Flying Tigers Navigation Station
From 1941-1942, the American volunteer aviation group (AVG), popularly known as “The Flying Tigers” erected a navigation station in Xizhou within walking distance from the Linden Centre. The Flying Tigers, organized under the direction of General Claire Lee Chennault, were famous for their fearless flying and shark nose painted airplanes. The American soldiers dispatched supplies to the Chinese people braving treacherous mountains and fierce winds to fight their way over the southern Himalayas a.k.a. the “hump”. One of the most familiar sights on “The Hump” route was the tall, white pagoda of a 400-year-old Buddhist monastery atop Jizu Shan, or Chicken Foot Mountain, located 70 miles east of Xizhou.
The Flying Tigers also benefitted from the hospitality of the Bai people. A former radio station, home to a rotation of American servicemen, sits only five minutes away from The Linden Centre. The station was based in the ancestral temple of Zhao Kang Jun, then Secretary to the Yunnan Provincial Governor. He volunteered his family’s compound to be used as the headquarters of the Flying Tigers in the region. Situated next to the ancestor hall, the men lived in an adjoining section on the first level walking up an enclosed staircase to the radar room which housed both radar and a radio. According to a Zhao family member, Zhao Shi Long, (石龙) there were about 7-8 Americans living in his family home when he was 4 years old. Elder Zhao who now lives next door in a newer home remembers, “At that time, there were no cars in Xizhou, but they had a Jeep. If they saw me walking on the road, they would give me a ride, we loved to chase after that Jeep.”
It is not uncommon for locals to tell stories about their families’ past relationships with the American pilots. One of the Centre’s neighbors still remembers when an American plane crashed along the shore of Er Hai just outside of Xizhou. The local villagers pulled the man from the wreckage and nursed him back to life in a temple. The man fondly recalls being given candy by American servicemen from the back of a jeep when they came to drive the pilot back to Kunming. Warm smiles are still the norm for Westerner visitors to Xizhou – thanks in part to the legacy of the Flying Tigers.