A group of 27 senior US veterans landed in Beijing on Friday, joining another 100 who had arrived a day before for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of victory in the anti-Fascist war.
The team of veterans, all over 80 years of age, consists of former members of the American Volunteer Group (A.V.G), commonly known among the Chinese as the Flying Tigers, from the United States and other countries and regions.
The eldest member of the group is 89.
Accompanied by relatives, the airmen are expected to stay in Beijing and Kunming in southwest China's Yunnan Province for about two weeks and pay for all expenses themselves.
"I took six family members along. This is the third time I've returned to China," said Brian Bonpas, 84, who flew bombers and the "Hump" in succession between 1942 and 1944 during World War II.
He said while flying, weather was the biggest problem for them.
His wife was also in China during the war, working as an English teacher.
This weekend, they will enjoy a simulated air battle against the Japanese invaders in World War II, together with a number of Chinese veterans, at the China Aviation Museum.
The Flying Tigers were a band of about 200 pilots, gunmen and radiomen organized by US Army Colonel Claire Lee Chennault to support the Chinese army's fight against Japan's invasion in 1941. In 1943, the A.V.G was reconstituted into the 14th Air Force, which mainly ferried wartime goods from India to China.
Robert Gruber was in high spirits on Friday as he attended a ceremony in Chengdu, capital of southwest China's Sichuan Province, to donate belongings of the Flying Tigers to the Jianchuan Museum. The museum has a hall dedicated to the US servicemen who helped China in the fight against the Japanese.
"It is my first trip abroad since 1945," the nearly 1.9-meter-tall 84-year-old said.
Gruber, who was a member of the 27th Troop Carrier Squad of the Flying Tigers, on Friday donated uniforms, scarves, medals, epaulettes and badges of the squad's pilots, their diaries written in China, the US Air Force's flying manual, the squad's brief history of combat, the first issue of its news bulletin, a special album of the Flying Tigers published in the 1940s, a relic of a Japanese warplane the Flying Tigers shot down and 74 photos taken during World War II.
The photos depict the fight between the Flying Tigers and the Japanese army and cooperation between the Chinese and American servicemen and civilians.
Gruber came to China for the first time in 1944 as the squad's radar navigator. His unit was stationed in Yunnan Province to support the Chinese military in protecting the Sino-Burma Highway.
The next year, he was transferred to the airport of the Flying Tigers in Chengdu and worked there for six weeks. "We shot down one Japanese warplane and I posed for a picture with it," he recalled.
"The Chinese were very generous towards the Flying Tigers who felt it was a great honor. Our sense of pride still exists," he said.
Gruber changed three planes and spent 24 hours flying from Seattle to Chengdu. He said that his love for China had brought him back.
(China Daily August 13, 2005)