by Xinhua writers Cheng Lu and Tong Fang
CHENGDU, Sept. 27 (Xinhua) -- Even 78 years after the end of World War II (WWII), the heroic story of the Flying Tigers lives on well in a private museum in China.
It was a special combat team, comprised of a group of American volunteer pilots, who came to China over 80 years ago to help the Chinese drive out invading Japanese troops.
To commemorate the Flying Tigers and other American servicemen who assisted China during WWII, Fan Jianchuan, who was once an entrepreneur, set up the Hall of the Heroes of the Flying Tigers in Anren Town in southwest China's Sichuan Province.
Shaped like a warship, the exhibition hall covers an area of 1,506 square meters and is part of the Jianchuan Museum, China's largest private museum cluster. Fan is also the curator of this museum.
Upon entering, visitors are captivated by a prominent feature: a wall entirely adorned with ceramic plaques displaying photographs of the 248 pilots who served in the Flying Tigers squad, each image capturing their youthful visages.
Introducing the displayed items, Fan emphasized the profound meaning behind establishing a commemorative museum.
According to Fan, more than 500 fighter planes from the Flying Tigers, along with over 500 transport planes along the famous "Hump" air route, crashed during WWII, and over 4,000 American soldiers sacrificed their lives in China.
"The deep friendship forged between the Chinese and American people during their joint struggle against Japanese fascism should not be forgotten," he said.
The Hall of the Heroes of the Flying Tigers features over 2,000 exhibits ranging from aircraft wreckage to the massive stone rollers used by the Chinese to build military airfields and photographs capturing the moments when Chinese citizens came to the rescue of downed American pilots.
Each item serves as a vessel of unique historical tales.
One prominent exhibit is the wreckage of a C-87 transport airplane. This plane was flown during WWII by American pilots tasked with transporting goods along the "Hump" air route over the Himalayas, a crucial channel in China's wartime logistics system.
The wreckage was discovered on a glacier in Nyingchi in southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region, at an altitude of over 4,000 meters. Just outside the hall stands a silver memorial plaque inscribed with the names of the five American soldiers who perished in the plane crash.
In October 2015, China handed over the remains of American pilots to the United States. "In order to uncover the history of the 'Hump' route and allow the mortal remains of these heroes to return to their homeland, the search team braved life-threatening conditions as they traversed glaciers in remote areas at altitudes of 5,000 meters," Fan said.
Over the years, numerous American veterans, many of them elderly and some even in wheelchairs, have visited the exhibition hall.
"The fighter pilot emblems they proudly wear on their chests tell me that they are among the bravest individuals in the world," Fan said.
When the Hall of the Heroes of the Flying Tigers opened on Aug. 15, 2005, Robert Gruber, an elderly veteran, visited the hall. Upon hearing that the exhibition showcased items related to WWII American soldiers, he was moved to tears.
Shortly after returning to the United States, Gruber passed away. Nevertheless, his personal belongings donated to the museum remain on display. These items include a portrait of him in his youth in military attire and a cherished photograph of his girlfriend, which was kept in a frame made from the wreckage of Japanese planes.
Over the past 18 years, the hall has welcomed 7.2 million visitors who have left numerous messages. "May the people of China and the United States always remember history and cherish peace," reads a note from a Chinese visitor.
Before the 80th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War in 2025, Fan plans to visit more veterans and their descendants in the United States and gather more artifacts.
He said he would also continue the search for American aircraft wreckage from WWII in China.
"Though the gun smoke of WWII has long dissipated, it remains our duty to comprehend this episode of history, perpetuate the spirit of the Flying Tigers, promote cooperation and friendship, and better safeguard global peace," Fan said.