Campus News

Chung recounts mother’s service during World War II

Rebecca Chung in the clinic of the U.S. Army 14th Station Hospital in Kunming, China.

Rebecca Chung (left, standing) in the clinic of the U.S. Army 14th Station Hospital in Kunming, China. Photo: Courtesy of Deborah Chung


Published October 8, 2015

UB faculty member Deborah Chung recounted the wartime experiences of her mother, Rebecca Chan Chung, with the “Flying Tigers” and the China National Aviation Corporation during a recent event sponsored by the UB Confucius Institute and the College of Arts and Sciences commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The free event, held on Sept. 28 in O’Brian Hall, North Campus, included the talk by Chung, Niagara Mohawk Chair Professor of Materials Research in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, as well as an exhibition, “World War II with the Flying Tigers.”

Rebecca Chung received a nursing degree from the University of Hong Kong in December 1941 — the same month Japanese forces occupied the British territory. She fled to mainland China to escape the Japanese occupation and soon found a job with the American Volunteer Group — nicknamed the “Flying Tigers” — at a medical clinic the squadron ran at its base in Kunming, China. The clinic later became the 14th U.S. Army Station Hospital.

Supported by the U.S. government, the Flying Tigers was formed under the command of retired U.S. Army Capt. Claire Lee Chennault during the summer of 1941 to help defend China against Japanese forces. The squadron fought more than 50 battles in Burma and China — flying Curtiss Wright P-40 fighter planes made in Buffalo. When the U.S. entered the Pacific War, the Flying Tigers became a part of the U.S. Army Air Forces.

Deborah Chung.

Deborah Chung stands at the exhibit about the Flying Tigers.  

In her lecture, Chung told an audience of UB students, faculty and local veterans that after serving with the Flying Tigers, her mother was hired by the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) to work as a stewardess/nurse on transport planes flying over the Himalayas from India to China. These flights were extremely dangerous, she noted: Aircraft and weather-prediction technology were inadequate for flying at such high altitudes, and the planes were in danger of being pursued by Japanese military aircraft. A significant portion of the flights crashed or had to turn back, Chung said.

However, the flights were essential for supplying military forces in China after the Japanese defeated the British in Burma and closed off the Burma Road. Rebecca Chung, who was based in Calcutta, India, at the time, flew more than 50 flights over the Himalayas into China.

Most CNAC veterans were awarded U.S. Army veteran status in 1993, Chung said, adding that her mother, who passed away on Dec. 7, 2011, finally received her honorable discharge posthumously in January 2012. The discharge papers were presented to Deborah Chung by then-U.S. Rep. Kathy Hochul.

Before her mother’s death, Chung co-authored her memoirs, titled “Piloted to Serve: Memoirs of Rebecca Chan Chung.” In her preface to the memoirs, Deborah Chung wrote: “I would like to . . . remember the close cooperation between the U.S. and China during the Japanese invasion of China in World War II and to honor the many military and CNAC personnel that lost their lives in this effort.”