China / Society

Last famous Flying Tiger on mainland dies at 92

( Updated: 2012-05-02 14:05

The last remaining heroic pilot of the famed Flying Tigers who lived on mainland China died on April 29 at the age of 92, Qilu Evening News reported on Wednesday.

Wang Yanzhou was the only former pilot on the Chinese mainland who flew with the 1st American Volunteer Group (1941-1942), which later became part of the Chinese-American Composite Wing (1943-1945), better known as the Flying Tigers - the most recognizable of any individual combat aircraft of World War II with their famous painted tigers' shark-faced planes.

Last famous Flying Tiger on mainland dies at 92

Wang Yanzhou (left) in his apartment in the coastal city of Rizhao, Shandong province. The old photo of Wang (right) in the Kuomingtang air force uniform hangs on the wall of his apartment. [Photo/China Daily] 

Wang shot down five Japanese aircraft during the war.

He met with President Hu Jintao six years ago when he was invited to attend the banquet in Beijing to mark the 60 anniversary of victory in the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, removing any questions marks surrounding his political allegiance.

Little was known of Wang's story because of his political background. He was a Kuomintang pilot captured by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in 1946, after his fighter jet encountered navigation difficulties.

Wang became a pilot trainer for the PLA air force, but during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), he was treated as an "enemy of the people" because of his political history.

There were 381 Chinese pilots in the Flying Tigers unit and most of them left for Taiwan with the Kuomintang after being defeated by the Communist Party of China (CPC).

Wang's war heroics were not recognized until 1983, when an official from the United Front Work Department learned of his situation and reported his case to the central government.

In 1984 at the age of 64, Wang got a certificate recognizing him as a retired leading revolutionary. He was given a pension of 3,000 yuan ($466) a month, which he said was enough for his daily needs.

He suffered a painful prostate infection for many years and had to hire a maid to help take care of him and his bedbound wife. The maid costs 1,400 yuan a month.

Despite the lack of money and health problems, Wang said he was happy leading a simple life.

After an operation in July 2010, Wang said his health deteriorated felt the need to tell everyone about his wartime experiences, before it was too late. 

Zhao Longliang, CPC branch secretary at Dasunjia village, where Wang lived, says the local government has done everything it can for Wang. 

"Wang is a village treasure. We would always go to see him and ask what we could do for him," Zhao says. "His heroic tales should be known by more people." 

Wang Li, a female volunteer taking care of veterans, based in Yantai, Shandong province, says their stories should be preserved for posterity. 

"Their stories should be heard by our children and grandchildren because their spirits are the bones of our nation," she said. 

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