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Hazel Lee, Chinese-American heroine

Hazel Ying Lee (Not Chinese Air Force, strictly speaking, but not through any fault of hers!) Hazel Ying Lee was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1912. She graduated high school in 1929 and soon thereafter got her pilot's certificate from a Portland flight school, this at a time when only 1 percent of pilots were women and even fewer were minorities. In 1933, when the provicinal government of Canton set out to build an air force, she joined fourteen other Chinese-Americans to serve their ancestral country. They included Arthur Chin, who became the CAF's leading ace with nine air-to-air victories--hence America's first combat ace of the Second World War, broadly defined. Another volunteer was Clifford Louie Yim-Quin, who became a general in the CAF, chief executive officer of China Airlines, and Hazel Lee's husband.

Several of the men were accepted for service. Lee was not, but she stayed in China for a few years as a civilian pilot, returning to the United States in 1938. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, she volunteered for the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) who would ferry aircraft from factory to air base and overseas. As the story is told, she once crash landed in a Kansas field, where the mistook her for an invading Japanese and chased her around the aircraft with a pitch fork until she identified herself and put him at ease.

On November 10, 1944, Lee set out to deliver a P-63 Supercobra from the Bell Aircraft factory in Niagara Falls, New York, to Great Falls, Montana, when it would be flown on to the Soviet Union for service in the Red Air Force. Accounts different, but on landing at Great Falls, two of the fighters collided. Lee was pulled from her P-63 with her flight jacket in flames, burned so badly she would not recover. She died two later. Three days after that, the Lee family received the telegram informing their son Victor had been killed in action in Europe. She was the 38th and final WASP to die on active duty.

The WASP were regarded as civilians, hence not eligible for military honors and benefits. (The oversight was remedied in 1979, when the WASP were finally granted military status.) If not for that, the Lee family would have been a two Gold Star family for their losses in the Second World War. China's loss was America's gain.

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