Medals of the pilots of the A.V.G.
A number of documents survive which describe the awarding of medals by the Chinese Government to the American Volunteer Group to China (A.V.G.) in 1941 and 1942. These documents are divided into two sets. One set on the west coast at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California as part of the General Chennault archives. The other resides with the General's widow, Mrs. Chennault, in Washington D.C. These documents are undated, unsigned, and with no effective dates for the periods covered. They are wonderful clues for the search of who was credited for what and why they were or were not awarded military medals.
The `Flying Tiger' A.V.G. pilot's medals consist primarily of two Chinese military medals: the Order of the Cloud and Banner and the Wing Star Medals. The Order of the Cloud and Banner medal is referred to in various A.V.G. documents as the ____ grade Yun-mo order, and the ___ grade Cloud Banner Decoration. The Wing Star Medals in A.V.G. documents were referred to a Air Force __-star Medal, __-star Medal, or __-Star Wing Medal, Chinese Air Force.
The original Wing Star Medals are a limited edition medal of the Chinese Government. The reason for the limited edition characterization lies with the period of issue. This medal was authorized May 5 , 1928 by the Chinese Government and was replaced after the creation of the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan by a new and different medal to be issued for the same purpose. The new medal's ribbons are different and the medal itself has been redesigned. The new one through four medals are rather diminutive compared to those for five through ten. A significant difference from the original medal.
The Wing Star medals have Chinese characters on the reverse describing the individual medals. The characters on the reverse of George Burgard's Ten Star Wing medal were translated as follows: right side: `Air Force Ten Stars', left side: `Star Medal'. The bottom is a name difficult to translate and a marker indicating 20% gold content. It is doubtful that the new medals have a gold content.
Both the Cloud and Banner and the Wing Star medals were issued in various grades to the A.V.G. Mark Chao's fine article "The Republic of China Order of the Cloud and Banner" in the July-August 2002 issue of The Journal of the Orders and Medals Society of America details the various grades of the Order of the Cloud and Banner. The A.V.G. received decorations from the Seventh Grade through the Third Grade. The A.V.G. members received Wing Star Medals from 1 through 10.
Medals were only issued to those pilots who fully honored their Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO) contracts and who survived their tour of duty. Gen. Bond in his A Flying Tiger's Diary on January 13, 1943 wrote: "Chennault is classifying each resignation and discharge as dishonorable.". This should give you Chennault's feelings regarding those pilots and ground crew who quit. Red Foster Petach relates in the film documentation The Real Flying Tigers that before she was permitted to leave Kunming, the Chinese authorities went through her baggage and removed her deceased husband's medals. This story should give you the Chinese Government's feelings regarding the medals of deceased pilots. Of the 106 pilots hired by CAMCO for the First American Volunteer Group (F.A.V.G.) `Flying Tigers' only 59 survived and complete their contracts to receive honorable discharges. Of that total only 42 pilots received Wing Star and Cloud and Banner medals.
There appears to be a reasonable correlation between the Wing Star medals and the Order of the Cloud and Banner medals which evolved from the first medals issue to what appears to be the final issue of medals by letter on January 22, 1943. Squadron leaders were issued the 5th Class Order of the Cloud and Banner medals as a result of their position in the group. Other pilots with 5+ air victories received 5th Class Order of the Cloud and Banner medals as well as those pilots who had a combination of 5+ air and ground credits. The 4th Class Order of the Cloud and Banner was ultimately awarded to those pilots with 9+ air victories. Initially it appeared that the Fourth Class Order of the Cloud and Banner medal would be issued only to those who had 10+ victories. (In the document "A Complete Name-List of Decorations" Bob Neale is listed for a Ten Star Wing medal and a Fourth Class Order of the Cloud and Banner whereas Bob Little is listed for a Nine Star Wing medal and a Fifth Class Order of the Cloud and Banner.) The 7th Class Order of the Cloud and Banner was awarded to the pilots with one air victory, and the 6th Order was awarded to those pilots with 2- 4 air victories.
The highest order medal issued to the A.V.G. was to Col. Chennault. He received the Third Class Order of the Cloud and Banner medal number 115. The highest order of the Wing Star medals were issued to Bob Neale and George Burgard: the Ten Star Wing medals numbers 2 and 1 respectively. The total number of medals issued to A.V.G. pilots was 42 Wing Star medals and 42 Cloud and Banner medals. Col. Chennault's Cloud and Banner medal brought that category total to 43.
Ten Star Wing Medals: Confusion exists as to the official number of double aces of the `Flying Tigers'. Those who have researched this area of `Flying Tigers' history many times find David Lee `Tex' Hill, Robert L. Little, and Charles Older included with Robert Neale and George Burgard as double aces. Two others, Charles R. Bond, in his book A Flying Tiger's Diary, and Kenneth Jernstedt through his submission to American Fighter Aces Album, have included themselves in this group. If these five were official double aces of the A.V.G. campaign they would be holders of the Chinese Ten Star Wing medals in addition to Robert Neale and George Burgard. What follows should clarify the record.
Charles Older: Mr. Older received a January 22, 1943 letter from then Gen. Chennault awarding him a "9-star Wing medal, Chinese Air Force, No. 2". These January 22, 1943 letters were the final awards of A.V.G. Wing Star and Cloud Banner medals.
David Lee `Tex' Hill: Mr. Hill has displayed in his medals and decorations case on his library wall a Nine Star Wing Medal with his Fourth Order of the Cloud and Banner medal.
Robert Little: Mr. Little did not survive the A.V.G. campaign, and he, along with all other pilots killed in action, missing in action, and prisoners of war received no medals from the Chinese Government. Mr. Little was listed by the A.V.G. to receive a Ten Star Wing Medal (#4) in two separate A.V.G. documents. Mr. Little was also scheduled to receive the Nine Star Wing medal and the Fifth Class Order of the Cloud and Banner awarded to him at the official ceremonies of June 6th, 1942. Unfortunately Mr. Little was killed in action May 22, 1942, 15 days before the awards were conferred. Mr. Little does not appear on the final upgrade of Cloud and Banner recipients, entitled simply "Name list of A.V.G. members Conferred", where Burgard, Hill, Older and R.T. Smith were each upgraded from the 5th Class to the 4th Class Cloud and Banner medals. Had Bob Little's next of kin been scheduled to receive his medals he should have been on this list for an upgrade to a 4th Class Order of the Cloud and Banner. He is not.
Kenneth Jernstedt: Mr. Jernstedt appears on page #113 of the American Fighter Aces Album with a credited total of 10 1/2 victories. This would make him a double ace. The A.V.G. undated document entitled "A CHART OF THE RECORDS OF THE PILOTS FORMERLY AND NOW RECOMMENDED" lists Mr. Jernstedt with 3 `AIR RECORDS' and 7 `GROUND RECORDS'. Mr. Jernstedt apparently combined his air and ground credits for his submission to the American Fighter Aces Album. In the A.V.G. records Mr. Jernstedt was issued a Fifth Grade Cloud and Banner Decoration No. 297 and upgraded from Air Force 2-star medal (No.66) to Three-star medal No. 39.
Mr. Jernstedt does not appear on the "Name list of A.V.G. members Conferred" for being upgraded to a Fourth Class Order of the Cloud and Banner. No A.V.G. records support Mr. Jernstedt's claim that he is a double ace as he presented in the American Fighter Aces Album.
Charles R. Bond: Gen. Bond writes in his 1984 book A Flying Tiger's Diary on pages 184-185: "The first decoration was the Fifth Order of the Cloud Banner, one of China's highest decorations. The other was the Chinese Ten Star Wing Medal, which is a lesser honor and is in recognition of the number of enemy aircraft I have shot down. I have not reached ten yet, but they gave it to me anyway." Gen. Bond's statement that he received a Ten Star Wing medal on June 6th, 1942 is contrary to all the evidence on the matter. The A.V.G. document prepared for the June 6th, 1942 awards ceremony shows Mr. Bond is to receive the Six Star Wing Medal (No. 12) and the Fifth Class Order of the Cloud Banner (No. 298).
The only Ten Star medal on that list was to Robert Neale (No. 2) along with the Fourth Class Order of the Cloud Banner (No. 458). Gen. Bond acknowledges receiving a Fifth Class Order of the Cloud Banner but not a Fourth Class which would normally accompany a Ten Star Wing Medal. It has been confirmed that George Burgard received an Eight Star Wing medal (No. 1) and a Fifth Class Order of the Cloud Banner that same day as was shown on the A.V.G. document `A Complete Name-List of Decorations'.
There is no documented evidence that General Bond received a Ten Star Wing medal. The A.V.G. document entitled `A CHART OF THE RECORDS OF THE PILOTS FORMERLY AND NOW RECOMMENDED' shows Gen. Bond with 7 `AIR RECORDS' and 2 1/2 `GROUND RECORDS'. In Gen. Bond's submission to the American Fighter Aces Album in 1978 he states the following: "...was awarded two Chinese medals, Fifth Order of the Cloud Banner and Seven Star Wing Medal." This statement is certainly different from the one in his book A Flying Tiger's Dairy of approximately six years earlier.
Gen. Bond's recitation of his June 6th diary entry leaves the impression that the Chinese Government was loose in their awarding of military decorations. This impression does not mesh with Red Foster Petach's account of her baggage search, nor the policy of not awarding medals to the deceased, missing in action and prisoner's of war. (see below)
POW - KIA - MIA: One of the unique things regarding the awarding of Chinese medals, to the A.V.G., is the manner by which POW's., KIA's and MIA's are handled regarding medals. No document has been found which absolutely states that these pilots will not receive Cloud and Banner nor Wing Star medals. However, the documents available regarding military awards do tell a story and provide enough clues regarding the treatment of this group and their non issue of medals.
The first A.V.G. document regarding medals seems to be a single page undated, untitled document for the Third Squadron action during their Christmas 1941 defense of Rangoon. Included in that document are four First Squadron pilots. The notable anomaly of this medals list regards Robert `Sandy' Sandell, who died February 7, 1942. Sandell is listed for a Fifth Class Order of the Cloud and Banner medal but no Wing Star medal. Sandell had a total of five air victories on January 28 and 29, 1941. Bob Little is on the list for a Sixth Class Order of the Cloud Banner medal and a Three Star Wing medal for his victories of January 29, 1941 and February 6, 1942. It appears at this point a Cloud and Banner will be awarded to the deceased but not a Wing Star medal. This is the first indication of an Chinese Government/A.V.G. medals policy.
The second A.V.G. document regarding medals "A Complete Name-List of Decorations" supports the absence of a Wing Medal for `Sandy' Sandell . His Fifth Grade Cloud Banner still appears on this document. But here the treatment in this category becomes contradictory and uneven. On page three the final four entries are all pilots who were killed in action: John Blackburn, KIA 4-26-42; Louis Hoffman, KIA 1-26-42; Kenneth Merritt, KIA 1-7-42 and Thomas Cole, KIA 1-23-42. Blackburn is listed for Sixth Grade Cloud Banner and Two Star Wing medals. Merritt and Cole who have one victory apiece are listed for no medals only `Certificates for combat merit'.
This document shows one deceased pilot for a Cloud Banner, one deceased pilot for Cloud Banner and Wing Star medals, and two deceased pilots for neither. A consistent policy for A.V.G. medals is not indicated at this time.
The fifth A.V.G. document, title unknown, adds more credence to the separate treatment for KIA, MIA and POW pilots. T. A. Jones, KIA 5-16-42 and W. D. McGarry, POW 3-24-42 are both listed for a Distinguished Certificate, but no other medals. R. L. Little, KIA 5-22-42 is listed for the #4 Ten Star Wing Medal, but is not upgraded to the Fourth Class Order of the Cloud and Banner. Chuck Older and R. T. Smith are upgraded to the Fourth Class Cloud Banner for their nine air victories. This is certainly inconsistent and the reverse of the earlier Sandell treatment.
The sixth A.V.G. document entitled; `A list of A.V.G. members conferred includes all the final Cloud and Banner upgrades and all the first issues of Cloud and Banner medals. This list excludes all pilots of KIA, MIA, POW status. The following names do not appear: Little, Sandell, Newkirk, Blackburn, Hoffman, Cole, Donovan, Jones, Merritt, Mott, and McGarry. There is one notable exception: J. E. Petach, Jr. However, his widow was shown earlier to give testimony regarding the confiscation of his medals before she was permitted to leave China. Another list, not perfect, but highly indicative of a policy. Each document by itself would not be conclusive, however, I believe, taken as a whole they present a clear picture that pilots of the status KIA, MIA or POW did not receive Cloud and Banner nor Wing Star medals.
On January 22, 1943 a final set of A.V.G. documents were sent to all pilots who were awarded medal upgrades, or who were to receive first time issues of medals. This final set of medals documents were letters from then General Chennault to the individual recipients of upgrades or first time medals to their individual U. S. residences. No copies of these letters have been found in either archive, however many individual pilots have these original letters with their medals.
The following pilots resigned from the A.V.G. prior to July 4, 1942. Following their names are the victories according to A.V.G. records (both air and ground). You will not find any of their names on any of the medals lists of the A.V.G. Noel Bacon (3.5), Percy Bartlett (7), Donald Bernsdorf (-), Morris Bohman (-), Greg Boyington (3.5), Elmer Cook (-), Albert Criz (-), Henry Fuller (-), Ralph Gunvordahl (1), Ramond Hastey (1), Leo Houle (-), John Kelleher (-), Donald Knapp (-), Maurice McGuire (-), Edwin Rushton (-), Gail Stubbs (-), Estes Swindle (-), Stanley Wallace (-), Robert Walroth (-), Eugene Watson (-), and Richard White (-).
Five of these pilots had official A.V.G. victories and would have been in line for Seventh or Sixth Class Order of the Cloud and Banner medals and possible Wing Star medals. Because they failed to complete their contracts, they received no medals. Their names cannot be found on any A.V.G. medals lists.
There is also some evidence that not all the medals sent by General Chennault on January 22, 1943 reached their intended recipients. Richard Rossi in his submission to the American Fighter Aces Album acknowledges his receipt of a Five Star Wing medal. The A.V.G. records show he was upgraded to the Six Star Wing medal #5. Bob Prescott in his submission to the American Fighter Aces Album acknowledges a Three Star Wing medal while the A.V.G. records upgrade him to 5.5 air victories. In January 1943 the war was in full swing and its reasonable to believe that lost mail could account for these discrepancies.
A quick review of the list of Wing Star medals can serve to give an approximate number of all these medals issued through July 1942, including both Chinese and A.V.G. pilots. A look at the highest number of each group can tell us approximately how many medals of each group were issued. A total of the ten groups should then give a total of all Wing Star medals issued by the Chinese Government through July 1942. The following are the highest numbers for each group: 10-star (#2), 9-star (#3), 8-star (#1 returned), 7-star (#5), 6-star (#5+), 5-star (#6+), 4-star (#5+), 3-star (#47), 2-star (#35+), and 1-star (#36). Adding these highest numbers gives us an approximate total of 144+ Wing Star medals. The (+) is for the possibility that the unknown numbers of the later issued medals may be a higher number than the ones listed. The other side of the coin would be lower numbers turned in for upgrades and for which there is no accounting.
A review of the Order of the Cloud and Banner medal numbers also infers an interesting story. It would seem that the senior field officers received most of the medals for their service to China because the highest numbers on the medals received by the A.V.G. are in the fourth and fifth class medals, 467 and 321 respectively. These two groups would also include the highest awards to junior field officers. The most infrequently issued Cloud and Banner, according to the numbers on the reverse of A.V.G. medals, was the seventh class medal. The highest number for this group is 29.
The total population of all A.V.G. medals is infinitesimally small in the world of medals, for the A.V.G. was a extraordinarily small, albeit an extremely significant group of World War II.