Flying Tiger Veterans Provide Diplomatic Link For U.S. And China


With U.S.-China relations at dangerous World War III-threatening loggerheads, could a pair of World War II veterans provide invaluable common ground? Incredibly, Mel McMullen, now in his late 90s, and Harry Moyer, who turned 103 on Monday (Oct. 30), traveled to Beijing this week to be honored by China for their service with the American Volunteer Group (AVG)—better known as the “Flying Tigers”—more than eight decades ago.

McMullin and Moyer, among the few surviving members of the legendary volunteer brigade, were honored by China Monday. Back in 1941, the AVG, led by rogue Louisianan General Claire Chennault, flew castoff U.S.-built Curtiss P-40 fighters—painted with signature shark-mouth noses—against the theretofore overwhelming Japanese air armada that had laid waste, virtually unopposed, to China. Beginning shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Flying Tigers exacted crippling damage on the Japanese effort to overrun China, while providing the U.S. war effort with an invaluable morale boost after the devastation of the Pearl Harbor catastrophe.

This week’s Chinese news reports showed the American heroes meeting with Vice President Han Zheng, who told them Chinese-American cooperation is vital to addressing today’s major global challenges and that his hope is that the spirit of the Flying Tigers may be passed through the generations to bring about mutual cooperation in the 21st century.

As reported by AP, McMullin told the Chinese press how downed American pilots were sheltered by farmers who hid them from Japanese soldiers, knowing they and their families were at risk for their lives. “I think that’s something we should all understand,” he said at a ceremony hosted by the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. “People are the same. Their governments may be different, but the people actually always have one desire, and that is to live and to raise their families in peace, and in the customs of their predecessors. And I needed to say that and I’m sorry it took so much time.”  

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. If you haven’t yet, read “God is my copilot” by Robert L. Scott. He too was honored by the Chinese for his tireless service against the Japanese in the China theater. It’s the most riveting account of air combat I’ve ever read.

    • My paperback copy is autographed by the author. Another excellent window into the AVG was R.T. Smith’s Tale of a Tiger. Published in 1986, it consists of photographs of the actual pages of his handwritten wartime diary (strictly forbidden) footnoted with his observations from later in life. Fascinating. I was able to spend some time with both men.
      Also, Charlie Bond’s Diary of a Flying Tiger is excellent.

  2. But the Tigers fought against communism/totalitarianism.
    It’s perverse to think that the Tigers have common ground with the communists that took over China after the war.

        • It’s seriously perverted to equate the Tigers with support for dictatorships. They did not fight and die to support Communism/Dictatorships. Post war China is not what they sacrificed themselves for. Period.

    • I don’t think that McMullin and Moyer were endorsing the CCP in any way, they are just acknowledging the fact that Chinese people helped the AVG in 1941-1942 and that the AVG helped stall Japanese aggression in China. The Flying Tigers Museum in Guilin and other tributes to the AVG in China are testimony to the genuine gratitude towards the AVG.
      (My Godfather, Charles Sawyer was a pilot in the AVG Adam&Eves 1st pursuit squadron.)

      • When the meeting is about “Chinese-American cooperation” that means between governments, not people. That’s the rub.

  3. The P40’s were hardly “cast-offs”. A lot of political wrangling and even a little skullduggery occurred before they were “diverted” to Burma for use by Chennault. There is an excellent little museum in Monroe, LA devoted to Claire Chennault.

    • They were early export models – not front-line. A lot of that had to do with the time it took for the political wrangling and skullduggery you mentioned.

      • i talked to Tex once; he said getting anything past Japan and into China was a miracle. Hats off to these brave men who did so much with so little.

      • specifically:'s,fame%20flying%20against%20overwhelming%20odds

        “The P-40B Tomahawk evolved from the Curtiss Model 75 Hawk, a radial-engined fighter introduced in the mid-1930s. First flown in October 1938, the XP-40 was the fastest U.S. Army fighter at the time, and deliveries of the P-40 began in June 1940. The P-40B first flew in November 1941, and was quickly sent to the Royal Air Force (RAF) under Lend-Lease. The original models lacked self-sealing fuel tanks and carried two .50-caliber cowl-mounted guns and two .30-caliber guns in the wings. The P-40B was improved with self-sealing tanks, pilot armor and two extra wing guns, though the RAF versions of the Tomahawk were armed with six .303-caliber machine guns. B and C-model Tomahawks served with the RAF in North Africa in 1941-1942, where it was quickly discovered that the aircraft was inferior to the German BF-109, except at low altitude. The British turned down further deliveries, preferring to wait for the more powerful P-40D and E ‘Kittyhawk.’

        “With the signing of the Lend-Lease Act, the Chinese Commissioner of Aviation, T.V. Soong, approached the U.S. to procure aircraft for China’s air force. A number of P-40Bs were available, and were sold to a Chinese company. CAMCO, as it was called, shipped crated P-40Bs to Rangoon, Burma, where they were assembled.”

        • …and this just occurred to me. The airplane i’m sitting in in my author’s photo is a replica of the Model 75 Hawk.

  4. Well, in todays polarized world it’s nice to see two opposing sides coming together. That in itself is positive and welcoming. No harm in thanking those who helped in the past.

  5. I wonder if this is posturing by China to degrade relations between Japan and the USA, for whatever reason. China surely has no love for the Japanese, and may relish a chance to stick it to them on the international scene. But, on the face of it, I think it’s great the Chinese are recognizing US airmen for the part they played in wresting China from Japan’s grip. It’s a refreshing change of positive diplomacy between our two countries. Figures that aviation would help make that happen.