Before flying with CNAC, Captain John Dean of St. Peter, Minnesota was a fighter pilot with the China-based volunteer fighter group known as the Flying
Tigers. Dean scored kills against Japanese fighters before the Flying Tigers disbanded, and he transferred to CNAC. He was 26 when he died, leaving behind
a young family.
Robert Willett fondly recalls growing up with his cousin, co-pilot James "Jimmy" Browne, in the Chicago suburb of Winnetka. "He was a really good looking
kid. He rode a motorcycle and he flew an airplane and he dated girls who were the prettiest things in the county," Willett recalls.
Although Browne died when he was only twenty-one, he was already an experienced flier, with missions in Canada, Europe, Africa, and Asia. He flew to keep
out of trouble, or at least to stay in an acceptable amount of trouble. In his second year of high school, his parents sent him to military school where he
first learned to fly. Before Pearl Harbor, Browne was a pilot in England, but he was discharged for buzzing the headquarters and recklessly breaking the
tail off of his Spitfire.
Unfortunately, little is known about the Chinese radioman, K.L. Yang.
Nearly every American living in Yunnan has heard of the Hump, which is the tongue-in-cheek nickname that Allied airmen gave to the treacherous
trans-Himalayan air supply route from India to China. After the Japanese cut off the Burma Road in April 1942, the Allies had to airlift supplies to
support General Chiang Kai-shek's forces. Supplies were typically loaded into planes in Northeast India, which then crossed the Himalayas, and landed in
Yunnan's capital city of Kunming.
The route was ripe for disaster. Weather was erratic and extreme; crews, mechanics, and loaders were under resourced; navigation equipment was primitive;
escort fighters were scant; and losses were heavy. CNAC #60 was one of over 700 airplanes lost, with personnel losses more than doubling that figure. The
route was relatively short, about the distance from Boston to Pittsburgh, so the concentration of wreckage was dense, earning the nickname "The Aluminum
In Yunnan, the Hump's historical memory is pervasive. Until the Berlin Airlift surpassed it, the Hump was the largest aerial supply route in history, and
the Chinese remember efforts to resist the Japanese. Kunming's Jiaoye Park has a large monument dedicated to the efforts and sacrifice of those who made
the airlift possible. Popular Kunming bars and a hostel are named after the Hump with wartime pictures and maps hanging on the walls. In these places,
soldiers look on from framed yellowed photographs as young Chinese and American travelers drink beers together. The wartime American presence even has a
lasting impression on the local language. According to Yang Bin, an associate professor of history at National University of Singapore who specializes in
Yunnan, in the Kunming dialect the transliterated word "nice," which was introduced by American airmen, continues to refer to something extraordinary.