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Photo exhibit shows US-China effort in WWII

(China Daily USA) Updated: 2015-03-20 11:30

US Army General Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, opened a photo exhibit on at the Pentagon in Washington that shows American and Chinese soldiers working together during World War II.

Dempsey viewed the pictures on Wednesday and said the exhibit - entitled National Memories - "can help people on both sides of the Pacific remember this part of our shared history."

"America has long-standing interests in peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region, clearly demonstrated then as today," said Dempsey, who has made a number of trips to the region, including to China last year, and has hosted Asian leaders at the Pentagon.

Chinese defense and air attaches attended the opening. Also present were combat cameramen from the 55th Signal Battalion. They are the military descendants of the men who shot the photos from 1942 to 1945 - the 164th Combat Camera Company.

The United States and China were allies during the war, and more than 250,000 Americans served in the China-Burma-India Theater under Army General Joseph Stilwell. Retired Army Colonel John Easterbrook, the grandson of that theater commander, spoke at the opening ceremony about the campaign.

Actions in Europe and in the Pacific overshadowed the scope of the effort in the region, he said, and many present-day Americans are surprised to learn of the US effort against Japan in China.

The exhibit consists of copies of photos at the US National Archives. In 2006, Zhang Dongpan and a team copied and digitized the photos from among more than 23,000 photos at the archives showing all aspects of the American interactions with Chinese during the war, taken by Army Signal Corps photographers.

In 2010 he opened National Memories in China. Millions of Chinese have seen the photos in cities around the country, said Zhang, who also spoke at the opening.

Zhang's involvement with the photos started in 1999 when he said a friend sent him an old photograph from World War II. "It showed a US soldier's funeral at a Yunnan battlefield," Zhang said via translation.

The photo conflicted with the official history that the Chinese Communist Party defeated the Japanese alone. "That old photo told me that during World War II, the US Army came to China, and at least one American died fighting in China, for China," he said.

Zhang's research led him to Easterbrook, and they contacted survivors of those Americans killed in China during the war. Zhang also discovered the photos at the archives.

"Today, when you discuss World War II with the Chinese people, increasingly they will tell you [that] in that war, the United States helped us, and we thank you," Zhang said. Zhang - who served four years in the People's Liberation Army -wears a pin based on the shoulder patch of the China-Burma-India Theater, combining the Nationalist sun and the American star.

Dempsey praised Zhang and Easterbrook for their efforts: "You can take pride knowing that your hard work will continue to deepen the understanding and communication between the United States and China."

There are still vestiges of the U.-China relationship in the American military, Dempsey said. The Air Force maintains strong identification with the legendary Flying Tigers who fought in the skies over China. "Today's Army Rangers trace their legacy back to Merrill's Marauders – that special forces unit in Burma that turned the tide of the war in the China-Burma-India Theater," he said.

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