On a sunny afternoon in June of 2002, my family and I were pulling into a very crowded parking lot when I heard the unmistakable sound of low flying piston engines. As I looked up, there was a flight of five AT-6 ‘Texan’ trainers flying nice and slow in perfect formation right over our car. It had taken more than a few hours of driving to get here – Reading, Pennsylvania – an area once settled by German emigrants in the United States. Every year for three days in the summer, a ‘World War II’ weekend is hosted here by the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum. While I was a certified airplane fanatic, the main reason I had wanted to come this particular year was to see David “Tex” Hill – youngest man to become Brigadier General in the US Air Force Reserve, commander of the 75th Fighter Squadron in China, and as most people will remember him, leader of the Flying Tigers’ 2nd Pursuit Squadron.
While it is always a thrill and honor to meet the men and women who had sacrificed so much during WWII, the men of the famed American Volunteer Group (AVG) has a special meaning to me. Growing up as a kid in Hong Kong in the 1960s, the Flying Tigers’ name had already weaved its way into popular culture. Among the Chinese, this small group of men represented a last bastion against Japanese Imperialism and servitude in the desperate hours of 1940 and 1941. Mostly cut off from the world and its major industrial centers occupied, the AVG were the only visible sign of help from the outside world at the time. It’s the classic story of David vs. Goliath.
Unfortunately, I had arrived too late and missed Tex’s talk at the podium. So late in the day, among the Corsairs and the B-25’s, the German re-enactors in restored half tracks, my wife insisted I that go to the vendors’ tent and get some memorabilia. So I purchased a print of Tex Hill’s P-40E flying over the Salween River Bridge on the Burma-China border as it bombed a Japanese column. I struck up a conversation with the man behind the table who turned out to be Tex Hill’s grandson. He asked if I was Chinese and whether the Chinese still remembered the Flying Tigers. I said “Of course! These men are heroes in the eyes of the Chinese” – everybody still knows the name “Flying Tigers”. He then asked if I wanted meet Tex and have him sign the print – he didn’t have to ask twice.
At the other end of the tent, we were introduced to Tex Hill. His grandson related our conversation to Tex and he was more than happy to talk a bit. He even spoke a few words of Chinese. He asked about my two boys and was nice enough to get some photos, signed and personalized for each of them. Tex was in his mid-eighties at this point, certainly slower in his movements and his writing was slow due to a visible shake in his hand. However, when he spoke, his eyes still shone with the same intensity you see in his photographs from sixty years ago.
Tex Hill passed away at the age of 92 in 2007. Thinking back at our meeting, I wanted to do something to honor him and what he stood for. The result is this series of articles – Tex Hill’s life, the planes he flew, and as complete a set of models as I could build.
As always, with any type of research project such as this, certain people helped tremendously in the effort. My gratitude to Tom Bell of Aerospace Media Services, who put me in touch with Wayne Tevlin, owner of Yellow-Wings Decals. Wayne forwarded me material from Lee J. Forbes of IPMS/USA, who had done extensive research regarding Tex Hill’s aircrafts. Much thanks also to the Hill family for supplying the material to Lee. Wayne also provided much of decals sets from Yellow-Wings for the Vindicator and Devastator. Yellow wings also have plans to come out with a complete set of decals to all or most of the planes covered these articles. So it may save the reader some work by checking with them first if you wish to replicate some of the markings documented here. Finally, thanks go to Tex Hill himself, for being so gracious to me and my family that one summer day and for the sacrifices he made for freedom.