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Wed, Apr 30, 2008

Gone West: 'Flying Tiger' Dick Rossi

WWII Aviator Was 92

Another World War II aviator who embodied the spirit of "The Greatest Generation" has left us.

The Los Angeles Times reports Dick Rossi, who downed six Japanese planes while serving with the Flying Tigers, died at his home in Fallbrook, CA April 17 of complications from pneumonia. Rossi was 92.

Rossi came from a family of 10 kids, grew up in Placerville, CA and studied electrical engineering for two years at the University of California at Berkeley. But he couldn't shake his dreams of flying and adventure, so he joined the Navy in 1939. He qualified for flight training, but wound up as a flight instructor in Pensacola, not exactly satisfying his craving for adventure.

Before the US officially entered World War II, Rossi learned of a secret volunteer group being formed to battle Japanese air attacks against China. Rossi resigned his Navy commission to earn 600 dollars a month, with a bonus of 500 dollars for each Japanese plane shot down.

Rossi's squadron first engaged the enemy over Kunming, China, in December of 1941. The Japanese attack took a terrible civilian toll, but the US volunteers downed three enemy planes, and the Japanese never again attacked the area. During seven months of combat, the group, which was dubbed "the Flying Tigers" by the locals, went on to tally 296 Japanese aircraft shot down.

After the war ended, Rossi partnered with fellow Tiger Robert Prescott to found an air freight operation called the Flying Tiger Line. In 1966, he married Lydia Cowgill, a flight attendant serving aboard one of the line's military transport flights. Later, Prescott and Rossi helped launch the Hungry Tiger, a SoCal restaurant chain which had 42 locations at its peak.

The Flying Tigers might have become a dusty footnote in history were it not for Dick and Lydia's work to organize reunions and promote the story of the group. Dick served 65 years as president of the Flying Tigers Association.

In 1991, the Flying Tigers, who had flown their missions as volunteers, were officially recognized as war heroes, after the US government's role in organizing the group was declassified. The pilots were officially recognized as veterans, and Rossi was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses and two presidential citations.

Lydia says there are now only four of the original pilots left alive. Let this serve as a reminder. There are not many opportunities left for us all to say, "thank you."

FMI: www.flyingtigersavg.com

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