P-40 Pilot Laid To Rest With International Honors | Aero-News Network
Aero-News Network
RSS icon RSS feed
podcast icon MP3 podcast
Subscribe Aero-News e-mail Newsletter Subscribe

** Airborne 10.29.14 ** HD iPad-Friendly -- Airborne 10.29.14 **
** Airborne 10.27.14 ** HD iPad-Friendly -- Airborne 10.27.14 **
** Airborne/NBAA2014 10.24.14 ** HD iPad-Friendly -- Airborne/NBAA2014 10.24.14 **

Mon, Apr 17, 2006

P-40 Pilot Laid To Rest With International Honors

Pilot's Burial Resolves Two Mysteries

It’s not every day that delegates from China attend a lieutenant’s funeral in North Carolina, or that four A-10 Thunderbolt IIs fly overhead in a missing-man formation, or 300 people show up without having ever met the Air Force pilot. Even a congressman made an appearance.

But 2nd Lt. Robert Upchurch wasn’t just any pilot. Although his death remained a mystery for 61 years, his memory stayed alive -- in two countries -- that entire time.

Lieutenant Upchurch was a P-40 Warhawk pilot with the Flying Tigers. They protected the Chinese by fighting along its Burma border during World War II.

On Oct. 6, 1944, the lieutenant took off from Kanchow, China, on his first mission with the Flying Tigers. After completing the strafing mission, they started home. They flew into bad weather en route.

First Lt. Robert Gibeault, a fellow pilot, said in an official report that he had last seen Lieutenant Upchurch climbing through overcast skies dangerously close to some mountains.

The rest of the flight turned back and tried a different route than the one attempted by Lieutenant Gibeault and Lieutenant Upchurch. Later, Chinese officials reported a plane had crashed and burned at Shang Pau Has, and that pilot and plane identification was impossible.

Since there was no means of identification, the Army Air Force wasn’t certain it was Lieutenant Upchurch and listed him as missing in action.

In 1945, eight months after the fatal crash, Flying Tigers Chaplain Albert Buckley wrote a disheartening letter to the lieutenant’s parents.

“I believe it is only right to tell you that the outlook is not at all favorable or encouraging, particularly in view of the fact that your son has been missing since last October,” the chaplain wrote.

“It has been our experience that when a pilot lands safely in free China, even though he might be injured, we receive notification from the Chinese in a comparatively short time. Such a report has never been received on your loving son.”

In October 1945, the Army Air Force presumed Lieutenant Upchurch dead.

The Chinese Side Of The Story

Meanwhile, in Guidong County of the Hunan Province in China, villagers buried the pilot in Chinese tradition, wrapping him in a red cloth and setting off firecrackers, according to a Chinese newspaper report.

Although the villagers never knew the identity of the pilot they buried, they never forgot him.

“Over the past 60 years, the people of Guidong County, have quietly watched and tended the grave of Lieutenant Upchurch, who has been a hero commanding their highest respect and a symbol in their mind for everlasting pursuit of peace,” said Haung Renzhun, a representative from the Foreign Affairs Office of the Hunan Provincial Government.

Mr. Renzhun said that every year during “Tomb-Sweeping Day,” local students and citizens voluntarily came to pay their respects and lay wreaths and flowers at the tomb of the unknown pilot. The grave was well-maintained until May 2005, the date they discovered his identity.

Pilot’s Identity Revealed

In May 2005, a task force from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command in Hawaii conducted investigation operations in three Chinese provinces for about 30 days.
World War II left more than 78,000 MIAs, many of those in the Pacific, and the team was investigating four of them.

At what is now Santi Park in Guidong County, team members recovered possible human remains, personal effects and life support equipment. The monument there simply read “American Pilot.”

Later that year, the task force identified his remains by comparing them to DNA samples collected from the Upchurch family that remained, which were mostly second-generation nephews and nieces.

After 61 years, the Upchurch family finally learned of the whereabouts of their uncle, and the people of Hunan Province discovered the name of their hero.

“Moore County of North Carolina was where this great fighter grew up, and my hometown, Guidong County of Hunan Province, was where he rested in peace for decades,” Mr. Renzhun said during Lieutenant Upchurch’s funeral on April 8 in High Falls, N.C.

“Lieutenant Upchurch is one of the bravest American pilots and a hero in the worldwide war against fascism,” Mr. Renzhun said. “He assisted the Chinese people in the fight against the Japanese and sacrificed his young and precious life. On behalf of the 67 million people of Hunan Province … our government wishes to take this opportunity to pay high tribute to Lieutenant Upchurch.”

North Carolina Governor Michael Easley wrote in a letter to the family: “Lieutenant Upchurch gave his life for his country and is a true hero. Without hesitation, he fought to preserve and defend the ideals for which this great nation stands.”

In the end, the Chinese lost a hero, while High Falls buried one. [ANN Salutes Master Sgt. Orville F. Desjarlais Jr., AFPN]

ANN Note: One of the true hallmarks of a great society is that they never forget their heroes... and Lt. Upchurch's sacrifice is one that should always be remembered. Godspeed, Lieutenant.--Jim Campbell, ANN E-I-C.

FMI: www.af.mil

Advertisement

More News

Airborne 10.29.14: Antares Launch Failure, GAMA Responds, Another 'Roadable'???

Also: Dragon Returns, Quadcopter Flown At Airliner?, Classic Aero-TV: Redhawk, Diesel Flt School Airplanes, WWII Bomber Found The unmanned Antares rocket built by Orbital Science C>[...]

Antares ISS Resupply Mission Suffers Launch Failure

Vehicle Suffers Failure Just Seconds Into Launch Sequence Analysis By ANN Space Correspondent, Wes Oleszewski At approximately 18:22:38.651 Eastern time, the two AJ-26 first stage >[...]

Airborne 10.27.14: New Freefall Altitude Record, NBAA14 Wrap-Up, Falcon AOG

Also: New ALPA Officers, Hurricane Hunters, Aventura AVW, New Runway at Copiah County, LTC Tom Dougherty Flies West Only 2 years ago, Felix Baumgartner set a record for the highest>[...]

Airborne 10.29.14: Antares Launch Failure, GAMA Responds, Another 'Roadable'???

Also: Dragon Returns, Quadcopter Flown At Airliner?, Classic Aero-TV: Redhawk, Diesel Flt School Airplanes, WWII Bomber Found The unmanned Antares rocket built by Orbital Science C>[...]

U.K. Ministry Of Defense Makes $2.42 Billion Air Traffic Management Deal

Contract Awarded To Joint Venture Between Thales And NATS AQUILA, a joint venture between Thales and NATS, has been awarded the £1.5 billion (approx. $2.42 billion) contract,>[...]

blog comments powered by Disqus



Advertisement

Advertisement

Podcasts

Advertisement

© 2007 - 2014 Web Development & Design by Pauli Systems, LC