General Chang Kwang Ming[i], whom I call Uncle Chang, was born in Changli County[ii] of Hebei Province, China in 1913. Changli was a quaint village, on the shore of China Bo Sea[iii], about a three-hour drive east of Beijing, the capital of China for centuries. Historically, Changli has been known for famous scholars that have come from the area. The ancestors of Dr. Steven Chu, a Nobel laureate and the previous U.S. Secretary of Energy, were from Changli.
The lives of the Chang family, landowners and successful agricultural commodity businessmen for generations, reflected traditional Chinese moral values: hard work, frugality, and generosity with farmers and customers. Their achievement, coupled with their keen entrepreneurship, propelled the expansion of their business into all the major cities in Manchuria[iv] until 1931, when the Japanese occupied the region.
While most of the Chinese countryside was still a closed agricultural society in the early 20th century, General Chang’s father realized the need for the next generation to receive a Western education. He sent his only son, General Chang, to Beijing[v] to study in modern schools. Beijing, the cultural and political center of China since ancient times, was considered to have most of the best high schools and colleges in the country.
General Chang was not only a good student academically, he was also an extraordinary athlete. His high-school coach saw his potential to break the national hurdles record. General Chang was encouraged to apply and got admitted to the Peking (Beijing) Normal University to pursue this goal. General Chang, a patriotic young man, was furious with the rampant Japanese aggression. He resolutely decided to pursue a military career as the most effective way to serve his country and fight the invading Japanese. He applied and was admitted to the highly selective and very prestigious Chinese Central Aviation Academy[vi], also referred to as Jianqiao Academy[vii] in 1933. Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek [viii]was the Academy's founder!
General Chang and my father were high-school classmates and were admitted to the 5th Class of the Academy together. The high school they had attended is the existing Beijing No. 35 Middle School, which was known at the time as Zhi Cheng[ix] High School. The school alumni include Mr. Wang Qishan[x]，currently a member of the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee of China.
In the winter of 1935, General Chang graduated from the Fighter group of the 5th class from the Academy. He remained in the Academy as a flying instructor. In 1936 he served as a fighter pilot in the 4th Pursuit Group of the Republic of China (R.O.C.) Air Force, the Pursuit Group that accompanied Generalissimo Chiang to be stationed in Luoyang[xi], Henan Province. In December, he witnessed the historic bellwether Xian Incident[xii], during which the Generalissimo Chiang was kidnapped, then released.
After the July 7, 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident[xiii], which triggered an all-out national War of Resistance against the Japanese, General Chang participated in many Sino-Japanese air battles including the renowned “8.14” battle. In the subsequent three months, General Chang served on mission after mission, attacking enemy military bases and ships in the East China Sea and supporting our ground troops fighting from the Nanjing Air Field[xiv] to defend the Shanghai[xv], Hangzhou[xvi], and Nanjing areas.
In 1944, Soviet Union got abundant military and economic aid from the United States. Stalin’s ambitious tentacles stretched to Central Asia. With the military support from Stalin, some Uighurs of Xinjiang Province and Kazakhstan people, under the name of establishing the East Turkeystan Republic, started surrounding and attacking some towns and cities in Xinjiang Province.
By August, 1945, the town of Chenghua (now called Altay)[xvii] close to the border of Soviet Reunion, a Chinese Army station, had been surrounded for months. Chenghua was about 400 miles north of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang Province where General Chang was stationed with his only C-47. General Chang made more than ten air drops of over fifty tons of food, medicine, ammunition and currency during his three-month stay. This 2.5-hour flight each way across the Junggar Basin was fraught with risks from inclement desert weather and from the insurgents’ attack from ground. These air drops sustained this town’s survival until the situation was resolved through political means in 1946.
General Chang remembers that in early September 1945, after the Japanese Unconditional Surrender, he led a team of seven C-47 carriers to Nanjing, the Capital city[xviii], to start the massive air transportation effort. His team flew around the clock, taking 20,000 key government staff as well as security personnel with their necessary apparatus from Chongqing to Nanjing, and to all other parts of China. This started the reclaiming of the occupied territory from the Japanese. General Chang received a gift from General Okamura Yasutsugu [xix], of his commanding sword, as a symbol of the Japanese surrender to the Chinese.
During the eight years of war, his plane was hit seven times, once with 219 bullet holes on his airplane fuselage. He was once injured after he had to bail out by parachute. Because of his valor and wisdom in air combat, he received a total of 13 medals, including one personally granted by Generalissimo Chiang. These were in addition to the many awards from local governments given to him in appreciation of his team’s efforts in fending off the Japanese attacks. Two of the medals most cherished by General Chang are the Xing Xu[xx] Medal, engraved with four stars, each one representing the enemy aircraft he shot down; and the Xuan Wei[xxi] Class 1 Medal, given to the airmen who flew the highest number of air combat missions.
When the Chinese Communists took over the Mainland and established the People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.) in 1949, General Chang followed the R.O.C. government (Republic of China) to Taiwan[xxii]. Since then, to differentiate the two Chinas, the R.O.C. (Republic of China) in Taiwan, has been referred to as Nationalist China, while the People’s Republic of China (P.R.C.) is referred to as Communist China.
General Chang made significant contributions to the modernization of the early air defense system for the R.O.C in Taiwan, especially in the area of air combat tactical control, air traffic control and entry/landing control while he served at the Air Communication and Air Tactical Control Wing of the R.O.C. Air Force.
From the war against the Japanese in 1937 through the following conflicts with the Communists until 1949, he led the most critical missions, including the riskiest combat flights as well as some of the most confidential mission at the time – the shipping of government gold from Mainland to Taiwan. He held various positions from fighter pilot to Flight Leader, Squadron Leader, Deputy Pursuit Group Commander, a Director of R.O.C. Air Force combatant Command, Director of Political Affairs and a Wing Commander. In 1969, General Chang retired as a Major General.
In 1975, General and Mrs. Chang immigrated to the U.S. to live with their children. In 1978, the U.S. recognized Communist China and broke off diplomatic relations with the R.O.C in Taiwan. Then retired, General Chang spearheaded the creation of the R.O.C. Association in Los Angeles[xxiii] in 1978 by rallying his former Air Force comrades in Southern California to promote communication and hold joint events with Chinese and American Air Force veterans to foster people-to-people goodwill between the two countries.
Since General Chang’s retirement, he has been invited by many publishers and newspapers to write his reflections on the war. In 2012, General Chang published his book with a compilation of the essays he had previously written, dedicating a major portion of the book to his 57 fallen comrades whom he deeply misses. He told me that commemorating those true heroes was one of his two objectives in publishing his book. His book, not for sale, only for his family members and close friends, is a valuable first-hand recollection of “an old Chinese Air Force soldier” that General Chang likes to call himself.
At the age of 102, General Chang has devoted a lifetime to serving his country and the Chinese people, in China Mainland, Taiwan and the U.S. even after retirement. Being Chinese, I always enjoy and cherish the chances to hear his stories. To me, he is a living history book. Through his reminiscing, I learned so much about the Chinese Air Force fighting against the Japanese. I am truly privileged to be associated with such an inspiring role model.
[i] Chang Kwang Ming: 張光明
[ii] Changli County of Hebie Province: 昌黎縣，河北省
[iii] China Bo Sea: 渤海
[iv] Manchuria：滿州 （東北）
[v] Beijing: 北京
[vi] Chinese Central Aviation Academy: 中央航空學校
[vii] Jianqiao Academy：筧橋航校
[viii] Chiang Kai Shek: 蔣介石
[ix] Zhi Cheng High School: 志成中學
[x] Wang Qishan：王歧山
[xi] Luoyang: 洛陽
[xii] Xian Incident：西安事變
[xiii] Marco Polo Bridge Incident: 蘆溝橋事變
[xv] Shanghai: 上海
[xvi] Hangzhou: 杭州
[xvii] ChengHua: 承化
[xviii] Nanjing Airport: 明故宫 機場
[xix] General Okamura: 岡村寧次, the highest Japanese Commander in China during the War
[xx] Xing Xu : 星序
[xxi] Xuan Wei Class 1：宣威一级
[xxii] Taiwan： 台湾
[xxiii] R.O.C. Association in Los Angeles: 大鹏聯誼社
General Chang with 楊賢怡 and 張麗蓉 (次女) 于 華美空軍歷史回顧展 洛杉磯 6/19/2015