Most known for founding the “Flying Tigers,” Claire Chennault was an American general with both combat time on the ground along with many hours of time in the air. His many speeches talked of training fighter pilots in a fashion way ahead of his time. Ultimately, these ideas were met with disbelief and pushed aside because of his idealistic sense of pride in his desire to actually help the rest of the world when it comes to foreign policies. “We send people to distribute that aid.. We send some of the dumbest, most ignorant people I have ever encountered. We have to change our whole method of giving aid. We have to get down and contact the people, make friends with them at all levels.” This statement, made by Chennault when asked his opinion on the current administrations foreign aid policies, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to some of Chennault’s radical ideas, as viewed by the current administration.
Chennault’s life out of the military started in Commerce, Texas, September 6th, 1890. Moving to Louisiana, Chennault’s mother died when he was five, though still went on to graduate from the Louisiana State College. Marrying Nell Thompson in December of 1911, Chennault had 8 children, divorcing 35 years later after which he married Anna Chan, with whom he had 2 children. Before entering World War I as a flight instructor, Chennault was a teacher after graduating from Louisiana State University in 1910, receiving ROTC training around this time.
- Sept 6th 1890 – Born in Commerce, Texas.
- Dec 17th 1903 – First flight (Wright brothers).
- Dec 24th 1911 – Married Nell Thompson.
- 1914 – World War I commences, enlisted and stationed in Gerstner Army camp for a short period of time.
- 1920 – Discharged during the spring, though requested to join the Air Service, joining the first fighter pilot course.
- 1923 – Given command to the 19th Pursuit Squadron in Hawaii at Luke Field at Pearl Harbor.
- 1930’s – The Director of Flight Operation in San Antonio, Texas.
- 1936 – Becomes an executive officer for a pursuit group located in Barksdale, Shreveport. Later, “retires” because of his health due to constant disagreements with other military leaders.
- 1937 – Retires from the US Army, living on Lake St John, then moves to China, becoming an overseer for the Chinese Air Force, though discouraged to do so because of China’s inexperience in the area.
- 1939 – Returns to military service, though continues training Chinese pilots.
- 1941 – The group of American volunteers, commanded by Chennault, which trained Chinese fighter pilots was nicknamed the “Flying Tigers.” With a shark-tooth design painted upon the P-40’s, as taken from an issue of the India Illustrated Weekly, the group quickly acquired this nickname.
- 1945 – Just before the end of World War II, Chennault is once again forced to retire because of “health” issues. The real reasons can be seen in his comments about other generals hindering China’s war effort.
- 1946 – Formed the Civil Air Transports (CAT), a operation which brought relief supplies from Shanghai and Canton to throughout China..
- December 2nd 1947 - Married Anna Chen.
- 1956 – Diagnosed with cancer along with worsening bronchitis, had an operation removing most of his lung.
- 1957 – After returning to China, another spot of cancer was found in his lung, and returned back to the US (New Orleans) for treatment by Dr. Alton Ochsner.
- July 27th 1958 – Died and later buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.
Chennault was a general who wouldn't give up on what he saw as being the right thing to do. A look into the past of military leaders, at least from what I've seen, has predominantly shown a darker side. However, Chennault is truly the epitome of a great military leader and human being (alongside Patton in my mind, another general of his time). Some ideas that Chennault had on modernizing the air force included new tactics and maneuvers which would improve on the techniques currently being taught, which as he put it was "medieval jousting in dogfights." However, the military always turned their ears and continued with present matters. "In 1936, engineers ridiculed my suggestion that four 30-caliber guns could be synchronized to fire through a propeller. They said it was impossible. But the next year I saw a Russian plane with synchronized guns in action against the Japanese in China." Even so, the military continued to ignore his ideas. Among other ideas included parachutes and new tactics which would have greatly improved the success of taking out bombers.