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Heroic history shaped by war
( 2003-11-19 08:35) (China Daily)

Last month Patrick Lucas, a 39-year-old American, made a special trip to Fenggang County in Southwest China's Guizhou Province to visit local villagers who saved his friend, Charles Breigan, a pilot with the famous "Flying Tigers" in World War II.

The "Flying Tigers" were formed over 60 years ago by General Claire Lee Chennault, commander of the US 14th Air Fleet, to transport arms and other materials and to support China's fight against the Japanese invaders.

Some of the Tiger pilots were killed during the war and people have been searching for their remains in China's southwestern mountainous regions for the past 20 years.

This story dates back to February 26, 1945 when three US warplanes crashed in Fengyang County. But two pilots, Breigan and Rodderick Massey, bailed out and were saved by local villagers, who later helped them return to the US base at Jiuzhou airport in Huangping County, Guizhou Province.

Early this year, Massey passed away and 83-year-old Breigan asked his friend Lucas, a teacher at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing, to search for the village rescuers in China.

Lucas went to Fenggang alone. With the support of the local government, he finally found 14 witnesses to the crash along with the rescuers of Breigan and Massey, after visiting more than 1,000 villagers in 14 counties and towns in Guizhou Province.

"I was only 12 that year, and I remember it was on the 14th night of the traditional lunar year's first month," recalled An Keshu, a resident of Shuangshan Village in the county's Yonghe Township.

"The roar of planes and gunshots almost lasted all night and later I went out and saw a big 'umbrella' falling down on the hill behind my house, where the villagers found a tall, white-skinned soldier the next morning," said the old man.

That soldier was Charles Breigan, who wrote in his memoir: "The villagers helped me back to the village and bound up my wound at a home. They made a special breakfast for me. It tasted unique and I ate a lot."

After the breakfast, Breigan cut the parachute into several sections and gave them to the villagers as a souvenir. Then he was brought to a neighbouring township, where the villagers found local soldiers, and with their help, Breigan went back to the US base at Huangping County by jeep eight days after his plane crashed.

Meanwhile, at Qingtan Village, which is 5 kilometres from Shuangshan village, Rodderick Massey, who broke one leg on landing, was saved by local villagers.

"We bound up his wound using traditional Chinese herbal medicine and carried him to Fenggang in a sedan chair several days later," said 75-year-old villager Wu Zhongquan.

Lucas was accompanied on this trip by his daughter and 12 other foreign students who came to Fenggang to review a phase of history unknown to most people.

"My father was also a pilot during World War II. Most of my students here are youngsters and I hope they can get to know more about history through this trip," said Lucas.

The first stop was Qingtan Village, where Massey was saved 58 years ago. Local villagers prepared boiled rice dumplings with honey, the same dish they served Massey.

Among the visitors, a Japanese student named Mikima was especially interested.

"As a Japanese person, it was not easy for him to take part in the activity," said Lucas.

When villagers talked about the past, Mikima always listened attentively.

"I'm very lucky because in my country, I heard little about the history that Japan invaded China, and during the visit, I was quite impressed by the courage of the Chinese people to fight against invasion," said the young man from Tokyo.

"What's more, the villagers always treated me with great hospitality even though they know I am Japanese. I will tell my relatives and friends about my experience here," he said.

Then the visitors went to Shuangshan Village to visit the villagers who saved Breigan.

"Because of war, I will never see my good friends again..." The visitors tried to express their feelings by singing a song for local villagers.

"The name of the song is 'Loch Lomond' and it was very popular during the American Civil War. I feel it is also suitable for this occasion," said Martin Matthew, a member of the team.

To commemorate the special experience and the great friendship between the United States and China, local villagers wrote a couplet in red paper, which read: "To recall the merits and virtues of predecessors with a wish for world peace."

"There was a movie called 'Flying Tigers' shot in the 1950s in America, through which many American youngsters got to know the history of that period of time. Our predecessors used to fight against invasion shoulder by shoulder, and we should cherish this great friendship," said Williamson Alexander, an American student.

When it was time to end the visit, local villagers gathered to see off the foreign friends. They had specially prepared several bottles of honey for Breigan.

"He loves honey and he can eat boiled rice dumplings with it," said An Kemin, a resident of Shuangshan Village.

"Hope is the best word to describe my feeling during the visit. With the help of the people in Fenggang, an American finally survived. I have seen hope in this story," said Lucas.

"In the course of searching for the people who saved Breigan, I have also tried to find the common points between China and the United States. The two great countries fought together for the world peace, and they both made great sacrifice. This is our common history.

"American author Pearl Buck, who grew up in China, wrote in her book, 'Chinese and Americans can be good friends,'" he added.

"Though there are still many differences between our two countries in cultures and interests, I believe what Pearl Buck said in her book and it is also my hope."

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