Area man among Flying Tigers honored at National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center

benw@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 9, 2012 

A Columbus man will be among the Flying Tigers when members of the first American Volunteer Group visit the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center.

"At the time, we really didn't know what we were doing," said Frank Losonsky, a former crew chief of the P40s aircraft with the Flying Tigers. "We were proud to be one of the group."

The 1-2 p.m. event Oct. 19 gives the public a chance to meet four of six surviving members of the group, get an autograph or have a picture taken.

Ben Williams, president of the National Infantry Foundation, said the museum is pleased to host the group known as the shark-faced fighters. "For them to be able to and willing to share their own personal stories with our visitors really makes this museum come to life," he said.

The group was formed in 1941 with soldiers from the Army, Navy and Marine Corps to defend China from invasion by the Japanese in 1941. The group was first engaged in combat on Dec. 20, 1941, during World War II, less than two weeks after the Dec. 7, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

With three aircraft squadrons, the Flying Tigers were assigned to defend the port of Rangoon, Burma, and the Burma Road leading to China. Pilots were assigned to opposite ends of the Burma Road to protect communication lines while the eastern regions of China were under occupation by Japan. "I just remember that we were doing what we really had to do," Losonsky said.

Approved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and commanded by Claire Lee Chennault, the volunteer group was made up of 100 pilots and 200 ground personnel who were discharged from the service for the venture in April 1941, about eight months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Losonsky, who turned 92 Monday, said volunteers were paid more than soldiers in the other forces to be part of the group. "I felt pretty good about it," he said.

Salaries for members ranged from $250 a month for a mechanic to $750 for a squadron commander. As crew chief, Losonsky said he was responsible for maintaining the aircraft. At times, the volunteers were called mercenaries for performing duties as a private military contractor. The group operated from July 4, 1941, to July 4, 1942, before it was officially disbanded.

After leaving the Flying Tigers, Losonsky wrote a book about his work as a crew chief. The book is titled "Flying Tiger: A crew chief's story: The war diary of an AVG crew chief."

The four volunteers will be presented a handmade quilt by the Quilts of Valor Foundation, a nonprofit organization that aims to provide quilts to service members and veterans who served in war. A commemorative coin also will be sold for $12 to support the Flying Tiger Association to help keep the legacy alive.

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