WUHAN - Even though he is now in a wheelchair and has a pacemaker after undergoing several heart bypass operations, 86-year-old WWII veteran Glen Beneda still embarked on a journey to China to visit the people who saved his life during the war.
Beneda was a pilot in the Flying Tigers, the American Volunteer Group founded in 1941 by General Chenault to help China fight the Japanese invaders.
Accompanied by his family, on Saturday Beneda was back in Jianli County in central China's Hubei Province, where he was saved by local farmers after his fighter jet was shot down.
"I owe my life to those villagers. Those villagers are heroes," Beneda said.
Back in 1944, Beneda's P-51 was shot down during an attack on a large Japanese base. Beneda ejected from his plane and landed in a rice paddy.
Local farmers rescued him and hid him from the Japanese while his plane crashed into a nearby lake.
The farmers then tied heavy stones to his plane, so it would sink to the bottom of the lake. The Japanese soldiers found nothing.
The farmers later took Beneda to the Red Army, where he received help and care from the Chinese soldiers.
"My father's health is not good, and his doctor said he should not travel. But his insisted on coming. He knew it may be his last trip to China," Beneda's son Edward said.
"It has been my father's dream to see his crashed plane again," the son added.
The wreckage of Beneda's plane is buried in mud at the bottom of the lake.
China launched a project to salvage and repair the wreckage in 2008. But the salvage operations mostly failed. Only a few parts of the plane were recovered.