MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
Flying Tigers, past and present, descended on Moody, for the Flying Tiger Reunion, here March 9-11, 2017.
The reunion marked the 75th anniversary of Claire Chennault’s all volunteer group and gave attendees the opportunity to celebrate their heritage and share war stories among four generations of Flying Tigers.
“The reunion strengthens our bonds, helps us understand our past, and motivates us to carry on the traditions of the greatest flying organization anywhere in the world,” Maj. Sean Griffin, 74th Fighter Squadron A-10C Thunderbolt II pilot and reunion coordinator. “Our Fighter Group has been called on throughout history to do extremely dangerous and demanding work.
“You gain a real appreciation for that when we all gather together. The bonds between the pilots and crews are life long and reunions such as ours, is a way for everyone to come together to celebrate accomplishments and honor sacrifices made by friends who are no longer with us.”
The 23rd Fighter Group’s lineage traces back to the 1st American Volunteer Group, commanded by Claire Chennault, a retired Army Air Force officer, who began organizing and training pilots for the Chinese Air Force, shortly after the Japanese attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor.
“As we move forward, I think the Flying Tiger Reunion is a great way to allow our diverse wing to come together and celebrate our accomplishments,” said Griffin. “In the past, the reunion focused on the American Volunteer Group and World War II members to meet and reminisce, but only a few are still with us, so now, the point is to allow other great generations of Flying Tigers to come together.”
Over 300 Flying Tigers spanning from conflicts as early as WWII to today’s Global War on Terrorism were in attendance.
“It's overwhelming and humbling at the same time to be sitting next to a guy who flew P-40s or was the first A-10 POW in Desert Storm,” said Griffin. “These are the guys I have read about in books, saw their pictures are on the squadron walls, and heard stories about in the squadron heritage room. Being able to have a roll call with the squadron mates from every era of our Fighter Group’s history really makes you feel like you are part of something big.”
This year, two of the original Flying Tigers from World War II, Don Miller and J.M. Taylor, who flew P-40s and P-51s in China attended the reunion.
“I can’t tell you how many reunions I’ve been to, maybe 30 through the years, but I can tell you how many I’ve missed, only about five or six, due to health reasons, “said J. M. Taylor, former 75th Pursuit Squadron pilot and WWII POW. “I’m very grateful and I honor those that have passed on before me.
“I don’t know why, but I feel really blessed that the lord has given me the life I’ve had and the health that I’ve enjoyed. The Flying Tigers have a lot of camaraderie. I’m thankful for the recognition and the opportunity to express my feelings and experiences just one more time.”
Taylor and current Flying Tigers boast that there isn’t another unit or squadron in the entire Air Force that has the lineage of the Flying Tigers.
“I remember it well … on July the 4th, 1942, the 23d Fighter Group was born,” said Taylor. “And we were born on the battlefield. Over the years, we have been activated, deactivated and reactivated but always reactivated and we’re proud of that. I wear my tiger shark with pride. I am a Flying Tiger.
“I don’t know of a soul, who was disappointed that they were assigned to the tigers,” Taylor added. “Just the name Flying Tiger, more so than any other groups, from WWII to now, is the most recognized of over any other group.”
Taylor attributes desire, fortitude and determination for what keeps him coming back to reunions year after year and when the 94 year-old POW was asked what advice he had for the younger generation of Flying Tigers, Taylor responded with a chuckle, “Fly low and slow and don’t get captured.”