Saturday, November 3, 2007

Flying Tiger Legend Tex Hill Flies Final Mission

Tex Hill in his World War II Army Air Force uniform in 1943.
-- Courtesy photo

An aviation legend, who was a member of the famed Flying Tigers, died Oct. 11.Retired Air National Guard Brig. Gen. David Lee “Tex” Hill, 92, died at his home near San Antonio, Texas, of congestive heart failure.

Life with Tex Hill was always lighthearted because of his personality and sense of humor, said his grandson Col. Reagan Schaupp, director of Air University’s Joint Flag Officer Warfighting Course.“He could deliver a one-liner like you wouldn’t believe,” the colonel said. He said his grandfather’s outlook on life is illustrated by a story about one of the new guys reporting to the 23rd Fighter Group command section to meet his new commander, Tex Hill. The man found an inbox and an outbox on General Hill’s desk. The inbox held roasted peanuts. The empty shells were in the outbox.

The famed Flying Tigers commanded by aviation pioneer, Gen. Claire Chennault, was known officially as the American Volunteer Group. They were a small group of volunteer aviators recruited by Chennault at the request of China’s Madame Chiang Kai-shek to defend the country against the Japanese during the early years of World War II. On a mission to strafe Japanese aircraft at an airfield near Raheng, China, he and other Flying Tigers encountered enemy Ki-27 Nate fighters, and suddenly, General Hill’s P-40 Tomahawk began to shudder badly. “Something was wrong. Tex was vibrating and shaking so violently, he concluded the engine was coming out of the airplane,” Colonel Schaupp wrote in Tex’s memoir. “Feeling he didn’t have long in the air, Tex headed for Burma to put as much distance between him and the enemy as possible. He sweated out the shuddering ride, expecting any minute to begin a slow dive into the jungle, but somehow the P-40 stayed doggedly in flight and made it back to the base.”Upon inspecting the aircraft, General Hill discovered 11, 7.7-millimeter bullets lodged in his aircraft with a couple in one of the propeller’s blades. That had thrown the propeller rotation out of sync and was the cause of the intense vibration. Looking at the bullets, General Hill realized the loud thumps he heard while battling one of the Japanese fighters were, “very nearly the last sounds he ever heard.”

When the Flying Tigers were deactivated in July 1942, General Hill remained in China with the 23rd Fighter Group. He was one of only five Flying Tiger pilots to stay longer than two weeks after the American Volunteers Group disbanded, and was given the task of activating the 75th Fighter Squadron. General Hill left China in December 1942 to command the Proving Ground Group at Eglin Field, Florida, and returned to China in 1943 to command the 23rd Fighter Group. When he returned home in 1944, he was credited with destroying 18.25 enemy aircraft making him an ace three times over.

Hill became a brigadier general, and at age 31, he was the youngest one-star in the history of the Air National Guard. General Hill retired from military service with that rank in 1968.

As Colonel Schaupp remembers his grandfather, he realizes, for Tex, there are no more enemy fighters to duel in the sky, no more ground targets to strafe, and no more wars to win.“Others will have to see to those things,” he said. “What’s important is that young men and women know his story, understand his sacrifice and carry on where he left off. What’s important is for the nation to remember and uphold the freedom such patriots paid so dearly for.”

No comments: