The celebration of former American Volunteer Group (AVG) captain Lee Hsueh-yan’s (李學炎) 102nd birthday on Sunday, which turned into something of a state banquet, has revived people’s memories of the spectacular wartime exploits of the former air force major general.
Accompanied by dozens of family members, Lee celebrated his 102nd birthday on Sunday in New Jersey. The celebration was also attended by Representative to the US King Pu-tsung (金溥聰) and Republic of China (ROC) Defense Mission to the US director Li Hsien-sheng (黎賢聖).
On behalf of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Air Force Chief of Staff Major General Liu Chen-wu (劉震武), King and Li presented gifts to wish the retired hero continued longevity and good health.
Major General Mike Tien (田在勱), who now serves as a consultant to King, also shared with Lee’s family his rich collection of historical materials pertaining to the legendary AVG, widely known as “the Flying Tigers.”
With scores of medals of honor to his name, Lee stepped out of the limelight in 1968, when he retired from military service as a major general.
Lee’s name was brought into the spotlight again in January, after one of his sons, Wei-Ping Andrew Lee (李為平), a US-based surgeon, made headlines for leading a high-profile double arm transplant on a 26-year-old US army infantryman who lost all his limbs in Iraq.
Deemed “living history,” Lee Hsueh-yan was involved in several defining moments in the nation’s past.
Following the conclusion of the Xian Incident in 1936, Lee Hsueh-yan was instructed to transport former Chinese premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來), who was then the Chinese Communist Party’s representative, from Yanan, in China’s Shananxi Province, to Xian to meet with Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) on the possibility of negotiating a temporary truce amid the Japanese invasion.
During World War II, Lee Hsueh-yan also led the first Bombardment Squadron of the Chinese-American Composite Wing in launching an air-raid attack on Nov.25, 1943 on a Japanese airfield in Shinchiku — in what is now Hsinchu — destroying 42 Japanese aircraft.
However, in addition to the former major general’s dedication to the nation, the Ma administration’s sudden interest in him is also thought to be politically motivated, in part by China’s apparent effort to latch onto the history of the Flying Tigers.
In recent years, China has sought to interview family members of deceased AVG members and collect historical materials regarding the volunteer air units, which were organized by the US government to assist Chiang’s government in fighting off Japan during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
China’s perceived attempt to incorporate the unit into its own history has allegedly irritated the ROC Air Force, which is said to be countering by holding a celebration in Hsinchu on Nov. 25 to mark the 70th anniversary of the unit’s Japanese base attack.
Another factor is said to be Taiwanese sovereignty, because Lee Hsueh-yan’s air raid victory coincided with the Cairo Conference in Cairo, Egypt, between Nov. 22 and Nov. 26, 1943. The Cairo Declaration, which demanded that Japan cede territories including Taiwan (Formosa) and Penghu (the Pescadores) to the ROC, is the basis for the ROC government’s sovereignty claim over Taiwan.