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Condolence Letter from Brig. Gen. Claire L. Chennault

A U.S. Army Air Forces Liberator bomber crosses the shark-nosed bows of U.S. P-40 fighter planes at a U.S. base in China ca. 1943. (National Archives photo)
A U.S. Army Air Forces Liberator bomber crosses the shark-nosed bows of U.S. P-40 fighter planes at a U.S. base in China ca. 1943. (National Archives photo)

May 27, 1942 Kuming China

HEADQUARTERS AMERICAN VOLUNTEER GROUP

Office of the Commanding Officer

Kunming, Yunnam, China

Mrs H.W. Blackburn 21 Harrison Street Amarillo, Texas

Dear Mrs. Blackburn:

On May 6th, we sent you the following radio message:-

"J.E, BLACKBURN KILLED APRIL TWENTYEIGHT DURING PRACTISE FLIGHT NEAR KUNMING. STOP, LETTER FOLLOWS. STOP. SINCERE SYMPHATHY FROM AMERICAN VOLUNTEER GROUP.

SIGNED C.L. CHENNAULT

COMMANDING OFFICER

"Blackburn" left the flying field on a gunnery practice flight in the late afternoon of April 28th. As a safety measure most of our gunnery practice is done in certain areas of the large lake bordering the city of Kunming. Eyewitnesses saw him make several dives, testing his guns meanwhile, and then crash with his ship into the lake. We believe that the late afternoon sun shinning brilliantly over the late and reflecting a blinding glare made such flying deceptive and treacherous. In his case it proved fatal.

After several weeks delay in locating his ship, I am able to tell you that on May 22nd your son’s body was retrieved from the scene of his accident. The next afternoon, at five o’clock he was given a Christian Burial with military honors. He was buried in the Chinese Government Aviators. Cemetery just outside of Kunming, China.

Pictures were taken of the ceremony and shall be sent to you at home at some later date. In this letter I shall enclose the cards which came with wreaths for his grave. On his person we found several articles which we shall send on to you with all monies realized from sale of his personal effects.

I hope you will understand and forgive our delay in this matter of complete information regarding your son’s death. I assure you I had only your interest at heart when I withheld this letter until such time when I could say certainly that everything possible had been accomplished for him.

This information I am sending you is going to ask for a great sacrifice on your part – a sacrifice which you may find yourself-accepting, perhaps only because it has been placed upon you without reason or justification. We, too, feel to the full the lose of the man we had learned to respect and to love and we shall always remember with fond respect the able friend we were privileged to know all too briefly.

With the exception of documents and letters (including U.S. drafts to the amount of US $1,100.00) which were sent you by special messenger, it was his wish that his personal effects be made available to his friends. An accurate inventory of his personal effects shall be kept and all monies realized from the effects will be sent to you.

The American Volunteer group is proud of the son it lost to a cause, which still stands uppermost in our minds and ideals.

With sincere sympathy, CL Chennault Brig. Gen. US Army Commanding, A.V.G.

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