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Flying Tiger, Purple Heart recipient passes at age 96

Flying Tiger, Purple Heart recipient passes at age 96

(Courtesy photos from the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum)

Flying Tiger, Purple Heart recipient passes at age 96

(Courtesy photos from the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum)

Flying Tiger, Purple Heart recipient passes at age 96

(Courtesy photos from the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

Major Richard (Dick) Sherman, former B-25 Bombardier and Navigator, 11th Bomb Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Corps’ 14th Air Force, passed away at the age of 96 years old in Monroe, La., Jan. 9, 2019.

Sherman, an original Flying Tiger who served under the command of Maj. Gen. Claire Chennault, flew 52 missions during World War II and earned a purple heart for wounds he received when his aircraft was attacked in June of 1944.

“Maj. Sherman and the original Flying Tigers are an inspiration to today’s military personnel. We remain indebted to Maj. Sherman and the greatest generation for their selfless service and sacrifices,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen Whiting, 14th Air Force Commander and Deputy Joint Force Space Component Commander. “Maj. Sherman represented the resilience and resolve of a generation that endured incredible sacrifices, changing the world for the better.”

Sherman also survived a crash landing after his aircraft was damaged by ground fire near Hong Kong in February of 1944. Historical records obtained from the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum indicate Sherman and his crew “decided to try to land the aircraft instead of parachuting” after it was damaged; and “they survived the crash landing and later found that rats had eaten holes in their parachutes to eat their emergency food supplies.” 

Flying Tiger, Purple Heart recipient passes at age 96
(Courtesy photos from the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum)
Flying Tiger, Purple Heart recipient passes at age 96
Flying Tiger, Purple Heart recipient passes at age 96
(Courtesy photos from the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum)
Photo By: Nell Chennault Calloway
VIRIN: 100119-F-GE353-003

“He truly was a remarkable man and he definitely left an impression. We have had many Chinese who have come to the museum to visit and to interview Dick,” said Nell Calloway, President of the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum, and granddaughter of Claire Chennault. Quoting her grandfather’s book, Way of a Fighter, Calloway also said “It is my fondest hope that the sign of the Flying Tigers will remain aloft just as long as it is needed, and that it will always be remembered on both shores of the Pacific as the symbol of two great peoples working toward a common goal in war and peace.” 

14th Air Force traces its long and prestigious history back to Imperial Japan's invasion of China in 1937. The Chinese government looked to the U.S. for assistance and hired U.S. Army Air Corps veteran Claire Chennault to train its pilots. The Chinese Air Force sent Chennault to Washington, D.C., in the winter of 1940 to solicit American airplanes and pilots to try to save the country.

In 1941, President Roosevelt signed a secret executive order which authorized Chennault to organize support. A group of active-duty recruits, 100 pilots and 200 support personnel, formed the American Volunteer Group (AVG). In addition, Chennault also procured 100 P-40 aircraft, rejected by the British as obsolete. 

The AVG shipped off to Burma in the summer of 1941, where Chennault trained them in innovative combat tactics. To enhance esprit de corps, the unit painted tiger shark teeth on the noses of the group's aircraft. They saw the same decorations in a magazine photo of English P-40s in North Africa. Subsequently, journalists used the tagline “Flying Tigers,” which rapidly caught on worldwide.

Fighting against numerically superior forces, the AVG compiled one of the greatest records of the war before it was absorbed into the active-duty Army Air Corps in 1942. According to official Chinese statistics, confirmed losses of the enemy by the AVG were 268 enemy aircraft destroyed and another 40 aircraft damaged against 12 losses for the AVG. In a separate report, Chennault credits the AVG with 294 enemy aircraft shot down.

The AVG was absorbed into the active-duty China Air Task Force in July 1942 and the “Flying Tigers” moniker went with it. Chennault was brought back on active duty as a Brigadier General to command the unit. After the China Air Task Force was discontinued, the 14th Air Force was established by the special order of President Roosevelt on 10 March 1943. Chennault was appointed the commander and promoted to Major General.

The Flying Tigers of 14th Air Force conducted fighter and bomber operations along a wide front that stretched from the bend of the Yellow River and Tsinan in the north to Indochina in the south, from Chengtu and the Salween River in the west to the China Sea and the island of Formosa in the east. They were also instrumental in supplying Chinese forces through the airlift of cargo across “The Hump” in the China-Burma-India theater. By the end of World War II, 14th Air Force had achieved air superiority over the skies of China and established a ratio of 7.7 enemy planes destroyed for every American plane lost in combat.

“Our heritage stems from the legacy Maj. Sherman leaves behind. It’s Airmen like him that paved the trail for all of us,” said Chief Master Sgt. Craig Neri, 14th Air Force Command Chief. “It goes without saying, we owe him, and all of the other Flying Tigers our deepest gratitude.”