WWII Aviator Was 92
Another World War II
aviator who embodied the spirit of "The Greatest Generation" has
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
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."