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, with 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 for American soldiers, a kind of USO. The year was 1944. Intrigued by some Chinese soldiers, 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

This wasn't typical in 1944 America. There had not been much travel between China and America. The Chinese Exclusion Act, passed in 1882, had prohibited the immigration of any ethnically Chinese laborer to America, paid or not. It was only supposed to last for 10 years, but the act wasn't repealed until December of 1943. Even then, only 105 Chinese were allowed immigrate per year. China became our ally in the battle against Japan and America had been training Chinese pilots abroad for many years. America's Flying Tigers had joined the Chinese Air Force in 1941.

The Flying Tigers

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

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

Ching-Lee's graduation picture with his Instructor

The Chinese air cadets trained on the same P-40 single engine Warhawk planes that the Flying Tigers used.

Ching Lee on a P-40 fighter plane
Ching-Lee, joined the army, at the same age as Jeanne (14 years old).
Pictures from my Grandmother's photo collection
These were found among my grandmothers family photo collection
In the backyard
Ching Lee from Shanghai in 1948

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 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, of the state of the war in this 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. He also hopes 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."

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

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. Now that the US is helping them, he thinks they will soon return to the mainland and be victorious.

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

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

1945 Roster from the USS General George M Randall at San Pedro
Ching-Lee and my Grandmother, Honore, at Minter Field, California


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

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.