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Solving a military 'mystery' for a reader

By Chris Davis | China Daily | Updated: 2016-08-16 07:53

A reader writes in: "I am interested in the subject of the US Army Observer Group in China 1945-1947. In particular, I would like any information about Henry Whittlesey, who was a member of that group and went missing/died and his body never recovered. He must have done something heroic to have Mao (Zedong) have a building dedicated to him with his name on it."

"Would Dr (Andrew) Lam be able to shed light on this, given his research in writing Two Sons of China?"

The US Army Observer Group in China, also known as the Dixie Mission, was the country's first attempt to establish official relations with Mao's Communist Party of China and the People's Liberation Army, who were holed up in the northern mountain city of Yenan (Yan'an).

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, China Daily was able to catch up with Lam - a Yale-trained eye surgeon whose passion is World War II history and whose novel, Two Sons of China (Bondfire Books) came out last year.

He happened to be on vacation in Portugal, but wrote: "Henry Whittlesey was a 30-year-old 1st lieutenant who arrived in Yenan with the Dixie Mission's first cohort of nine Americans on Jul 22, 1944. Each member of the group was assigned a specific duty, and Whittlesey's was to work with the Chinese Communists to facilitate the rescue of downed American airmen who had been shot down or ditched behind enemy lines in northern China.

"In October 1944, Whittlesey was one of the few Americans to accompany a force of Communist guerrillas on a four-month mission deep behind Japanese lines. They traveled east from Yenan on foot or by mule, across Shanxi and Hebei provinces - over a thousand miles (1,600 kilometers) in severe winter weather.

"On the return trip, Whittlesey and a Chinese interpreter ventured into a village, unaware that the Japanese had recently arrived and occupied it. Whittlesey and the interpreter were captured. The Communists launched an attack and lost many soldiers in a desperate attempt to rescue them. They drove the Japanese out of the village but were too late to save either man - both had been executed. Whittlesey had been shot in the back of the head and bayoneted in the back.

"In Yenan, the Americans renamed their mess hall 'Whittlesey Hall'. Henry Whittlesey was later buried in Chengdu. He was the Dixie Mission's only casualty."

The reader wrote back: "Amazing! I greatly appreciate your diligence and the follow-up to my search re Henry C. Whittlesey. His brother, Al, was a contemporary of my in laws in Meadowbrook, Pa. He and his wife gave the rehearsal dinner for my wife's and my wedding in 1959. What a find and what closure for me this is."

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