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Pilot's Daughter Retraces Father's Footsteps
When Lisa Findley was young, she often listened to her father, William Schott Findley, talking about China and the one event that changed his life.

In fact, the Second World War event, labeled in a secret American air force file in 1945 as the "China walkout," is considered to have "proved of value to all pilots who may be compelled to undergo a similar experience."

Findley was curious. Two years ago her curiosity brought her to "a corner of the world that I would have never visited" -- Tengchong, a county tucked away in the mountains of Southwest China's Yunnan Province.

Bringing her father's account of what he had experienced in the three days after he "belly-landed" in a "rain-slick rice paddy" on Valentine's Day (February 14), 1945, Lisa Findley, a 47-year-old architect from Emeryville, California, retraced her father's footsteps.

"I was able to meet with so many wonderful people there," she said.

It was those wonderful people who guided Findley out of the mountains to return to his duty again, when he was feeling the most helpless.

Findley had been a teacher and then a missionary before he joined the war effort. He became one of the pilots with the most flying hours in the air force at that time. At the age of 23, he was both arrogant and confident, afraid of nothing, said his daughter.

"He thought himself far away from war and death while flying a reconnaissance aircraft so high up in the sky," she said.

On February 14, 1945, Findley took off from Myitkyina, a town in Myanmar where the US Air Force built its base during the Second World War, on a secret mission. He was flying his P-38 reconnaissance airplane at an altitude of about 6,800 meters, and the plane picked up some light ice. Soon, he found his radio compass was out of order. He failed to reach one control center by radio but was able to learn his location from another control center.

Findley tried to fly to the northwest as he'd learned in his training courses but he lost contact with the control center. Then he realized he didn't have much fuel. "I'd never felt so alone, so helpless," Findley recalled in an article he wrote in 1962.

After praying, he belly-landed the plane in a rice paddy. Then he found himself surrounded by Chinese, "who spoke a different language from the Burmese and could only understand the Chinese characters I showed them -- a note from my escape kit," he said.

The villagers guided him into a town after a few hours of walking and he was settled in "the finest home."

"A dignified and honored man appeared," he wrote, and he owned a Chinese-English and English-Chinese dictionary."

Two hours and "much page-thumbing later," Findley learned that he was in a town called Jietou, 96 kilometers from the Allied emergency landing strip in Tengchong. And the local people would escort him there.

In his article, Findley shared his fond memory of the local villagers he met at Jietou and along the way hiking from Jietou to the emergency landing strip. There were a lot of smiles and laughter. He spent the second night in the finest house in another town. He had some tomato soup and green tea, the best he'd ever had, he said.

There was a time when Findley could reciprocate the fine treatment he received from the villagers.

He returned to duty and after Victory over Japan Day he returned home to the United States safe and sound. But during all those months that followed, he kept thinking about the three days he spent in the villages in the mountains of Tengchong.

In the first few hours after the crash, Findley found himself helpless for the first time in his life and needed sympathy and aid because he neither knew how to speak Chinese nor where he was.

And he got what he craved. The local people protected him and provided him with the best housing, food and horses along the way. He'd never felt so happy in all his life.

Findley said he began to have a new understanding of life: If human beings could not love or help each other, they would not survive on earth.

After retiring from military service, Findley became a leader in the Presbyterian Church, devoting himself to the promotion of human rights, equality, freedom to work and public education.

Lisa Findley first set her feet in Tengchong on May 28, 2000. She was received respectfully and given a lot of help by the local people. After some searching, they were able to meet Yang Xuemin, the nephew of the Yang Yingting mentioned in the American Air Force report.

"I saw this man and his plane, and I once got into it," Yang Xuemin said after one look at a picture of Findley and his plane. "The plane was in a field near Yemaoying."

Yang Xuemin was six or seven years old then. "I remember this pilot came to my home and talked with my uncle Yang Yingting in writing because my uncle knew only some written English. The pilot didn't want any meals, and just ate some soup. Later some noodles were found and boiled for him," he recalled, an account that matches Findley's tale.

Lisa Findley also met Huang Minggao, who guarded the plane in the field. Later, some Chinese servicemen and five Americans inspected the plane and decided that it was beyond repair and should be got rid of. So the villagers dismantled the plane, according to Huang Minggao. Lisa Findley was able to see some pieces of the plane at villagers' homes.

At the village school, she saw a gong made from the engine of the P-38. "That's the P-38's best legacy," Lisa Findley said.

Today, Lisa Findley is finding a way to return the friendship she has received from the local people. She has become involved in a project to help preserve traditional architecture in Tengchong.

Rapid economic development has made it a challenge to preserve the old homes while satisfying the people's need for comfort and modernization, Lisa Findley said.

(China Daily October 22, 2002 )

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