H/T to Kurt via email for this one.
Most people don’t know that Americans were volonteering for WW2 before Pearl Harbor. Many think it just a Hollywood invention, a bit of propaganda to bolster the image of Americans in that period. While it certainly has been propagandized, it is still none the less true.
Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Americans were enlisting in the Royal Canadian Armed Forces, the RAF, and in 1940/41, a group volonteered to go help the Chinese against the Japanese under Claire Chennault. This last group came to be known as the “Flying Tigers.” They have been immortalized in a John Wayne film, and indirectly on a TV series (Black Sheep Squadron). They have been enshrined in multiple museums and memorials in the US and China.
The group was recruited after an agreement between the Nationalist Chinese government of Chiang Kai-Chek and FDR. Pilots, mechanics, and other personel were recruited from both the civilian and military ranks. They would go to China (through Burma), anf fly P-40 Warhawks against the Japanese. All on a minimal salary and bonus for each Japanese plane shot down.
In a rather brief period of time, the Flying Tigers made one heck of an impact. Not only in terms of bolstering the image of Americans abroad, but in terms of combat effectiveness, reputation, and tactical lessons later applied in the war in the Pacific. They operated for less than a year, yet made an indelible mark on the Chinese and their Japanese opponents.
Despite all this, these guys are only well known to students of WW2 history, their families, and those who served. Much like the Tuskegee Airmen who came later, they are more often a footnote, rather than a main subject of history. Despite popular movies, TV shows, and TV movies, they still don’t enter the general consciousness of people when the subject of WW2 comes up.
These guys were special, in a time when special was the norm. It’s not called our “greatest generation” for nothing you know. We need to keep the memories of these guys and gals alive. Not just for today, but for future generations as well.