"In growing China-U.S. relations, the hope lies in the people, the foundation lies among the people, and the future lies with the youth."
BEIJING, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) -- World War II (WWII) hero Harry Moyer, due to turn 103 in around a month, has made up his mind to return to China this fall when he is still physically able to.
He is attending an upcoming Flying Tigers historical photo exhibition to be held in Beijing and 12 other Chinese cities to honor that chapter in history when Americans like himself and the Chinese fought side by side during wartime.
In late August, Moyer wrote a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, together with Flying Tigers veteran Mel McMullen and Chairman of the Sino-American Aviation Heritage Foundation Jeffrey Greene, to mark the enduring bond between the two peoples.
In a reply letter dated Sept. 12, Xi paid tribute to the veterans and their families for recounting the stories of the Flying Tigers to Chinese and Americans over the years, an epitome of the deep friendship between the two peoples that "withstood the test of blood and fire."
AN ENDURING BOND SPANNING DECADES
The presence of Moyer and McMullen in the upcoming photo exhibition, the letter reads, "will symbolically complete a circle representing the living memory of American and Chinese wartime cooperation and solidarity."
Growing up, Moyer had made friends with the son of a Chinese restaurant owner in the town he lived in, and had yearned to visit China after reading a historical fiction depicting family life in a 20th-century Chinese village. So when he heard U.S. General Claire Lee Chennault was looking for pilots to serve in China against Japanese aggressors in the 1940s, Moyer signed up right away.
In 1944, Moyer joined the American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force, a special combat team widely known by the name given to them by the Chinese, the "Flying Tigers." Moyer's squadron was primarily responsible for protecting Chinese airfields and the B-29 bombers stationed there tasked with counter-attacks on Japan.
This experience in China during wartime was, as Moyer himself once put it, the "highlight" of his flying career, when his squadron and the Chinese "shared with each other, flew with each other, and fought together," establishing "a bond that really meant something."
In an interview with Xinhua on Monday, Greene, another writer of the letter to Xi, said that he was "extremely honored" and "humbled" to have received the reply letter, noting that "to have this letter from the Chinese president plainly and very openly" means "the president is very committed to people-to-people relationships, people-to-people understanding."
"What I believe President Xi has shown us is that the Chinese people will never forget their old friends. He has shown this time after time. He's showing it with this letter that indeed neither he nor the Chinese people will ever forget their old friends. And this is a very important message for us to share with the American people," Greene said.
A TALE OF GIVING AND RECEIVING
The culture of gratitude runs in the blood of the Chinese people. Back in July, when Xi was meeting visiting former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, he said: "We never forget our old friends."
Holding dear such bonds, Xi has always remembered the touching moments between the two peoples and recounted them on multiple occasions, long before he became president.
In 2012, when visiting the United States as China's vice president, Xi shared the Kuliang story at a luncheon, about a home-coming journey of an American couple and how that legacy of friendship continues till today.
"I believe that among the people of China and the United States, there are many touching stories like this," he said, calling for strengthening exchanges between Chinese and American people and cultivating a solid public opinion basis for the mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries.
Also during this trip, Xi made a stopover in Muscatine, a city on the banks of the Mississippi River in the central U.S. state of Iowa, and met his old friends there. Xi made his first visit to the city in 1985, when he was a Chinese county official.
During his reunion with his old friends, Xi said, "You were the first group of Americans that I came into contact with. My impression of the country came from you."
Today, like Greene and Moyer, countless individuals from across the Pacific are making unremitting efforts to preserve these memories and retell the heartening stories in hopes of carrying on the spirit of friendship and cooperation spanning generations.
In the United States, descendants of American families who once lived in Kuliang formed "Kuliang Friends," a group dedicated to promote friendly exchanges between the two peoples.
In 1998, the Sino-American Aviation Heritage Foundation was established as an American civil friendship group aimed at promoting the study and commemoration of China-U.S. historical aviation events and rekindling the spirit of the Flying Tigers.
The spirit of the Flying Tigers, including those pilots who flew the extremely dangerous Hump Route over the Himalayas to provide critical supplies to the Chinese troops fighting the Japanese invaders, is the spirit of "cooperation" and "friendship," said Greene, chair of the foundation.
A LEGACY TRANSCENDING TIME AND SPACE
"We share the shared American and Chinese legacy of the Flying Tigers," Greene said. "So part of our activities are to remind the American people of this relationship, of this point in history, and to, again, have our veterans reconnect with the Chinese people who have, as we said, have never forgotten what they did 80 years ago."
"I guess the most important thing we can do as a foundation is to make people think. Don't react to the news. Don't react to the politics of the moment. But think, understand what was important 80 years ago, what was important 30 years ago? What is important today, and what is important in the future? And that's why we have our foundation. That's why we work so hard to move forward."
Notably, a growing number of young Americans have joined the Flying Tigers Friendship Schools and Youth Leadership Program, launched by the Sino-American Aviation Heritage Foundation in 2022, and nearly 500 Flying Tigers veterans and several hundred of their family members have visited China.
Galvanized by the spirit of the Flying Tigers, these young people are among the torchbearers of a shared common heritage forged in the skies above China during WWII and a friendship spanning decades.
"This is a seed that can bear wonderful fruit. And we believe that with our hearts. And I think that's the most important message of the Flying Tigers for both countries," Greene said.
"In growing China-U.S. relations, the hope lies in the people, the foundation lies among the people, and the future lies with the youth," Xi said in his reply letter, noting that "a sound and steady development of the relationship in the new era requires the input and support of a new generation of Flying Tigers."
In the future, the two major countries shoulder even more important responsibility for world peace, stability and development, Xi said. "We therefore should, and we must, respect each other, coexist in peace and pursue win-win cooperation," he urged.
Sharing the same wishes, Greene is eager to see closer bonds and deeper mutual understanding between the two sides, and particularly among the younger generations.
"Our students will be talking to each other on an ongoing basis. They'll be learning together, they'll be learning the history together. And in that process, they'll develop friendships," he said.
They are showing by example and with their commitment that "the opportunity is there," and when both sides get down to it, "there's really nothing we can't do when working together," Greene said.
"And that's not only good information for us, but it's good news for the whole world," he added.