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Claire Lee Chennault Edit Profile

general , military , soldier

Claire Lee Chennault was a U.S. major general who commanded the U.S. Army Air Forces in China (1942–45) and created the American Volunteer Group (AVG), best known as the Flying Tigers.

Background

Chennault was born in Commerce, Texas, to John Stonewall Jackson Chennault and Jessie (nėe Lee) Chennault. His surname is of French origin and although often pronounced as "Shen-O", his family pronounced it "Shen-Awlt".

Education

Chennault briefly attended Louisiana State University before enrolling in the Louisiana State Normal School in Natchitoches, where he completed the teacher’s training program in 1910. During World War I he enlisted in the U.S. Army and finished his flight training before being honorably discharged in 1920. Later that year he received a regular army commission. After graduating in 1931 from the Air Corps Tactical School, he became an instructor there and led “Three Men on a Flying Trapeze,” an exhibition group. During this time Chennault also wrote an aviation textbook, The Role of Defensive Pursuit (1935), that detailed new fighter tactics. His belief that bombers were vulnerable to attack by fighter planes, however, put him at odds with his superiors. Partial deafness and increasing disagreements with other air corps officers led him to retire in 1937 with the rank of captain.

Career

Chennault’s ideas attracted the attention of China, and he was hired as General Chiang Kai-shek’s aviation adviser. Soon after his arrival in 1937, China went to war with Japan, and the Chinese air force was quickly overpowered by its Japanese counterpart (see Sino-Japanese War). Chennault set about rebuilding the program and began recruiting pilots from the United States. In 1941 he created the Flying Tigers, a squadron of volunteer U.S. pilots. The men, trained in Chennault’s fighting techniques, achieved an outstanding combat record. After the United States entered World War II, the group was incorporated into the regular U.S. Army Air Forces as the China Air Task Force (later reorganized as the 14th Air Force) and Chennault was recalled to active duty in 1942. The squadron had great success against Japanese forces, and in 1943 Chennault was promoted to major general. He had frequent clashes with General Joseph Stilwell and other superior officers, however, and in 1945 he resigned.

In 1946 Chennault returned to China to establish a commercial airline. Two years later Civil Air Transport (CAT) was founded and soon became active in the country’s civil war, transporting munitions and troops for the Nationalist government. It also did work for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and was eventually bought by the organization after the communists took control of China. Chennault continued to have an active role in the airline, later known as Air America, and oversaw numerous efforts to assist resistance groups. In 1958, several days before his death, he was promoted to the honorary grade of lieutenant general.

Achievements

  • In 1941 he organized the "Flying Tigers," a volunteer force of mostly American pilots and mechanics, which won a series of victories against the Japanese between December 1941 and July 1942.

Politics

Chennault, who, unlike Joseph Stilwell, had a high opinion of Chiang Kai-shek, advocated international support for Asian anti-communist movements. Returning to China, he purchased several surplus military aircraft and created the Civil Air Transport, (later known as Air America). These aircraft facilitated aid to Nationalist China during the struggle against Chinese Communists in the late 1940s, and were later used in supply missions to French forces in Indochina and the Kuomintang occupation of northern Burma throughout the mid- and late-1950s, providing support for the Thai police force. This same force supplied the intelligence community and others during the Vietnam conflict.

Connections

Chennault was twice married and had a total of ten children, eight by his first wife, the former Nell Thompson (1893–1977), an American of British ancestry, whom he met at a high school graduation ceremony and subsequently wed in Winnsboro, Louisiana, on December 24, 1911. The marriage ended in divorce in 1946, long after his service in China started. He had two daughters by his second wife, Chen Xiangmei (Anna Chennault), a young reporter for the Central News Agency whom he married on December 2, 1947. She became one of the Republic of China's chief lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

His children from the first marriage were John Stephen Chennault (1913–1977), Max Thompson Chennault (1914–2001), Charles Lee Chennault (1918–1967), Peggy Sue Chennault Lee (1919 - 2004), Claire Patterson Chennault (November 24, 1920 – October 3, 2011), David Wallace Chennault (1923–1980), Robert Kenneth Chennault (1925–2006), and Rosemary Louise Chennault Simrall (September 27, 1928 – August 25, 2013).

The Chennault daughters from the second marriage are Claire Anna Chennault (born 1948) and Cynthia Louise Chennault (born 1950), a professor of Chinese at the University of Florida, Gainesville. As the State of Louisiana had passed an anti-miscegenation law in 1894 forbidding marriage between whites and non-whites, Chennault had been informed by his lawyer that his marriage to Anna was illegal in Louisiana, and to ensure his will was respected, Chennault—who lived in Monroe, Louisiana—had his will probated in Washington, D.C.

Claire P. Chennault, one of Claire Lee's sons, was a U.S. Army Air Corps and then U.S. Air Force officer from 1943 to 1966 and subsequent resident of Ferriday, Louisiana.

spouses:
Nell Thompson

Anna Chen Chennault
Anna Chen Chennault - spouse of Claire Lee Chennault