by Sharon Howe Sweeting
Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved by the author.
Two blood chits, a short snorter, and a 1943 cloth map of eastern China have landed in a small town in southwestern New York.
These artifacts and more are displayed at the Cherry Creek Town Museum. They were given by Larry Waite in memory of his father, Second Lt. Lawrence A. Waite, who served with the 14th U.S. Air Force in the China-Burma-India Theater in 1944 with the American Volunteer Group (AVG).
The AVG was better known by a nickname: the Flying Tigers.
The AVG was founded in 1940 and led by a renegade pilot named Claire Chennault whose pursuit pilot training was criticized by his superiors but later endorsed by the U.S. War Department and the president.
Capt. Chennault had been in China for a few years assisting Chiang Kai-shek’s government in training Chinese Air Force Pilots when, in 1939 he traveled to Washington with Chinese officials to request fighter planes, bombers, supplies and parts in their war against the Japanese. By the end of 1940 the U.S. government had agreed to provide 100 Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks to China after signing a currency stabilization agreement with them.
The P-40s were made available after the RAF deemed them to be obsolete. They were painted with flying tiger “nose art” shark faces. Each plane had a pilot, a co-pilot, a navigator and bombardier. Lt. Waite served as a bombardier as evident by his pocket notebook with several mathematical calculations for dropping bombs.
The “Blood Chits” issued to the American Volunteer Group Flying Tigers in Chinese characters in case they were shot down read “This foreign person has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue and protect him.” The collection at the Cherry Creek Museum includes one made of silk, worn inside the jacket and one made of a more durable material, worn on the outside.
A useful souvenir called a “Short Snorter” was also donated. The Department of the Air Force describes it thus: “Many Allied airmen in World War II made souvenirs of their travels by collecting currency from all the places they visited.” The collection of bills were taped together and signed by friends with whom they traveled. Waite’s includes 24 bills from the U.S., Portugal, France, Algiers, Egypt, Iran, India, East Africa and the Congo, British West Africa, British Guiana and Australia among others.
With a slice of military history presented in this small American town museum, an airman, a friend and a neighbor is remembered.
Byrd, Martha. Chennault: Giving Wings to the Tiger, 2003.
Office of Air Force History. The Flying Tigers: Chennault’s American Volunteer Group in China. 2015
About the author: Sharon Howe Sweeting is the Cherry Creek Town Historian and Museum Curator (Smithsonian Trained) and a Trustee of the Chautauqua County Historical Society.