HEALTH

Chinese 'Flying Tigers' pilot who served in second world war squadron falls critically ill

Hong Kong-born Long Qiming is struggling to pay for mounting medical bills in Chongqing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 September, 2014, 6:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 October, 2014, 4:35pm

Hongkonger Long Qiming, one of the last surviving members of a China-based wartime air squadron called the Flying Tigers, is critically ill at a Chongqing hospital and is struggling to pay his medical bills.

Long, 91 – who flew transport aircraft and later bombers with the Tigers, a volunteer unit of the US military which aided China’s air force during the second world war – has been ill with a lung infection since early July, according to the Chongqing Daily.

The veteran receives more than 5,000 yuan (HK$6,300) a month as pension, but that is barely enough for his medical bills of 3,500 yuan a day, a friend of Long was quoted as saying.

Long is under serious risk of respiratory failure, septic shock and multiple organ failure, and is now under intensive treatment at the First Affiliated Hospital of Chongqing Medical University.

Strictly, the name Flying Tigers refers to the American Volunteer Group (AVG) pilots who helped China fight the Japanese and who were known for the shark faces painted on the nose of their jets – none of whom are still alive in China today.

But Xue Gang, a volunteer for a charity that helps veterans called the Shenzhen Longyue Charity Foundation, said the name is also used to encompass the fighters, freighters and bombers from China’s 14th Air Force’s Chinese-American Composite Wing, which was established in 1943.

By this definition, Long is among the last remaining Flying Tigers in China today, Xue said.

Two others known to be alive are He Qichen, who lives in Tianjin, and Dai Zijin, who lives in Shanghai.

Long was a fighter pilot for the AVG in 1943, flying The Hump, the eastern end of the Himalayas. Military transport aircraft flew from India to China to resupply the Chinese war effort, the Chongqing Daily said.

Long later joined the bomber unit of the composite wing, the report said. He and Dai were in the same wing.

Born in Hong Kong in 1923, the English-speaking Long and his brother went back to the mainland in 1942 after Hong Kong fell to Japanese troops.

Long and two other men from the city were admitted into a US air force training programme that same year. He was sent back to China to fly The Hump early the next year.

After he left the service, he worked for the Chongqing Iron and Steel Group until his retirement.

When he met up in Chongqing with a former Flying Tigers colleague from the United States in 2005, Long kept repeating: “I hate Japanese invaders”, according to the Daily.