With tensions on trade and visas rising between the United States and China, Louisiana leaders have been right to reach out to assure our Asian friends that our state welcomes them — as students at our universities, or investors in our economy, or as tourists.

In the past year, at a major tourism meeting in Shanghai, Louisiana used its secret weapon: the memory of Gen. Claire Lee Chennault.

He grew up as a boy in tiny Gibsland and went on to the U.S. Army’s Air Corps in the 1930s, when he was hired by the Chinese government to help them build air defenses to resist Japanese aggression in a war that began in 1937.

The famous Flying Tigers, officially the American Volunteer Group, were fighting the Japanese before Pearl Harbor brought the United States formally into the war.

Chennault’s legacy is remembered to this day in China, whether on the Communist-governed mainland or the democratic Republic of China on Taiwan. The two countries are divided on many issues, but are united in admiration for the Flying Tigers who came to the aid of the Chinese people in their hour of need.

Chennault, who headed the 14th U.S. Air Force in China after Pearl Harbor, died in New Orleans in 1958. But he is still “a national hero to the Chinese,” said Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, who headed the Louisiana tourism delegation in Shanghai. Our state’s representatives at the conference included Nell Chennault Calloway, granddaughter of the famous general.

She heads a museum of military aviation in Monroe that keeps the memory of Chennault alive. The general was born in Texas but grew up in Louisiana and was educated at LSU and Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.

“When I spoke, they applauded,” Nungesser recalled with some awe at the Press Club of Baton Rouge the other day. “When she spoke, they stood.”

There are, of course, many good reasons for Chinese tourists to visit the Bayou State, including food, music, culture. It’s a growing market, and Louisiana has a lot to offer. Nungesser also noted that Chinese like to visit the scenes of famous movies, because of the Asian fascination with American cinema.

But the roots of one of the heroes of World War II, who fought fascism when much of America slept unaware of the threat, is a long-lasting tie between the people of Louisiana and China. Indeed, it is a blood tie, among heroes of World War II. Long may it be remembered.

— The (Baton Rouge) Advocate

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