A Scrap of Silk Tells an Airman’s Story:
On June 29, 1944, 16 American planes were flying a mission against the Japanese along the Laodoho River in the Hunan Province in China. After several followed a road away from the river, one of the planes crashed into a building and then skidded across the rice fields, breaking apart and burning.
Over a year later, the Changsha Search Team reported finding the grave of an unidentified pilot. The team recovered the engine numbers and serial plates of the carburetor and radio compass and noted that “A Chinese Flage [sic] Identification which was worn on this fliers [sic] jacket, number 12331, has been found.”
Foreign pilots were issued a rescue patch called a hu chao after they become advisers to the Chinese Air Force in 1937. The hu chao depicted the Chinese National Flag, the chop (stamp) of the Chinese Air Force Headquarters, and text in Mandarin or Cantonese that read: “This foreign person has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue, protect, and provide him medical care.”
Lt. James Vurgaropulos carried just such a chit. James was born on February 22, 1919, in Lowell, MA, to Greek immigrant parents. He was a pilot in the 75th Fighter Squadron, 23rd Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Force when his plane went down on June 29, 1944, apparently killing him instantly. He was 25 years old.