Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chennault - Way of a Fighter

I read an article about something going on over at Facebook where users are asked to pick up the book closest to them, turn to page 56 and update their status with the fifth sentence on that page. Closest book, page 56, fifth sentence. Verbatim.

Why? I have no idea, but I'm sure there are some intriguing entries. I don't know if this has spread to the blogosphere, but after reading the article, I went upstairs to my office and the first book I saw amid a pile of books on my desk, work table and floor, was a 1991 reprint of the 1949 Flying Tiger history, Way of a Fighter: The Memoirs of Claire Lee Chennault, by Claire Lee Chennault, Major General, U.S. Army (Ret.); James Thorvardson & Sons, Tucson.

Chennault was commander of the 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force in 1941-42, otherwise known as The Flying Tigers. Hired by the Chinese government to defend China against the Japanese, their training actually began before America's entry into the war, and just days after the the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the Flying Tigers were flying combat missions.

Before I get to the Facebook game, there is something much more important to mention about what I found in this book, other than the 5th sentence on page whatever, whatever. I found this book last spring at a library sale and was thrilled at what I discovered inside. The blank page preceding the title page (verso of the frontispiece) has a wonderful inscription from famed World War II ace fighter pilot for the Flying Tigers, "Tex" Hill:
To my dear friend and fellow Fighter Pilot, a man I admire most. Thank you for the sacrifice you made for our country. All the best. "Tex" Hill
My first thought, after getting over the excitement of finding this inscription, was whose book was this? As Chennault died in 1958, he's quickly ruled out, but would have been the top contender otherwise. So who, or which fellow fighter pilot, did "Tex" Hill admire most? Perhaps some biographies of Hill would shed some light on the provenance of the Chennault book.

Back in January, I blogged about another Flying Tigers fighter pilot named Joe Rosbert. He lived in the Houston area where I found the Chennault book. I also read that he died recently, so the possibility exists that the Chennault book signed by Hill could have belonged to Rosbert.

At any rate, I now have a companion book to for the Rosbert book and what looks like the beginnings of a Flying Tigers collection.

Finally, for anyone interested in the fifth sentence on page 56, here you go:
More strained silence and the faint buzz of approaching heavy-engine noise.
This sentence is part of a scene being described by Chennault as he surveys an airfield in Nanking under attack by Japanese fighter planes.

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