Written and Directed by Frank Christopher

Copyright (C) 1998 Fei Hu Films

Fei Hu: The Script Part Four

NARRATION

On March 22, Chennault ordered the evacuation of Magwe, removing the last AVG airbase from Burma. Their four month struggle to defend Burma had come to an end.

TEX HILL

PILOT

If we had had the forces to sustain our operation, well we could have attritioned the Japanese air force, but we’d move into one of these areas and the Japs would be there the next morning and we’d fight until we’d lose our combat effectiveness and then we’d have to move back to a rear echelon area and regroup and put the airplanes back together and go again.

CHUCK BAISDEN

ARMORER

Well, we got orders to pull out from Magwe and we headed for Loiwing then via the Burma Road.

ED FOBES

CLERK

The countryside was rough, rugged. The road had just been hewed out of the mountains. There were constant repairs going on. Very few wide spots. If a truck broke down and couldn’t be started, it got shoved over the side off the mountain cliff. Course the locals then would salvage what they could out of it. But that road had to stay open. Luckily, our drivers were quite competent.

ED MUSGROVE

MECHANIC

I got dysentery out there the last part of the Burma Road I was driving on and I lost 43 pounds, I thought they were going to bury me out there.

Film footage of tired AVG.

RED FOSTER

NURSE

When they went down to Rangoon and fought in Rangoon, and when they came back, they had aged ten years. If I had seen that in a film, I wouldn't have believed it. I would have thought it was an exaggeration on the director's part. They were men when they came back, they just turned into men overnight.

MOOSE MOSS

PILOT

In the later stages of our employment in northern Burma, when we were pushed out by foot soldiers, instead of being defeated in the air, I feel that the morale, the pilot's morale, of the crews, remained extremely high, feeling that although we were backing up, we were still being effective in what we were put there to do.

Footage of AVG in the streets and markets of Kunming.

NARRATION

The battle-weary pilots and ground personnel arrived in Kunming where they were given a brief chance to recuperate from the air battles over Burma before being called upon to help repel the Japanese army advancing up the Burma road.

Film footage of cheering Chinese.

R.T. SMITH

PILOT

The Chinese press had dubbed us Flying Tigers and so when our little cavalcades went through town on the way from our hostel to the airfield, or whatever, these people would all cheer and they were all very happy with us and of course we were happy to be greeted that way.

Film footage of CNAC plane landing in Kunming, AVG hanging around CNAC plane. CKS and the Madame getting off of a plane. Footage of CKS and the Madame among the AVG.

BURMA BOB LOCKE

PROPELLER SPECIALIST

Any flight that came in, CNAC, we'd go out and greet the plane and climb up on the steps and make believe we were taking off on that aircraft and all. A group of us were out there one day and this plane came in and this beautiful Chinese lady came out. Well some of the pilots and some of the ground crew gathered around her and talked and somebody said, "Locke, how about using your jeep?" and I said, "Sure, I'll drive." So they were going to take her to tea over at the second hostel and we did, we loaded her in the jeep.

KEN JERNSTEDT

PILOT

The Generalissimo was standing there kind of looking at things and one of them said to the ladies, "Wasn't that gentleman on the plane with you, should we pick him up?" and Madame said, "Oh no, let him walk." And they took the two ladies to the compound and when all the Chinese help around there started bowing and scraping they began to wonder just who they had.

BURMA BOB LOCKE

PROPELLER SPECIALIST

It seemed years, but it must have been about 30 minutes maybe, General Chennault and the Generalissimo came in and said, "Well, I'm sorry boys but we've got to break up this. Madame Chiang has to go now."

DICK ROSSI

PILOT

But we didn't realize at the time, she was the Madame, we just thought she was a good looking gal!

Film footage of AVG men around Kunming, film and photos of Jane and "Pete".

RED FOSTER

NURSE

There was a kind of quiet understanding that we were not to marry any of the fellows. No one ever told us we couldn't get married but it was kind of one of those subtle things, you were out there to do a job and leave. I had certainly no idea I was every going to get involved with the young fellows but Pete was persistent, and he was a good man.

Film footage of Japanese troops advancing, Chinese and British troops retreating. Film footage of Chennault and Chiang Kai-shek with AVG.

NARRATION

During the month of April, the situation in Burma had worsened. The Japanese offensive had pushed the British and Chinese armies north from Rangoon to the outskirts of the former AVG training base at Toungoo.

A Chinese regiment, under the command of Lt. General Joseph Stilwell, the senior American military commander in China, was in full retreat.

Chiang Kai-shek arrived in Kunming to update Chennault on worsening ground situation. Chiang wanted the AVG to fly missions over the battle areas to assure his ground troops of air support and to harass the Japanese forces.

CHUCK OLDER

PILOT

They wanted us to go down there and fly around at low altitudes, just sort of motor around casually to let the Chinese see the insignia on our airplanes to boost their morale. Well my thinking was that their morale wouldn't be boosted very much by seeing us get shot down, doing that kind of silly nonsense and so, why do it?

Footage of Chennault with AVG. Film footage of Stilwell and his forces in Burma.

NARRATION

On April 18th, Chennault called a meeting of the pilots. He told them that General Stilwell had ordered him to send the AVG to fly over the battle lines. Chennault could not refuse Stilwell since he had recently received a commission in the U.S. Army Air Corps, as a Brigadier General. He ordered the pilots to either carry out the mission or resign from the AVG.

CHUCK OLDER

PILOT

I began to get the feelings and others too, Chennault was no longer calling the shots, that we were being used by somebody to do this kind of nonsense, and we weren't there for the purpose we came over there for, which was to fight the Japanese.

R.T. SMITH

PILOT

When the guys objected to that and then Chennault came in at that meeting and said, "Well you guys if want to show the white feather, by God, I'll accept your resignations." And that really bugged me and I got up and shot off my two bits worth and said, "General Chennault, I don't know how in the hell you can accuse anybody in this outfit of showing the white feather. I think we've already demonstrated the fact that we're not cowards," which is what white feather means, and I said, "I think you owe us all an apology," or words to that effect. And by God, if he didn't turn around and apologize. He said, "That's not what I meant really."

Film footage of advancing Japanese armies, British and Chinese in full retreat, refugees flooding the roads and railroads, Stilwell and staff marching out of Burma. Japanese capturing Burmese cities.

NARRATION

The Japanese offensive in Burma made any discussion of morale missions irrelevant. By the first week of May, the Japanese had captured thousands of British and Chinese troops. Stilwell and his staff escaped by walking out of the jungles of Burma into the safety of India.

Japanese troops advancing, Chinese troops and refugees near the Salween River.

BOB SMITH

COMMUNICATIONS

There were British troops, Chinese, all trying to get out of Burma. The scenes on the highway and the roads were terrible, wrecks, confusion, a lot of people died in that flight from Burma.

NARRATION

The remnants of the Chinese army in Burma were being pursued up the Burma Road by a Japanese motorized regiment. The Japanese intended to wipe out the Chinese divisions in one blow at the narrow crossing over the Salween River on the Chinese border. With the Chinese troops eliminated, nothing would stop the Japanese from driving on to Kunming, and perhaps all the way to China’s wartime capital at Chungking.

BOB SMITH

COMMUNICATIONS

And we were very much afraid that they were going to capture Kunming and be completely cut off. We were making plans to leave, evacuate if we could, but we had no place to go. We couldn't carry enough gas to get us to Siberia.

Film footage of retreating Chinese troops, the destruction of the Salween Bridge, AVG dive bombing.

NARRATION

After crossing the Salween River, the retreating Chinese troops blew up the bridge, preventing the Japanese from advancing towards Kunming. Chennault ordered the AVG to dive bomb and strafe the Japanese troops before they could build a temporary bridge across the Salween.

ED RECTOR

PILOT

The Old Man launched successive attacks against the column. By this time the Japanese had moved in and had gone down to the very edge of the water, and that's where our boys were so successful with bombing and strafing up and down the gorge.

BUSTER KEETON

PILOT

Eddy Rector led this flight of which I was on and we bombed and strafed where they had a bunch of Chinese cornered and that broke that up and let all of the Chinese get back into the action.

TEX HILL

PILOT

On our last mission that evening, all that armored column was turned around, they were going back the other way and that was the end of it. They never tried to cross it again.

Film footage of retreating Japanese troops, Chinese troops advancing, AVG flying strafing missions.

NARRATION

The Japanese advance toward Kunming had been stopped by a handful of P-40s and a determined Chinese counterattack. The victory scored against the Japanese at the Salween River reversed months of Allied defeats in Burma. But the AVG paid a price for their success.

Photo of Bob Little.

CHARLIE BOND

PILOT

I'll never forget that's where we lost Bob Little, either a bomb didn't get off his rack and exploded or ground fire tore a wing off, but one of the wings tore off and he didn't have time to get out.

AVG funeral footage.

NARRATION

Bob Little became the eleventh member of the AVG to be killed in action in the first six months of combat. A surprisingly small number considering that in most encounters with the Japanese, each AVG pilot was confronted by ten to fifteen Japanese fighters or bombers.

Film footage of Tiger Wang with Chennault. AVG receiving Chinese medals.

NARRATION

The missions flown by the AVG over the Salween River lifted the morale of the Chinese Army. In Kunming, General "Tiger" Wang presented his government's gratitude by bestowing China's highest medals to individual members of the AVG.

WANG SHU-MING

CHINESE AIR FORCE COMMANDER

I can say that they came to China to fight, and I believe that they did not fight harder for America than for our country. They did their best without regard for their own lives.

Film footage of Chennault, Stilwell, Arnold and Bissell together.

NARRATION

While the AVG was seen as the heroic Flying Tigers to the American and Chinese people, their fame was resented by the Army brass. The Army Air Corps command could not tolerate a maverick group of civilians operating outside their control.

DICK ROSSI

PILOT

The rumors started as far back as January and February that we were going to be you know pulled back into the service and nobody really knew for sure what was gonna happen.

CHARLIE BOND

PILOT

We began all amongst all of us to talk about possible induction, what's gonna happen to us, you know? Here we are the American Volunteer Group.

Film of Bissell

NARRATION

The decision had already been reached. In May, General Clayton Bissell, an old enemy of Chennault's from before the war, was assigned to oversee the transition of the AVG into the Army Air Corps.

BUSTER KEETON

PILOT

A meeting was called by Gen. Bissell of all AVG people, and the idea of it was to induct everybody or anybody that they could get into the Army.

R.T. SMITH

PILOT

Well, I think most of us felt that we would like to have a little time off because we'd been under quite a bit of pressure and hardship for some months now. Combat, living conditions, the whole damn thing. And Bissell, and I guess the powers that be in the Air Corps said, "No, hell there's a war going on." As a matter of fact, I think he used that term.

ED FOBES

CLERK

Well, he was sort of an unmitigated snob. If you weren’t going to do what he wanted and the Army Air Corps wanted, we want no part of you. We’ll have the draft board meet you when you get off the plane or get off the ship when you get back to the States and they’ll take pilots or anything else and you’ll all be drafted in as privates. And this went over like a lead balloon.

DICK ROSSI

PILOT

None of us minded saying no to Bissell, but the hardest thing was saying no to the Old Man, because, you know, everybody respected the Old Man. They liked the Old Man, and they hated to leave him stuck there with nobody staying, I think that was the hardest part.

MOOSE MOSS

PILOT

He just felt like he'd been castrated. He was hurt deeply because he was planning to rotate these people home and give them a program of rotation and come right back, knowing they'd be ready to come back as soon as he got a break of any kind, and all that was eliminated in Bissell's speech.

BUSTER KEETON

PILOT

Well, I was very much on the fence but after Bissell made that speech, I wasn’t on the fence anymore. I was heading home.

MOOSE MOSS

PILOT

The only time I ever saw Chennault shed a tear, ever, was after that meeting. He said, "Moose, he's ruined me." That's what he said. And five, I believe, is the number that joined.

Film footage of AVG in Kunming,

NARRATION

The American Volunteer Group would be disbanded on July 4th, 1942. All but five pilots and thirty-three members of the staff and ground crew refused induction into the Army Air Corps and were making plans to return home.

KEN JERNSTEDT

PILOT

I know that when we were getting down to the last days, when were no longer going to be the American Volunteer Group, the U.S. Army was going to take over, it gave you a strange feeling when you really realize that this was approaching the end.

Newsreel footage of end of AVG.

NEWSREEL NARRATION

Flying Tigers, the famous American Volunteer Group, wing their way across China for the last time as volunteers. For eight months, these Chinese signs have been the only insignia of the most spectacular and efficient fighting force in aviation history. Now, wearing the emblem of their native land, the U.S. Air Force, they become regular officers with American flying forces fighting in China. A Jap flag for every plane shot down, 200 in less than four months. The new American Air Force over China carrying on the tradition of the famous Flying Tigers.

Film footage of Madame Chiang and Generalissimo with the AVG.

NARRATION

On the day the American Volunteer Group disbanded in Kunming, Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek both paid tribute to the bravery of the Flying Tigers. But it was the words of Madame Chiang Kai-shek that touched the hearts of even the most hardened Tiger.

JOSEPH ROSBERT

PILOT

Well when she called us her Flying Tiger Angels and the Darlings of the CAF, I tell you, everybody just melted.

ED FOBES

CLERK

And yet I think there was a little tongue in cheek too when she used the term angels, because let’s face it, the gang were not all angels, far from it.

Film montage of Chennault and the 14th Air Force.

NARRATION

From the disbandment of the AVG in July, 1942, until the defeat of Japan three years later, all who served under Chennault in China would be called Flying Tigers. The fighters and bombers of the 14th Air Force adopted the symbols of the American Volunteer Group. The Army Air Corps counted on inheriting the fame and glory of an organization whose independence they deeply resented.

MOOSE MOSS

PILOT

After we disbanded and I was on my way home through India, at the airport I ran into Clyde Slocumb from Doerun, Georgia, who I had known all my life, and he was a part of the 14th Air Force coming in to fly with Chennault. He asked me to give him a little advice about the Japanese and I think I told him not to try to win the war all in one day and don't try to win it by yourself. Try to fly in such a manner that you can come back home and fly again tomorrow.

Film footage of arrival of Army Air Corps personnel at Kweilin or Kunming.

NARRATION

After the Fourth of July, most of the American Volunteer Group had left for India to begin their journey home. For them, the war in China had come to an end. But for some of the Tigers there was still a job to be done.

Film footage of AVG meeting with Chennault.

BURMA BOB LOCKE

PROPELLER SPECIALIST

The General called a meeting and he had us over to the first hostel, those who were left, and he asked if we would volunteer to stay for a two week period extra because here came a whole group of Army Air Corps personnel, who had never been in contact with the enemy. They didn't know how to fight. They didn't know the lay of the land. They didn't know where the different things; even in the ground crew didn't know where stuff was.

CHUCK BAISDEN

ARMORER

We had a lot of Army people come in there and they had ordinance people who knew nothing about aircraft armament, and they had one fellow who was standing out the flight line, he was scratching his back on the wing guns and as a guy in the cockpit turns on the switches and hits a relay and they put a burst right through the middle of his back.

BURMA BOB LOCKE

PROPELLER SPECIALIST

We agreed to stay two weeks extra.

Film footage or photos of Tex Hill, Petach and Jane.

TEX HILL

PILOT

I'll never forget old Petach had his bag packed and suitcase, and sat down and was going in to tell the Old Man good-bye and I asked him, I said if he'd extend you know. He said, "Oh sure," unpacked his bag.

RED FOSTER

NURSE

We were going to go to India, and he was going to fly for CNAC out of India, and of course, I'm good and healthy. I was pregnant at the time and I knew I wouldn't have any trouble, so I said, "I'll do what you want to do. We'll go to India. I'll go to India with you if you’re ready, but I don't think you fellows are going to go off and leave Chennault with the bag, holding the bag." And of course, they didn't.

TEX HILL

PILOT

And I put him and Shamblin on a mission that was; I knew they wouldn't get into air opposition. There was a ground target that the Chinese wanted hit over there, a little village, insignificant. But apparently it was a pretty important thing because they both got shot down by ground fire.

RED FOSTER

NURSE

You lived each day at a time. You didn't think in terms of the future. You just enjoyed what you had; your relationships with the people, everything was on a 24 hour basis. You just didn't think of anything else, but I know that when I sent letters home, I had a feeling inside of me, that he'd never come back.

Film footage of departing AVG in India.

NARRATION

Despite promises made to the AVG guaranteeing them return passage at the end of their year-long contract, the Army Air Corps did everything in their power to make the Tigers' return home difficult. Pregnant and now widowed, "Red" Foster was punished along with others in the AVG for not remaining in China.

DICK ROSSI

PILOT

It got a little tough getting home because the word came out not to help anybody get home and the poor guys that stayed the extra two weeks had the worst of it. You would think they would have got the best of it for volunteering to stay two weeks, but they got the worst of it. They were completely cut off.

BURMA BOB LOCKE

PROPELLER SPECIALIST

We waited around at Karachi to try to get out of there and we couldn't so Sutcliff and I got a smart idea and six of us got together and we went and we hired camels on Saturday and we got in front of the Embassy and rode around in a circle on these camels saying, "The American Consul is horseshit," and we kept screaming it out. Well, this was our first time of rebelling and we rebelled real good and eventually it took about a half hour or maybe three quarters of an hour, but the American Consul came out and made arrangements and we were loaded aboard the Mariposa in the following days and on our way back to the States. But this was the only way we got to come back.

NARRATION

Once members of the AVG returned home, they put their bitterness over the way they had been treated by the Army Air Corps behind them and welcomed their role as war heroes.

Newsreel of Bill Reed return to the United States.

NEWSREEL NARRATION

The homecoming of Flying Tiger, Bill Reed and he's greeted by his mother. "Hawkeye" Bill flew and fought with the American Volunteer pilots in the Chinese service on the road to Mandalay and beyond the Himalayas. So at Marion, Iowa, let's ask him how many Japs he shot down.

BILL REED

PILOT

Personally, I shot down five in aerial combat and I destroyed eight on the ground by fire. (Applause)

NEWSREEL NARRATION

How does it fell, Bill old boy, to be back home where the tall corn grows?

BILL REED

PILOT

This is the most marvelous country between here and China, no matter which we you go.

Film montage of the AVG.

NARRATION

The American Volunteer Group was no more. They had fought for only eight months and rarely had more than a dozen P-40s ready for combat in any one battle. But in that brief, chaotic time, the AVG established a brilliant and deadly war record second to none.

Hollywood movie montage, including God Is My Co-Pilot, Flying Tigers and The Sky's The Limit.

NARRATION

During the early years of the war, news of the victories of the AVG had lifted the morale of the American people. Hollywood seized upon their fame and created an image of the Flying Tigers that endures today.

Film and dialogue from FLYING TIGERS

CHINESE

Look, Captain Jim. Looky, Wham, Wham.

JOHN WAYNE

Termites.

Film and dialogue from THE SKY'S THE LIMIT

NARRATION

Even Fred Astaire got into the act, playing the only song and dance member of the Flying Tigers.

WOMAN

I've always wanted to meet a Flying Tiger.

FRED ASTAIRE

Oh, we've been over rated. At heart, we're just like any ordinary wolf..tiger.

Paramount Newsreel of scrambling of Flying Tigers.

JOSEPH ROSBERT

PILOT

I don't think that legend of the Flying Tigers really hit us at the time we were engaged in combat.

CHUCK OLDER

PILOT

Mostly it was a feeling of being in the right place at the right time. That's really the story of the AVG. In early 1942, those were the dark days of the war, the Allies were losing the war on every front except one and that was where the AVG was.

R.T. SMITH

PILOT

I was reasonably satisfied, I guess, with the job I did, which I felt was something that had to be done. I was glad to be able to contribute a little bit of whatever I did. It was damn sure exciting.

RED FOSTER

NURSE

I wouldn't change that year for anything, for the companionship and the experience that I had. And I will say, the way the fellows treated me over there, I was spoiled. I was spoiled rotten and nobody, for years, could compare with the Flying Tigers. No man was worth anything but the Flying Tigers.

ED FOBES

CLERK

I enjoyed the reputation of being a Flying Tiger. Having been a Flying Tiger. I’m still a Tiger.

MOOSE MOSS

PILOT

The spirit that we gave to the people of the United States at a time when they were getting kicked in the teeth in every direction, may have been worth the price that we paid to go.

Fade to Black.

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