withdrew along California and the Pacific west coast they began concentrating their efforts thousands of miles farther westward, even as far as a major invasion into India from Japanese occupied Burma. Stilwell's few American troops, along with the Chinese, British and Indian troops, threw together a line of defense that in the early months was initially overrun, but, as the Allies coalesced the fighting ability of their armies it wasn't long before the Japanese faced a humiliating defeat and had to retreat back across Burma, loosing the lives of thousands and thousands of their soldiers and tons and tons of their equipment in the process.
Although I was born and raised in a southern California beach community, the reason Stilwell played a major role in my life was because at the exact same time the Japanese launched their full scale invasion into India and he was called upon to help stem it, as a very young boy, I was in India traveling with a couple I had been fostered out to because of debilitating illness faced by my mother. Like thousands of refugees that fled ahead of the Nazi onslaught in Europe, if the Japanese had been successful in their invasion attempts into India and not stopped by the likes of General Stilwell, I too may have been a refugee caught up in events much larger than myself, trying to escape the onslaught of the Japanese. See:
JAPANESE INVASION OF INDIA
DURING WORLD WAR II
THE LAST AMERICAN DARSHAN
In 1920 Stilwell went to China as one of the first two U.S. Army officers ever assigned to that country. He studied at the North China Language School in Beijing (Peking) for three years, making frequent trips into the interior to learn the varied dialects and customs of the Chinese people.
After leaving China he continually went back and forth for a number of assignments, eventually, in 1934, being appointed the U.S. military attaché in Beijing. Not taking the position lightly, rather than sitting around in the embassy drinking tea, he marched alongside Chinese troops. He ate Chinese chow with chopsticks. He carried his own bedroll and slept in Chinese bivouacs. He talked with Chinese soldiers in their own language. Gradually he even reached the point where he could think in Chinese. Four years later, in 1939, he returned to the States for retirement. During the early part of his four year stint in China, even though there was no formal war between China and Japan, because of war-like events between the two, things began to deteriorate. By 1937 the following happened as found at the source so cited:
"China, had however, been in a full-scale war with Japan since at least July 1937 when the Japanese claimed they were fired upon by Chinese troops at the Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing. From that the Japanese retaliated by launching an invasion from Manchuria. By November 1937 Shanghai, China's most important sea port fell followed by Nanking, Chiang Kai-shek’s capital, in December 1937."(source)
With the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the much earlier fall of Shanghai as noted above and the continued advances of Japanese forces throughout Asia, in February 1942 Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek asked for a U.S. general to direct American military activities in China. Stilwell, who never really retired in a traditional sense, was approached, and in late February 1942, less than three months after Pearl Harbor, he and his staff arrived at Chungking. Two weeks later he was on the Burma battlefront directing the Chinese forces in his dual capacity as chief of staff to Chiang Kai-shek and Commanding General of Chinese troops in Burma.
Now, while it is true large numbers of the populace of United States as well as the military (it would seem) were ignorant to what was going on in the world and caught off guard by such a blatant attack as the Japanese against Pearl Harbor, the prospect of war in both Asia and Europe had loomed large over the horizon for a long time. So said, not all were totally unaware of the potential possibility. The comics above illustrating Stilwell in Burma et al, all entered the popular culture post Pearl Harbor, but the prospects of such had long been seeping into peoples thoughts for years.
Below are four separate panels from the daily Terry and the Pirates newspaper strip that linked together form a tightly interrelated four day series circulating around the Dragon Lady and how, four years after the strip was developed, she began taking on the more complex character she became. The four panel series, dating from Wednesday March 30, 1938 through to Saturday April 2, 1938, well before any entrance into the war by the United States, clearly show the Dragon Lady, through the eyes and ears and thoughts of the artist Milton Caniff, setting into motion the early stages of a formal pirate-based resistance group to fight against the Japanese invaders:
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PBY BLACK CAT ATTACKING AT MAST HEIGHT IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT
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A SOLDIER'S STORY
THE JAPANESE SECRET WAR
GEN. STILWELL: THE GIs' FAVORITE
JACK NEWKIRK OF THE FLYING TIGERS
THE BURMA CAMPAIGN DURING WORLD WAR II
Seizing Imphal and Kohima
P-40: FIGHTER IS A REBUILT PIECE OF WWII HISTORY
THE SO-CALLED BATTLE OF L.A.--800 FOOT ZEPPELIN-SIZE UFO
CAUGHT IN SEARCHLIGHT BEAMS OVER LOS ANGELES IN 1942
THE P-40s OF THE IV INTERCEPTOR COMMAND STAYED DOWN.
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ON THE RAZOR'S
As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.
The American Volunteer Group, the AVG, or as it was better known, the Flying Tigers, had gone into Burma well before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Stilwell was sent to China a few months later, toward the end of February 1942, thus then establishing a formal U.S. presence. By March he and his team were operating in Burma along side Chinese troops. With a formal American presence the AVG, that is, the Flying Tigers, was disbanded on July 4, 1942 being replaced by the Army Air Force along with new and updated equipment including replacing the more-or-less obsolete P-40s with P-51s.(see) Only a handful of the original members decided to stay on. The rest were left to their own vices to find their way back to the U.S. from the far west of China and Burma.
There was no love lost between the A.V.G. and Stilwell, they certainly didn't seem to appreciate him anywhere near the level the article seems to lay him out to the rest of the world. Some in their ranks think he copped out. Erik Shilling, a pilot for the Flying Tigers and the person considered most responsible for having the shark teeth imagery painted on the nose of the A.V.G. P-40s as found in FEI WEING: Birth of the Flying Tigers, thinks Stilwell's actions closely replicate just such a scenario, .i.e., cop out. And his opinion ties in perfectly with some of the other comments below. Shilling writes, of which the source can be found at the Fei Weing link above:
"The Chinese army, that had been under General Stilwell's command, was in disorganized retreat, going back to China. Stilwell had abandoned his command, and left the Chinese army to fend for themselves.
"'Vinegar Joe' Stilwell was retreating in the opposite direction on his way to India. The only thing that stood between China and Japan's Red Dragon Division was Chennault's Flying Tigers. Had the Japanese army been successful in crossing the Salween river, it was most likely that the entire country of China would have fallen.
"Although the allied world was crumbling, the unparalleled success of the Flying Tigers over the Japanese was an answer to fervent prayers of the free world. This taste of victory against Japan was a light at the end of a long dark tunnel, and a ray of hope in face of the disasters befalling the allies throughout the rest of the world. Our successes against unbelievable odds, left no doubt in the minds of the American people as to the eventual outcome of the war. Oddly enough we were flying a fighter plane the British didn't want, and by U.S. Army Air Corps standards, was considered obsolete, yet we were making aviation history with the Curtiss P-40.
"From a military standpoint, the most important, but seldom referred to, and overlooked concerning its importance to the war effort, was that the Flying Tigers alone stopped the rapidly advancing crack Japanese army, known as, 'The Red Dragon' at the Salween River Gorge."
Olga Greenlaw, wife of the second in command of the Flying Tigers, who wrote the definitive book about the Group titled The Lady and the Tigers, was an integral part of the AVG operations from the very beginning until they were disbanded. On her way home to the states, while speaking of still being in India, in her book she wrote:
"The Calcutta newspapers annoyed me. I noticed how they were building up the R.A.F. and the new American Tenth Air Force and giving the A.V.G. slight credit --- if at all. I found one story --- about the Jap Advance toward Yunnan Province --- particularly irksome:
THE DRIVE TOWARD PAOSHAN
In north-east Burma another border battle is taking place, and the Japanese vanguards thrusting up the Burma Road are 60 miles to the west of Paoshan, 200 miles inside the Yunnan border. The Chinese have destroyed the bridges across the Salween River and are holding the east bank. Small parties of Chinese appear to be operating in many directions up the Burma Road, and guerilla warfare stages appears to have been reached.
"On and on it went. The whole thing is so familiar to me. No mention of the A.V.G., who were the one who had destroyed the large bridge across the Salween by dropping bombs."
THE GORGE, THE BURMA ROAD, THE SALWEEN RIVER, AND THE HUITONG BRIDGE
The large bridge across the Salween so mentioned in the above quote attributed to Olga Greenlaw was the Huitong Bridge. To this day, for the most part, the Flying Tigers still don't get credit. Although Stilwell had nothing but a series of major setbacks by an initially much superior and better trained adversary in the early stages of the war, it was the destruction of the Salween/Huitong bridge by the Tigers before they were disbanded that stopped the Japanese in their tracks, thus giving Stilwell much needed time and allowing him to be as successful as he was as well as setting the stage for his later victories.
THE FLYING TIGERS
THE BOY IN THE MAN REMEMBERS THE LEGEND
FACT OR FICTION: DID THE FLYING TIGERS BOMB HANOI?
THE FLYING TIGERS BOMB HANOI: 1942
FOR THE FULL CLAIRE CHENNAULT AND HIS FLYING TIGERS STORY PLEASE CLICK IMAGE