Post Group: Elite Member
Widow of AVG pilot J. R. Rossi
I decided to start a new subject line more in keeping with the direction of the discussion at \"My flying Tiger!\"
I married Dick Rossi in 1966 when the battle with the 14th AF over the usage of the name Flying Tigers was in full swing. Most of what I know came from the lips of my husband, Tex Hill, other members of the AVG, and written documents/letters.
Some folks like to say that the AVG was merged into the 14thAF. However, the 14th AF did not come on the scene in China until after the AVG had been disbanded for well over a year. There was no merging. If memory serves me, I think it was 5 pilots and 30 ground personnel that finally ended up in the 14thAF . While in China, the 14thAF were, at no time, named “Flying Tigers.” Everyone who was in China at the time knew that the when anyone mentioned Flying Tigers they were referring to the AVG. Tex stayed with Chennault throughout the war and he assured all who asked that at no time during the war, or for years after was the Flying Tigers anyone but the AVG. When the war ended, folks came home and they started up the associations and holding reunions. Tex, Rode, JJ Harrington, and a few others who had ended up in the 14th AF with Chennault, went to those reunions. Dick Rossi was friends with many 14thAF men, was invited to their reunions and attended several. At that time they called themselves “The 14th Air Force Association” with a nick name of “China Hands”. They would get publicity in the local newspapers where the reunion was being held with the announcement that the “Flying Tigers” were in town. (They later used this as part of their justification for taking the name.)
It was in the middle 1950s that the 14thAF, at a business meeting, discussed renaming themselves The 14th Air Force Flying Tigers. Tex and the other members were highly offended and fought very hard against them claiming their name. The 14thAF president at that time, Lt. General Charles B. Stone, was against the proposal, as was General Bruce Holloway. Eventually a very vigorous group was able to get it voted through. Dick Rossi, as president of the AVG, wrote letters to them demanding they stop using the name. Chuck Older (18 ace AVG pilot, was then a lawyer - later a judge) wrote to them demanding they stop. Unfortunately, the AVG did not have the name trademarked. There were also members of the 14thAF who did not think it was right to take the name of the AVG and they voted with Tex. But there were up to 20,000 people who had been in and out of the 14th by the end of the war, so against the AVG 295 persons, there was a lot of pushing. Tex was a very popular man in both groups and when he threatened to quit the 14th AFA unless they gave it up, many sided with him. But not enough. Milt Miller was a bombardier in the 14th and was the editor of the “Jing Bao Journal,” their newsletter. He was a friend of Dick’s and told Dick he was against the appropriation and was campaigning against it. But Dick later read Milt’s endorsement of the plan in the Journal. They weren’t friends after that. It is very hard to resist such a famous, sexy, swashbuckling, legendary, name; especially when all your relatives and neighbors have come to think of you as the real deal . . even if you were a clerk that came to China in 1945 for 6 months. So Tex and others quit the 14th AF Association in protest.
According to R.T. Smith in his article in Air Classics magazine on this same subject (June 1988, vol.24.no 6 Who Were The Real Flying Tigers?), it was after Chennault’s death in 1958 that the 14th stepped up its campaign for the renaming. They started with “The 14th Air Force Association Flying Tigers”. But a few years later they changed it again to “The Flying Tigers of the 14th Air Force Association”. I know this for a fact because we have their letters on file and were able to watch the change on their letterheads. I have scanned some of these, which will bear witness to the facts. In 1964 they still didn’t have the name changed on everything and were still calling themselves by the nickname “China Hands”(see scan). At an AVG reunion about 1966, the 14th sent a representative to the reunion to try and patch things up. He was told in no uncertain terms that the only way was for them to stop using the name.
Tex said (to me) that he asked Chennault about the use of the name and the general told him that only the AVG were the Flying Tigers. I was told by Col. Henry Lee CAF, Chennault’s interpreter and long-time friend, that Chennault was very hurt over the split between the two groups. I asked Gen. Y.T. Low CAF if the 14th was called Flying Tigers during the war and he said positively not. As recently as 1997 General Bruce Holloway (4star) tried, at their business meeting, to have the name removed from the 14th AFA and was defeated.
Here is my personal take on the matter:
When it first was brought to my attention, I was as offended as any of the members of the AVG. Over time I have mellowed on my assessment of it (I think I got older also). I have met many 14th AFA members, have traveled with them in China, have been feted at banquets with them, and have called some of them my friends. They were out in China doing a job for the USA and China just as the AVG was. The Chinese don’t seem to notice the difference between the two (keep in mind that Mao Zedong wrote his own special Chinese history that was taught in schools and there was no mention of allies helping in WWII). That has all changed and if you just wear a jacket with a Flying Tigers insignia in China you will probably be asked for your autograph. There are now Chinese men in China who claim to be “Flying Tigers” and have formed their own organizations; I'm told there are over 20 such organizations all over China. The AVG has been swamped by the numbers and the lines have been blurred. I think all serious historians will be able to discover the differences. To many it doesn’t matter, but for some of us it does matter, as we have to live with all the blurring and the deep sixing of the true “Flying Tigers” honor.
I choose not to get my knickers in a knot over it, but I know what is right.
Edited by LydiaRossi : December 12, 2010, 2:48 pm