Flying Tigers
revised and updated

A member of the 2nd American Volunteer Group

Every month, regular as clockwork, I get an email asking why the writer's Uncle Bob or (more often now) Grandfather Tom isn't on my roster of Flying Tigers. To keep the emails down, I pose the question in the Flying Tiger FAQ, and I have a boilerplate letter that I send to people who write me anyhow. (The roster is complete. Really it is!)

So when a woman wrote me asking about her dad, Master Sergeant Alfred Charland, I naturally figured that the sergeant was another Flying Tiger wannabe. Much to my surprise, however, she sent me a batch of military memos in which Sgt. Charland kept asking for credit for the time he'd served with the AVG, along with a memo to the effect that he had indeed been released from the U.S. Army "to accept employment with Central Aircraft Mfg. Co." on November 6, 1941. He was then a private.

I was originally told that he was a native of Nashua NH, born in 1920, but more recently that his home town was Dracut MA. (Perhaps his family moved there while he was growing up.) He joined the army as an eighteen-year-old in 1938 and served a tour in the Panama Canal Zone before getting a discharge to join the 2nd AVG, a bomber group recruited in the fall of 1941. He was signed up at Windsor Locks CT by a representative of Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company, which was supporting the 1st AVG in Burma.

Charland in the U.S. Army At left, Alfred Charland in US Army service, from a newspaper clipping

The 2nd AVG was a bomber group entirely recruited from the U.S. Army. CAMCO hired 82 pilots and 359 technicians for the group. Like the fighter pilots and crews who had preceded them, they were to be paid a generous salary, plus a bonus for miles flown on combat missions, rather like the the combat bonus paid to fighter pilots.

They were to have been equipped with Lockheed Hudson and Douglas Boston light bombers, and the Hudsons were on the tarmac at Burbank, California, on December 7, 1941. The plan had been for the Hudsons to fly out under their own power, while the Bostons were shipped by sea. On December 10, the Hudsons and their pilots were re-inducted into the U.S. Army. I believe that each plane was to have carried two pilots, a radioman, a navigator, and probably a mechanic.

On November 21, however, the ground crews, perhaps some of the air crews, and one pilot had already left for Burma aboard the Noordam and Bloemfontein. They had left Hawaii behind by the time of the December 7 attack, and rather than being sent back to shattered Pearl Harbor the ships were diverted to Australia, where they must have arrived sometime toward the end of December.

As Sgt. Charland told the story, he served with the AVG as an armament instructor for four months, until February 26, 1942. When recruited by CAMCO, he'd been promised that his AVG time would count towards retirement and longevity in the U.S. Army. CAMCO, he said, paid his salary for those four months, until he "volunteered for service with the United States Army Air Force in Melbourne, Australia." Knowing what the U.S. Army is like, and the chaos of that winter of defeats, it's not at all unlikely that Sgt. Charland waited two months to put on uniform again.

He served with the 35th Fighter Group in the New Guinea campaign and as a flight engineer during the Korean War, retiring in 1959. He died thirty years later at the age of sixty-nine.

"My dad took no crap from anyone and was a little old fashioned in regards to how some people felt about the military especially after the Vietnam War," his daughter writes. "That war caused a distance between him and my brother who refused to lose his life there. I always spoke about traveling abroad and his reply was to travel all of the U.S. first. He said everytime he set foot back on America soil he kissed the ground. He always told me how lucky I was to be an American and to be proud."

What a pity the Flying Tigers veterans group never sought out these men who might so easily have been their comrades in Burma and China!

Question? Comment? Newsletter? Send me an email. Blue skies! -- Dan Ford

Cowboy: interpreter, warlord, one more casualty

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