Last Friday, in Boston, MA, my father, William S. Wong and 2 of his fellow servicemen were honored for their service in World War II. My father was part of an all-Chinese American unit called the 407th Air Service Squadron.
The 407th Air Service Squadron was activated in November 1942 to support aerial operations in China. Army Air Force support personnel who were fluent in both the English and Chinese languages were needed to communicate easily with both Chinese soldiers and civilians. This service unit served a special mission: to assist American Flying Tigers pilots and to train Chinese Air Force ground crews to defend against Japanese invasion.
They flew the “Hump” (the lower range of the Himalayan mountains), drove the legendary Burma Road, performed troop transport, repaired planes, carried supplies where needed and did crash recovery. These Chinese American airmen contributed mightily to Allied success by maintaining aerial operations from airfields across unoccupied China.
I’m incredibly proud of my father and his fellow servicemen and I am so grateful for their service. But the thing that I am in most awe of is the strong bond and lasting friendship that these men created with each other.
My dad never really talked much about what he did when he served. Sadly, I didn’t ask too many questions. My exposure to this group was limited to the reunions these servicemen put together. Every 2 years, these men along with their spouses and family would reunite. They held reunions across the United States: New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle etc …. These reunions were pretty elaborate affairs that spanned 3–4 days. I was fortunate to be able to join my parents at several of these functions. What always struck me was just how close these men were decades after having served together. I’ve always marveled at the camaraderie and close bond they share.
Typically, bonds of friendship are formed with classmates, co-workers, our neighbors, etc…. My circle of friends encompasses all of those groups. Though I treasure all of my friends, I am sad to say that many of those relationships have dwindled simply to exchanging Christmas cards each year. It’s not that I don’t care about them because I do. That said, the bond that I share with them isn’t enough for me to make an effort to fly across the continent to get together with them.
Bonds formed in the military
This, however, is not true for my dad and many of the men he served with. Up until about 10 years ago, these men and their families made a concerted effort to get together every 2 years. I can count on one hand the number of friends for whom I would make that kind of effort.
Based on what I have observed with my father and his fellow servicemen, I think bonds forged in the military service are perhaps one of the strongest of all friendship bonds. My dad had spent a total of 5 years in the army; 3 of those years were spent with the 407th Air Service Squadron. In just 3 short years, my dad forged friendships that have lasted his entire lifetime. Friendships that are strong enough to motivate the men in the 407th Air Service Squadron to make the effort to get together for decades after they had served.
The legacy of their service
Is it lack of character on my part that I am not driven to maintain relationships in the same way as these servicemen? I don’t think so. I think that relationships forged in the military just cannot easily be recreated outside of that world. You could say that being in danger and being in combat is what cultivated that closeness, but I know from my dad that he was never in direct combat, so in this instance, that is not the driving factor.
Regardless of the reason, these men served their country with honor and they chose to continue to honor each other and their accomplishments for many decades after their service. Their legacy is not only the service they provided to the Flying Tigers, but also the incredible connection they have to one another.