Written and Directed by Frank Christopher

Copyright (C) 1998 Fei Hu Films

Fei Hu: The Script Part Two

Beginning in late May and continuing through September 1941, small groups of the AVG assembled in either Los Angeles or San Francisco to board one of the seven ships that would carry them to Burma.

RED FOSTER

NURSE

I thought they were young, aggressive, nice looking but I felt that they weren't, if you'll pardon the expression, dry behind the ears yet and I wasn't the least bit interested in them.

Film Footage of AVG on deck of ship.

DICK ROSSI

PILOT

We went on board the ship, we weren't, we were all supposed to be sort of incognito and around San Francisco, we didn't go out there as pilots, we went out there as a whole bunch of different things.

R.T. SMITH

PILOT

I think I was supposed to be a Plantation Manager - of what I don't know. But that was just simply a ploy I guess by the State Department to try to cover up the idea that we were going over to get into trouble with the Japanese.

Film footage of AVG and relatives on pier.

BOB SMITH

COMMUNICATIONS

I remember my uncle came down to see me off and I heard later he turned to my mother and he said "We'll never see that boy again."

CHARLIE BOND

PILOT

I remember shedding a few tears when I told my mother and dad good-bye, but I felt good about it and I told 'em I'd write 'em

Film footage of AVG and relatives on pier. Film footage on board ship.

MOOSE MOSS

PILOT

Since there were only two women aboard, they naturally stuck out. They may have not been so popular back home, but they found out they became immediately popular on the boat.

Film footage of the nurses, Jane Foster, in bathing suit and Jo Stewart with Doc Rich. Photos and footage of Jane and Pete.

RED FOSTER

NURSE

That's where I really began to know my future husband. I was impressed with him because he was so gentle and so understanding, so sensitive, which for a young man of his age, I thought was unusual. Most men aren't that sensitive to how women feel.

Film footage of AVG on Bloemfontein, Jaegersfontein and Zaandam.

CHARLIE BOND

PILOT

You had a lot of time to think, where we were going, what we've done and all, and listening to other guys and exchanging stories — "Gee, Joe, what are you going over for? Charlie, what are you going over for? And "Do you think we're doing the right thing?" And we'd talk philosophically a lot.

CHUCK OLDER

PILOT

Even though we were not yet at war, the news reports that we were getting indicated that the Japanese were sending about 20,000 troops a week into Indo-China. And we knew they weren't going down there for a picnic.

Film Footage of escort ships

ERIK SHILLING

PILOT

And on the way we used to tune in to probably the person who turned out to be Tokyo Rose. They had an English news broadcast which we used to listen to and they claimed that they knew who we were and what we were going over there for and that the boat would never get there. I guess Washington took that to heart because one day out of Honolulu we were stopped by two American cruisers. One was the Northhampton and the other was the Salt Lake and we were then escorted all the way to the Taurus Straits.

Film footage of King Neptune Ceremony from Bloemfontein, Boschfontein.

CHARLIE BOND

PILOT

There was a lot of planning for the cross of the equator which we call it Neptune day. And this really turned out wild.

ROBERT "BUSTER" KEETON

PILOT

They’d stand you on the side of this pool and put you on this chair and then they’d slap this fish in your mouth and put some other gunk which didn’t taste very good. So everybody I think had a couple of beers. So we’d put up quite a fight to try to keep from getting shoved into the pool off of this chair.

CHARLIE BOND

PILOT

I ended up somehow or another writing the script for it and I turned out to be the Queen. It turned out to be one of the wildest events we had and I assure you that next morning there was nobody for breakfast.

Film footage of Rangoon harbor.

NARRATION

One by one, all seven of the ships carrying AVG passengers arrived safely in the port of Rangoon throughout the months of July and November 1941.

Film footage of AVG as tourists in Rangoon.

R.T. SMITH

PILOT

We wandered around the city for a little while after we first got there and before we had to get on a train to go up north.

Film footage of exotic people.

MOOSE MOSS

PILOT

We were confronted with these strange looking little people and I could see that they had a total different way of life than we in the United States had been accustomed to.

Film Footage of the train departing. Film footage of Burma countryside. Map of Burma.

ED RECTOR

PILOT

We get on the train and during daylight and we take 4 hours to go from Rangoon up to Toungoo, looking out of the window and saying to ourselves and to each other, we are now in Kipling country.

Film footage of AVG in Burma countryside.

BOB SMITH

COMMUNICATIONS

Burma at that time was neutral and it was a safer place and better place to train than China itself, where we could have been subjected immediately to air raids and many of our pilots of course had never flown a P-40.

Film footage of Chennault and British at Toungoo.

NARRATION

The British had been reluctant to allow Chennault to conduct combat training in Burma, fearing that they might be dragged into the Sino-Japanese war. Only after intense pressure had been brought to bear by Washington, did the British military authorities finally agree to lease a small airbase to the AVG outside of Toungoo in central Burma.

Film footage of living conditions at Toungoo.

RED FOSTER

NURSE

When we arrived at the base, it wasn't exactly what I expected because we were ushered into thatched roofed houses, It was very rugged to say the least, it was not exactly what I had experienced.

BURMA BOB LOCKE

PROPELLER SPECIALIST

The temperature was in the 100's continually, the humidity was in the 110's, I don't know how it could, but it was. It was continual; you moved, you sweat.

Film footage of snake demonstration.

ERIK SHILLING

PILOT

Someone arranged for a man and woman, Burmese, to give a demonstration and a show with some snakes and they had some real long King Cobras. One of the things that she did was, to us most impressive, was to put her hands behind her back and lean way over and actually kiss the head of this cobra.

Film footage of Burmese cooks preparing meals.

ED FOBES

CLERK

The people had hired a bunch of local cooks and have you ever had breakfast, dinner and supper curried, hot, curried food. That lasted four or five days, the whole outfit was in an uproar. They were ready to revolt or do anything.

Film footage and photos of crew chiefs at work in Toungoo.

CHUCK BAISDEN

ARMORER

We had no airplanes. The airplanes were assembled at Rangoon and flown up. When the first planes got in there we didn't have any tools. We used tools that we took out of the trucks and that's not tools to work on an aircraft.

Film footage of AVG bored and unhappy in Toungoo.

NARRATION

The chaos resulting from establishing a training base in the middle of the jungle took its toll on the morale of the unit. Some of the AVG began to openly question the caliber of their leadership and the purpose of their mission. The excitement that many of them felt when they first arrived in Burma was replaced by skepticism and discontent.

Film footage of AVG gathering outside barracks including Bob Smith.

BOB SMITH

COMMUNICATIONS

After I had been there for a week or two, many of us began to wonder what are we doing here and there were a number of them that quit and left because there was absolutely no way to keep anybody there. Technically we were civilians and if we wanted to quit and go home we could.

R.T. SMITH

PILOT

We of course thought, well okay, good riddance. If they can't take it, why let them go. And I guess that's the way Chennault thought of it.

Film footage of Chennault with AVG.

CHARLIE MOTT

PILOT

I had set up a mass meeting to give the Colonel a chance to address the whole group. And this was not a good scene. We had all these guys sitting around and, of course I proceeded Chennault and yelled "Attention" and about half of them stood up and the other half, "I ain't standin' up for no fucker, Who's this, mumble mumble, I left the service to avoid this stuff." So Chennault was right behind me and he observed this and I never heard him talk or speak as loudly as he did that time. He looked around at them and yelled "Attention" and they all stood up just like you know they all of a sudden recognized their master's voice or something.

Film Footage and photos of lecture room

JOSEPH ROSBERT

PILOT

I was impressed with him right from the beginning and in the days to come where he gave lectures on the Japanese airplanes, the Japanese pilots and how they operated and I thought right away that I had made the right decision, because this was a guy I wanted to work for.

NARRATION

Chennault taught the young American pilots not to dog fight with the faster, more maneuverable Japanese fighters. Instead, he urged the pilots to take advantage of the superior diving speed of the P-40, to attack from a high altitude, fire at close range and quickly regain altitude and dive again; lessons he had learned from first-hand observation of the air battles over China.

Film of pilot and P-40. Photo of Rosbert on wing of P-40.

JOSEPH ROSBERT

PILOT

It turned out that he took me to the P-40, he said, "Get in the cockpit." He said, "You've studied the manual." He said, "Here it all is like it's in the manual, I can't tell you anymore." And the only way you check out in the fighter plane with one seat is to get in there and start the engine and go down the runway and take off.

Film of P-40 preparing to take off. Photo of the long nose of the plane from cockpit. Film of Rector getting into cockpit.

ED RECTOR

PILOT

I got in the P-40. For my first flight I had a cockpit check and I looked out at that long nose and I started up the engine, and you have never seen a more safe, slow taxiing out to the flight line.

Film of Keeton and others taking off and flying P-40's, including Keeton's POV in flight.

BUSTER KEETON

PILOT

I was kind of shaky because especially the Army pilots telling us what an awful hard airplane this was to fly. "You Navy boys coming out of P Boats, why you're gonna find it's more than you can handle." And so I was a little shaky when I took the first flight up. Nobody was surprised as I was when I come down and made a good landing, thank gosh.

Film footage of P-40's in flight.

NARRATION

Once the AVG took to the air, the months of frustration and inactivity were forgotten.

R.T. SMITH

PILOT

I was like a kid with a new toy. This was something else, I had a lot of power out there and the airplane was a real dream to fly as far as I was concerned and I loved it from the moment I got in it.

Film footage flamboyant AVG and of P-40s flying and buzzing field.

RED FOSTER

NURSE

When we were in Toungoo and Pete was courting me at the time, when he was on a flight he would come over and buzz our unit, and of course, some of the fellows caught on to this so that they started buzzing the unit, and so Pete, to make sure that I knew that he was the one that was doing it, would buzz the unit and wiggle his tail, so that's the way I always knew it was Pete.

Film footage of P-40s flying. Photo of Sandell with paintbrush, painting sharks teeth. Film footage of Charlie Bond and Erik Shilling. Film footage of cu of shark teeth.

CHARLIE BOND

PILOT

Several of us were sitting around a coffee table having coffee, and I looked down and saw a British type magazine on this rattan coffee table and on the front of it was a color picture of a P-40 just like ours, but it was in the Royal Australian Air Force in the African campaign. It had a gaping mouth of a tiger shark that was painted around the oil scoop that just so fitted perfectly, and I remember saying out loud to myself, "I'm gonna paint my airplane like that".

ERIK SCHILLING

PILOT

And I went to Chennault and asked him if we could use that as a squadron insignia and his answer was that he would rather have it as a group insignia.

Film footage of landing and mechanics working on the P-40s. Film footage and photos of crew chiefs at work in Toungoo.

NARRATION

By the Fall of 1941, the training program was in high gear, despite delays caused by persistent accidents.

Photo of Doc. Rich by ambulance and footage of planes landing.

DOC RICH

DOCTOR

My duties were to set on the line because they were training these men to fly P-40s. It was a fast plane, not what they’re used to. The plane came in at a terrific speed. We lost quite a few planes in the training.

Film footage of airplane wrecks. Film footage of Chennault and crashed airplane.

R.T. SMITH

PILOT

So we had some accidents that were fatal, we had a lot of them that weren't fatal. We lost a lot of airplanes. At one time I think Chennault was about fit to be tied, figuring my God, if we keep going like this another six weeks, we won't have any airplanes left to fight with.

CHUCK OLDER

PILOT

I was up on a test flight. When I came back down, I noticed a group of people standing over by the hanger, talking and it looked kind of unusual. I never saw any groups like that, standing and talking like that before. So I went over there and I started picking up fragments of conversation about Pearl Harbor and Japanese

DICK ROSSI

PILOT

We were all waiting for the gag line, we thought it was a joke of some kind.

RED FOSTER

NURSE

I was in kind of shock, because I never expected, I didn't really expect war.

Film footage of aftermath of Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor & FDR'S Declaration of War Speech.

PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

CHARLIE BOND

PILOT

We rapidly picked up the spirit of "We're in a war now" and just like it dawned on me, we were now not only representing China but we were representing the United States and we were patriotic, we rapidly became more angry.

ED RECTOR

PILOT

I won't say that I saw a smile on his face, but I will tell you this. There was a look of relief that even that taciturn man could not hide and he said "Well, this is it."

Film footage of AVG getting P-40s ready for combat. Japanese bombers seen from the ground.

CHUCK OLDER

PILOT

Well the mood was one of great anticipation. We anticipated that we were going to be getting into combat very shortly .

Film footage of P-40s taking off, trucks leaving.

BOB SMITH

COMMUNICATIONS

Lots of rumors are flying around. The Chinese wanted us I think to go to China, the British wanted us to go to Rangoon to protect Rangoon and there were a lot of radiograms being sent all over the world, I think, to finally decide what, what we should do.

NARRATION

A decision was finally reached at the highest levels of the governments of China, Great Britain and the United States, to temporarily split up the AVG. The 3rd Squadron would be sent to Mingladon Aerodrome, outside of Rangoon, to help the RAF defend the Burmese capital. The 1st and 2nd Squadrons would immediately fly to Kunming to protect the city against an imminent Japanese bombing raid.

DICK ROSSI

PILOT

Everything was a little chaotic. They wanted to speed up the move to Kunming, convoys were being prepared to go up the road and haul all the material up that they could, you know, and the airplanes were being prepared to fly up.

Film footage P-40s flying and arriving at Kunming airport.

JOE ROSBERT

PILOT

This was the biggest flight of AVG planes that ever got together all during the war. Now when we got to Kunming and landed, we were almost out of gas. But we made it without any problems.

Film footage of Chinese workers at Kunming airport.

CHARLIE BOND

PILOT

Then when we got out of our airplanes and we had just untold number of Chinese air force mechanics and service people for refueling airplanes and all hovering around airplanes. Just, there's no doubt we had plenty of support.

Film of Chinese laborers rolling the runway.

BURMA BOB LOCKE

PROPELLER SPECIALIST

So we took all of the stuff and put it at the airdrome and they were still working on the mat when we arrived and the Chinese were out there breaking rocks, they'd take big rocks and breaking into little ones and then put them down and mud and teams rolling it. They made a beautiful runway.

Film footage of planes and AVG arriving in Kunming.

YU WEI

CAF PILOT

Of course, you know we were encouraged by the coming of the AVG. American Volunteer Group you see, because we were based on the same airbase in Kunming. You saw this aircraft and you knew some day you were going to fly them. That's all there is to it. We need the equipment. We may not need hundreds, thousands of American pilots, we need hundreds, thousands of aircraft. So we can man them, we can fly them. When we think about some day in short period of time we going to fly this sort of fast, strong aircraft. Of course all morale was really high, very high.

JOSEPH ROSBERT

PILOT

But we got the word that the Japanese had just bombed Kunming. They had killed dozens of people and of course knocked out a lot of buildings and so on, so we went into town that afternoon and had a chance to see what a bombing raid does to a town.

ED MUSGROVE

MECHANIC

They were caught flat-footed and the gates were closed and the Chinese were jammed up there. And they just threw them on trucks, piled them on one another and hauled them out of there.

Film footage of mass exodus and bombing of Kunming. Film footage of effects of the bombing.

J.J. HARRINGTON

MECHANIC

Then is when we did get the full impact of what the Japanese had been doing to the cities of China and the Chinese people. I mean for quite a number of years. It was horrible.

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