GREENTOWN — When Morgan Vaux passed away last week, he was one of only 10 surviving members of the American Volunteer Group that fought in China prior to the United States’ decision to enter World War II.
Claire Chennault organized the American Volunteer Group with the assistance of the U.S. government at a time when the country was not involved in the fighting.
Vaux, who passed away at the age of 92, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1939, and when the opportunity came to join the Flying Tigers for one year, he signed the contract on July 4, 1941, with the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company of New York. The group consisted of three fighter squadrons with the mission of keeping the Burma Road open to China.
Vaux served as a station manager, operating a warning station in Iliang, China, along the Burma Road. He worked alongside an interpreter and a cook.
Of the 311 Americans who joined Claire Chennault’s American Volunteer Group, there are now only nine members surviving, according to Vaux’s widow, Fleeta.
Vaux was the only member of the Flying Tigers to reside in Indiana.
Vaux, whose nickname was “Morg,” suffered rat bites on his arm while stationed at Iliang, and when they became infected, he was transferred back to the main air station at Kunming, China, to work in the radio station.
In his memoirs, Vaux wrote that he learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 10 days after it took place from another radio operator.
After being discharged from the Flying Tigers, Vaux enlisted in the U.S. Marines and served near the Solomon Islands. Following his discharge, Vaux moved to Kokomo and worked for Delphi Corp. until he retired in 1980.
Today would mark the 43rd wedding anniversary for Fleeta and Morgan Vaux, who married in 1967.
“It’s going to be a tough day,” Fleeta said.
The couple met in a nursing home where Vaux’s mother was living and Fleeta worked as a nurse.
“My mother always said if you meet a man that is good to his mother, he will be good to you,” Fleeta said. “She was 199 percent correct.”
She recalled her husband saying he though serving with the Flying Tigers sounded interesting.
“He wanted to help,” Fleeta said. “Until the day he died, he believed he did some help.”
Fleeta said her late husband knew the Flying Tigers was an all-volunteer group when he signed the contract.
“Every year he went to the annual reunion,” she said. “The last time he went was in 2007.
“At the beginning I went to the reunions. I was going when there was a lot of guys there.”
Memorabilia hangs throughout the couple’s home near Greentown, including a commemorative lithographs of the Flying Tigers in action. The Bronze Star Vaux received in 1962 is on display in a spare room along with pictures from Vaux’s time in service.
“He talked about his experiences,” said his daughter Nancy West. “When we would complain about the swimming pool being dirty, he would tell us how they had to breast stroke through water to push the debris out of the way.
“He talked about the host family he stayed with in China,” she said. “He never knew what he was eating and most times didn’t ask.”
Fleeta said her husband’s service in the Flying Tigers and with the Marines were his favorite memories.
West said her father wrote about his experiences in the Flying Tigers and would send copies of his recollections to school children from all over the country doing research.
“They always wanted the Flying Tigers to be remembered,” she said.
Fleeta said her husband spoke just enough Chinese to say he wanted something to eat, a place to sleep and the word “no.”
“He had an interesting life,” she said.
Outside the Vaux house a Marine Corps and American flag fly every day.
“He instilled in all of us kids to respect the flag,” West said. “Everyday he went outside and raised and lowered the American flag.”