Monday, October 19, 2015

Chennault Marker

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce. 

Alumni Center, reception site
A major historical event was conducted by Texas A&M University of Commerce on Wednesday, October 14. Claire Lee Chennault was born in Commerce on September 6, 1893, in a house only three blocks from the business center of town. Although the family soon moved to Louisiana, young Chennault returned to his native Texas as an aviation cadet and an officer in the Army Air Force stationed at bases around San Antonio. Chennault was a daring aviation pioneer and an emphatic advocate of innovative combat tactics. But in 1937, Chennault – only a captain at the age of 44 – was subject to enforced retirement.
Morning reception

Dr. Allan Goodwin conducting the Lion Band
Almost immediately Chennault was employed by Chiang Kai-shek as a colonel and advisor to the Chinese Air Force which was desperately inferior to the aggressive Japanese Air Force. Promoted to brigadier general, Chennault obtained from the United States 100 P-40 fighter planes, which were painted with the most distinctive image of any aircraft of World War II. General Chennault organized and trained the American Volunteer Group (AVG). American pilots and ground crew from U.S. Army and U.S. Navy air forces were recruited at high salaries to challenge Japanese air superiority over China. Pilots were paid as much as $750 per month along with a bonus of $500 for every enemy kill. Nicknamed “Flying Tigers,” the AVG went into action two weeks after Pearl Harbor. Hundreds of enemy planes were shot down by Chennault’s Flying Tigers. The AVG later was incorporated into the United States military and became part of the 14th Air Force, commanded by Major General Chennault. Chennault was highly decorated.
Ross Volunteer Color Guard

Chennault was married twice and was the father of 10 children. He still is regarded as a legendary hero in China. Chennault maintained homes in Taipei, Taiwan, and near Monroe, Louisiana, where his family moved not long after his birth. He died of cancer in 1958, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Dr. Jones
I was a graduate assistant in the history department at East Texas State University (later TAMUC) in 1968 when a marker was placed at the site of Chennault’s birth in Commerce. Forty-seven years later I was privileged to return to the same site for the dedication of another marker – written in two translations of Mandarin. There are over 16,000 state historical markers across Texas, more than in any other state, and this is the first one in Chinese.

Nell Calloway
TAMUC President Dan Jones determined that the dedication of this marker should be a notable occasion. The university worked in concert with the Texas Historical Commission and the City of Commerce to produce a major historical event.

Mark Wolfe, Executive Director of the THC, was in attendance and made appropriate remarks during the dedication. John Sharp, Chancellor of the Texas A&M University system, also was present and offered remarks. A squad from A&M’s Ross Volunteer Company provided a color guard. Brian Bolinger, Executive Director of the Texas State Historical Association, was on hand, along with John C. Crain, Board President of the Summerlee Foundation of Dallas. A strong Asian presence included representatives from the Chinese consulate in Houston, from the Taipei economic and Cultural Office in Houston, and from the Greater Dallas Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce. A number of political dignitaries were present.
1968 marker (left) and 2015 marker in Chinese

The most celebrated attendee was Nell Calloway, granddaughter of General Claire Chennault and founder and director of the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum in Monroe, Louisiana. Those who had not met her enjoyed making her acquaintance at a nine o’clock reception on the TAMUC campus shortly before the marker dedication. We were ferried by campus shuttle vehicles to the birthplace site, where the TAMUC Lion band was entertaining the growing crowd. Streets were blocked off around the site, and folding chairs and metal bleachers provided seating for of the growing crowd. The color guard presented the colors while the band played the National Anthem. Addressing the crowd were President Dan Jones, Mayor John Ballotti, Chancellor John Sharp, and Nell Calloway. As the speakers concluded, a flyover of a P-40 brought the crowd to its feet, and we all tried to photograph the vintage fighter plane provided by the Cavanaugh Flight Museum of Addison. Following this exciting highlight, many of us posed for photographs beside the 1968 and 2015 markers.

Chancellor Sharp, Nell Calloway, and President Jones
L to r: Mark Wolfe, Dr. Jessica Brannon-Wranosky
(TAMUC History Dept.), John Crain, 
State Historian O'Neal, Brian Bolinger,

The final event of the day was a delicious lunch in the Sam Rayburn Student Center. President Dan Jones welcomed the crowd, then provided me a gracious introduction as an alum and as Texas State Historian. It was my privilege to introduce Nell Calloway as luncheon speaker. A woman of great accomplishment and ability, Nell had made brief remarks at the dedication, but now we had the pleasure of hearing her discuss her grandfather and his career at greater length. She also described the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum, and issued an invitation to all of us.

It was a grand occasion. As an alum of TAMUC, I was enormously proud of my alma mater, and as State Historian of Texas I was deeply honored to have participated in such a memorable historical experience.
With Brian Bolinger and Mark Wolfe.
The State Historian is associated with the Texas
State Historical Association and the Texas Historical
Commission,  I was pleased to be with both
executive  directors at the same event.

Lunch crowd

Introducing Nell Calloway

Jalinna Jones, wife of the TAMUC president, was surprised
by being named an Honorary Yellow Rose of Texas.

Congratulating President Jones on a stellar event.

1 comment: