Mom's Chinese Brothers Ching-lee Liu and I-hui Lee

My mom has many odd stories to tell from her childhood - from how Bing Crosby would toss his hat to how her pet alligator got too "snappy". So perhaps it isn't a surprise that I never thought too much about her Chinese brothers. Sometime in her teens, my mother's family had somehow "adopted" a couple of Chinese pilots who were training in southern California. I finally got around to asking her how that came to be. She said, "Oh, that was all me!"

Teenage Jeanne Roush
Honore - standing behind Jeanne and Carol in front, Christmas 1942

Fourteen year old Jeanne Roush went with her mother and sister Carol to a Christian Service Organization event in Long Beach, California to support American soldiers. The year was 1944. Intrigued by some Chinese cadets, she went to play ping pong with them. When they explained to her that they were now our allies she invited them to her home for a Sunday dinner. Her sister Carol was "shocked" by this saying that she would get in a lot of trouble. But Jeanne said it would be ok, since they frequently had soldiers over for Sunday dinners. As it turned out their mother, Honore, was very supportive. And so began a close relationship that lasted many years.

Chinese Exclusion Act

That kind of close relationship wasn't typical in 1944 America. The Chinese Exclusion Act, passed in 1882, had prohibited the immigration of any ethnically Chinese laborer to America. It took a war with Japan to change things. America became an allies with China after the attack on Perl Harbor. The cadets arrived only 6 months after the act was repealed in December of 1943. My mom met them the summer they arrived.

The Flying Tigers

Americans had been helping train Chinese pilots even before the Perl Harbor. The Flying Tigers were famous for their bravery and skill.

The US decided to start training Chinese Air Cadets in America in 1944. This Newsreel talks about the program. My mom attended the graduation shown at the end.

Ching Lee's graduation picture with his Instructor

Ching Lee wrote to his American "mother", my grandmother, on the back of this picture below with his instructor, "Salty". Ching Lee is wearing a Chinese Republican Army cap and uniform seen in the video.

On a P-40 fighter plane

The Chinese air cadets trained on the same P-40 single engine Warhawk planes that the Flying Tigers used. This photo is addressed to my grandmother, Honore.

Pictures from my Grandmother's photo collection
Ching Lee and I Hui at my grandparent's home and visiting Yosemite
Ching Lee from Shanghai in 1948 - to Mother ( my grandmother ) from her loving son.
Ching Lee sent a picture of himself to my grandmother ( Mama) when he joined the army. He was 14 then, the same age as my mother, Jeanne when he met her.


Letter from Ching-Lee, Taiwan, February 15, 1950

After graduation the Cadets returned to China to serve in the air force. The war with Japan ended and a new war with communist China began. The Republican Army was forced to retreat and defend itself on the Island of Taiwan, formerly called Formosa. I Hui died in battle. His plane was shot down. Ching Lee writes, on US Navy letterhead, on the state of the war in his moving letter to his "Dear Mother". He talks about his marriage to Yen Hwa, who he refers to as my grandmother's new "daughter-in-law". He doesn't think that the red army could invade Taiwan without Russian help since they did not have an air force or navy. His hope is that the US will change it's policy toward China and help them. He ends it with "We are well and happy. May God bless you. Your loving son."

Envelope with Chiang Kai-shek stamps
Letter from Ching Lee, Aug 10, 1950 Taiwan (Formosa)

In this letter from August of 1950, Ching Lee is happy to hear about Carol's marriage. He assures my grandmother that he is safe. Between these two letters, president Harry Truman had decided that it was in the best interests of the US to prevent hostilities around Taiwan. Communist China was showing aggression on Korea. Now that the US is helping them, he thinks they will soon return to the mainland and be victorious.


1945 Roster from the USS General George M Randall at San Pedro listing Ching-Lee Liu and I-hui Lee

I found this roster from the USS General George M Randall, a Navy transport ship that brought both Ching-Lee Liu and I-hui Lee to the US. They both appear on the same page. There were about 210 Cadets on the ship along with around 2000 wounded veterans.

Ching-Lee and my Grandmother, Honore, at Minter Field, California

I grew up with some Chinese tapestries on our walls. They were a gift from I Hui's family. We don't know what became of Ching Lee or his wife. At some point the letters stopped arriving. My mom would love to know if there are any relatives out there. After all, they are family.


Most of the pictures are from my grandmother's  photo collection and letters.

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