China / Society

Flying Tiger relics land in Chongqing museum

By Luo Wangshu and Tan Yingzi in Chongqing ( Updated: 2014-05-16 19:36

Jim Underwood, a member of the Flying Tiger who died last year, will never know that his jacket has been returned to the battlefield where he fought during World War II.

The brown leather jacket is worn and faded. On the back is Underwood's "talisman", a patch with the American flag on the top, and on the bottom, in five other languages: "soldiers from foreign countries helping in the war, please help!"

The Flying Tigers, also known as the 1st American Volunteer Group, were a group of American and Chinese pilots fighting together against Japanese invading troops during the Second World War.

The jacket — along with 468 other relics going back to the period of 1937-45 — was donated to the Chongqing Historic Sites Museum of the War of Resistance Against Japan by Pedro Chan of Los Angeles.

The donation included several jackets, medals given to American soldiers by the Kuomintang government and family letters.

"The donations are precious relics, which demonstrate the bond of Sino-US relationship during wartime. The friendship is solid, made of blood," said Qian Feng, the museum's curator.

Most foreign soldiers couldn't speak the local language. The talisman on Underwood's jacket, Qian said, served to ask residents to help them by informing authorities or taking them to the hospital, for example.

He said that it is rare to see such a well-preserved jacket, "which is just like the one in the historical photos," Qian added.

The letters between soldiers and their families quickly drew Qian's attention.

"The letters are very valuable to academic researchers. The soldiers from Western countries recorded their true feelings about the war and eastern Asia, including how they looked at the Chinese army," Qian said. "It will help historians understand how the world saw China at that time."

Qian added that the museum is organizing a team to translate the letters.

"The donated items also show that the collaboration between China and the United States during the war was not only about military or government cooperation; it also extended to understanding between ordinary people," Qian said.

Chan, donor of the items, visited Chongqing at the beginning of this month and told the local media that he spent seven years collecting the relics. For what he spent on them, he said, he could have bought a house in the United States.

"But it would only be me seeing these if I kept them at home," said Chan, a native of Guangdong province who moved to the US at a young age. He is now an acupuncturist in California, where he owns a clinic.

His collection began, he said when he met some Chinese veterans at a gathering in 2007, Chan recalled. "Some of them owned relics from the Flying Tigers. Families even thought of getting rid of them."

Later that year, Chan and his wife organized a trip to South China's Guangdong province. Joining them were 11 Flying Tiger veterans, most of whom were in their 90s. Ten of them have since died.

Chan said he purchased Underwood's jacket on eBay.

"Underwood passed away last year, and the jacket was found among his effects. It was listed on $3,000 on eBay. It was not cheap, but it was worth it. No textbook can tell better history than these relics," Chan said.

According to the museum's curator, Chan has been donating items for the past two years. Two batches of relics have been delivered, and he will be donating a third batch soon.

Chen Jia in New York contributed to the story.

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