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World War II translator honored for service with Flying Tigers

More than 70 years after he volunteered to serve as a translator for the original World War II Flying Tigers in China, and two decades after the U.S. government granted other members of the legendary mercenary group veteran status, John Yee was recognized Tuesday night as “an American hero.”

It wasn’t the official government recognition Yee has sought and been denied for lack of a piece of paperwork. But the 90-year-old American citizen — one of the last remaining members of the original Flying Tigers still living today — said the evening was beyond his imagination.

Former Veterans Administration Secretary Jim Nicholson read a proclamation honoring Yee. John Sie, founder and former chairman of Starz Entertainment and a fellow native of China who organized the event, also read a proclamation from Gov. John Hickenlooper declaring Tuesday “John H. Yee Day.”

“Suffice to say the Flying Tigers certainly saved a lot of lives and were very heroic in their service,” Yee told the crowd after receiving a standing ovation. “I was very proud to be a member of them.”

A retired high school history teacher who lives in Aurora, Yee was a teenager in Kunming, China, when he saw his homeland ravaged by Japanese bombers.

The United States was not yet at war, but President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration authorized a secret unit to Asia to help stop Japan from occupying the rest of the country.

The unit, officially named the American Volunteer Group, was led by Claire Lee Chennault, a retired U.S. Army Air Corps captain. They recruited American pilots with a promise they would be handsomely rewarded for their work.

Yee, then a university student, didn’t think twice when he heard the unit was looking for translators. He worked in radio control, translating messages from farmers who spotted Japanese planes and plotting their locations on a grid to determine when and where they might attack.

John Yee as a young Chinese soldier.

On Dec. 20, 1941, the unsuspecting Japanese sent 10 bombers toward Kunming. This time, the Americans were waiting. When it was over, only one of the Japanese planes escaped. The next day, a Chinese newspaper article stated that the Americans’ planes were “like tigers flying through the sky.”

Although the AVG disbanded in 1942, Yee continued to translate for the units that replaced it. Two years later, he traveled to the United States to train members of the Chinese air force. When the war ended, he was allowed to stay in the country for fear of reprisals from the Communist government in China. He became a U.S. citizen in 1952.

Nearly 40 years later, the Department of Defense announced that members of the AVG could apply for veterans benefits. Yee applied — but was denied because he was missing a piece of documentation. After reading a story about Yee in The Denver Post last year, Sie tried to help, but the efforts were unsuccessful. Tuesday’s ceremony was the next best thing, he said.

“It’s a belated honor,” Sie added, “but I think he deserves the recognition.”

Read more:World War II translator honored for service with Flying Tigers – The Denver Posthttp://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_21097497/world-war-ii-translator-honored-service-flying-tigers#ixzz214OXC8Xk
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