Site Meter Flying Tiger Bill Reed

Flying Tiger

The following is from Dan Ford's Book on "The Flying Tigers" . . .

"During the dark, early days of World War II, when the Imperial Japanese army, navy, and air force were running roughshod over Asia and the Pacific, it seemed that nothing could stop them. Only a small band of American mercenary fliers based in Burma and known as the Flying Tigers, led by a leather-faced fighter named Claire Chennault, seemed able to challenge and defeat the Japanese . . ."

Flying Tigers
The video above is courtesy of Stan Moore, MP Films, Inc
Bill Reed is shown by his plane in the last scenes in this video.

William (Bill) N Reed was one of the initial volunteers in the American Volunteer Group (AVG) that would become known as the Flying Tigers. The Flying Tigers were stationed in China and Burma between September 1941 and July 4th, 1942. He later served in the 14th Army Air Force under Claire Chennault in the China-Burma-India Theater (C-B-I) as the Flight Leader of 7th Fighter Squadron and later the Commander of the 3rd Fighter Group. During the time that Lt. Colonel William (Bill) Reed served in China between September 1941 and December 1944 - - he was officially credited with 9.0* aerial victories and 8.0* aircraft destroyed on the ground. While serving with the American Volunteer Group (AVG) Bill flew seventy-five missions and had 3.0* aerial victories and was credited with destroying eight enemy aircraft on the ground (March 18, 1942), plus other "probables." From September of 1943 to December of 1944 - Bill would be credited with an additional 6.0 aerial kills while flying with the 14th Army Air Force, which made Bill an "ACE ". The Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame states that during World War II --

"William N. Reed was the most decorated pilot in the China-Burma-India Theater during World War II"

William (Bill) Norman Reed was born January 8, 1917, in Stone City, Iowa, the ninth and last child of Mary Ellen Dearborn Reed and Edward Reed. The family moved to Cedar Rapids and then to Marion, Iowa, during Bill's childhood. Initially they lived in a two-story house at 386 16th St, on Marion's Irish Hill, where families of railroad workers lived. Larry Martin, who was Bill's nephew, but was really more like a younger brother since only six years seperated the boys also lived at 386 16th St. with the Reed family. Please note that Larry Martin has been one of the major sources of information on Bill Reed. Bill and his family later moved to 1314 Fifth Avenue in Marion, Iowa. He graduated from Marion High School in 1935 and Loras College in Dubuque in 1939 with a degree in Economics. Father George Stemm , who was Bill's mentor and friend stated "Bill was superb in body and mind and had great quality of soul and character." He was considered a star athlete with the "Duhawks" at Loras, where he received varsity letters in both football and baseball. He was a caddie at the Marion Country Club during earlier years and was an excellent golfer.

After college, Bill joined the Army Air Corps in February of 1940, training first at Glenview, Illinois; basic training was at Randolph Field, Texas and advanced training at Kelly Field, Texas. He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in October 1940, at which time he was assigned as flight instructor at Barksdale Field, Louisiana. When the opportunity to go to Burma with the American Volunteer Group (AVG) to assist China in protecting the Burma Road arose, he and ninety or so other airmen were granted leave of absence from service and this country with the promise of keeping their rank. The AVG had been created by Colonel Claire Chennault and Chiang Kai-shek. Bill sailed from San Francisco for Rangoon, Burma, on July 22, 1941 on Bloemfontein, of the Java Pacific Line The Bloemfontein was not a luxury liner by any stretch of the imagination. Yet neither was it a tramp steamer. Its tonnage grossed in the neighborhood of 12,000; it was driven by two diesel motors, each of which put out 5,000 hp, and it was clean and comfortable, with nice cabins and some facilities for entertainment and exercise. Early on the morning of September 15 we started up the Rangoon River, and about 8 a.m. they were offshore from Rangoon. Bill states in his DIARY on December 4th, 1941:

"Soon we were alongside the docks and were met by Adair and Hastey. We got our .baggage through customs and all went to the Strand Hotel, where the company .had a nice dinner arranged for us. During dinner I learned we were to entrain that same afternoon for "Point A," Burma. I did get time enough, though, after eating to take a look around Rangoon. I went out to the zoo, and then just rode around in a taxi. I was most impressed by two very large pagodas, both covered with gold leaf. We all boarded the narrow-gauge passenger train, and soon we were skimming (and bouncing) through the rice paddies of Burma. Stopped in Pegu, Burma, for dinner, and found that we would arrive at our destination shortly after 9 p.m. sure enough, the train jolted to a stop shortly after 9, and I knew we were there, for Outside the coaches I could hear the din of welcome American voices, which meant that those who had been on the boat before us had turned out en masse to welcome us. Probst, an ex-roommate of mine in flying school, was among them, and he took a bunch of us in a station wagon and started for the field, which lay some 6-8 miles out the Burma Road from the village. We were soon there, and everyone congregated in the bar. There was much beer and more loud visiting and renewing of acquaintances. I found that I was assigned to the Third Pursuit Squadron, and met my squadron leader, A. E. Olson who seemed to be a very nice fellow. The thing I was interested in, though, was some mail that Probst had picked up for me, and as soon as possible I went over to his barracks and got it. Letters from Mom, Emma, and Father Stemm. I read them by flashlight, and the bugs almost ate me up. Finally crawled under the mosquito net in my barracks, and after a bit of thinking the situation over, was asleep."

During seven months of active duty with the AVG Bill flew seventy-five missions and had 3.0* aerial kills and was credited with destroying eight enemy aircraft on the ground (March 18, 1942), plus other "probables." The Iowa Aviation Hall of Fame states -- "William N. Reed was the most decorated pilot in the China-Burma-India Theatre. Bill, who was promoted to Lt. Colonel at the age of 27 earned the following awarded between December 23rd, 1941 and December 18th, 1944:
  • The Silver Star
  • The Distinguished Flying Cross with 2 Oak Leaf Cluster
  • The Air Medal with 9 Gold Stars
  • The Legion of Merit
  • The British Distinguished Flying Cross with 2 Gold Stars
  • The Fifth and Sixth Order of the Chinese Cloud Banner
  • - - Links to other WEB Sites and/or Documents

    Bill Reed by his plane in early 1942.
    This picture of Bill is in the video above . . .

    Flying Tigers 3rd Squadron (Hell's Angels)
    Seated L to R - R.T. Smith, Ken Jernstedt, Bob Prescott, ‘Link’ Laughlin and Bill Reed. Standing L to R - Erik Schilling and Arvid Olson. Tom Haywood took the photograph using R.T. Smith’s camera during a refueling stop at Yunnan-yi on May 28, 1942. Arvid Olsen flew #68 behind them -- on this mission...

    Bill Reed was assigned to the 3rd Squadron - "The Hells Angels" which was based in Rangoon, Burma. The goal of the Hells Angels was to protect Rangoon and it vital ports from Japanese bombardment. Bill's first kill was on December 23rd when the Japanese attacked Rangoon, Burma. The following was the account of Bill's first victory as reported by Loyal Meek of the Cedar Rapids Gazette in September 1942, "I made three ineffectual passes at the formation before I got around to following Chennault's instructions. The bombers were flying a "V" formation and I picked the end man on the right flank as my prey. I caught him with a hit as my fire raked past him. Evidently I crippled him for he dropped down about 500 to 600 feet and turned away from the formation . . ." - - - The bomber was found in the jungle, thirty miles from Rangoon. This was Bill Reed's first verified victory.

    On December 25, 1941, the Hell's Angels were in the air again. This time over 75 Japanese bombers and fighters focused their sights on the docks of Rangoon and the Mingladon airbase. This battle would become known as "The Christmas Day Massacre". "They were dropping like flies. They were rolling out of the formation, wings coming off, blowing up . . ." During "The Christmas Day Massacre" the AVG got 25 fighters and bombers without losing a single plane.. Bill was credited with two more kills during the battle and earned the "The British Distinguished Flying Cross". After "The Christmas Day Massacre" the AVG became known as the " Flying Tigers ".

    The Flying Tigers were the only winning offensive that the USA had during the last part of 1941 and the first part of 1942. Within a period of six months Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, Wake Island surrended to the Japanese in January 1942, plus Singapore and the Philippines fell to the Japanese in January and February of 1942. By July 4, 1942, the Flying Tigers would be credited with shooting down 300 aircraft in the air and destroying another 200 on the ground.

    During the early part of 1942 the British and American Forces were forced out of Burma. By March the Flying Tigers' had moved all of their planes and supplies to Kunming, China. The Flying Tigers emphasis switched to ground attacks as the Japanese continued their push up through Burma and into China. The strafing attacks on trains and other ground targets would prove valuable training for Reed's later mission with the Chinese American Composite Wing (CACW) - 14th Air Force.

    On March 18, 1942 Bill Reed and Ken Jernstedt raided the Japanese Air Field at Moulmein, Burma. Between them they destroyed 15 aircraft. Bill Reed states in his DIARY that he destroyed 8 aircraft and Ken Jernstedt destroyed seven more. Bill stated the following in his DIARY on March 18th, 1942:

    "We took off half an hour before dawn, climbed on course to 20,000 feet, and headed for Moulmein. At 20,000 feet we were in the sun, but the land was still quite dark. Hit the Gulf of Martaban just right, but encountered an overcast, which drove us down to 7,000 feet. Saw no shipping in the Gulf, and proceeded on south of Moulmein out of sight and hearing of land. At last Jernie and I turned in overland south of Moulmein, and at 4,000 feet started back to the north toward the main drome at Moulmein where we hoped to surprise them and catch some planes on the ground. We had proceeded in this direction only 3 or 4 minutes, however, when just below us I spotted a satellite field lined with thirty or forty planes. I immediately signaled for attack and dove with Jernie following. We each made six passes on this field, and it was a complete surprise, for as far as I could see there wasn't even any groundfire to oppose us. After the sixth pass, though, we both headed north, and in another few minutes we were at the main field. Once more an attack signal and the low-angling dive with all guns blazing at a field loaded with heavy bombers. This time we met pretty heavy antiaircraft, though, and as I pulled up and turned for another dive I saw Jernie crossing the field with little black mushrooms of smoke bursting all around him. I made one more pass and set another plane on fire, but the antiaircraft fire was pretty heavy and too damn close, so I continued on north across the bay and followed the railroad and road looking for troop movements, which was the main part of our mission. On the way back I strafed a boat, a Jap staff car, and some boxcars, and dropped two bombs on a compound. Arrived in Toungoo just 5 minutes after Jernstedt, and after leaving our information with the army headquarters there, we went back to Magwe. We left five fires at each field, and destroyed at least fifteen more planes. I'll bet we ruined plenty of others, too. A pretty good day's work, so Jernie and I took the rest of the day off."

    A Los Angeles Times article by Ralph Vartabedian entitled "Flying Tigers' Covert Status Revealed," reports that the Flying Tigers had the approval of the President and the War Department according to an August 1941 memo for the Chief of the Army Air Force, General Henry "Hap" Arnold. The news story tells how the men of the AVG sailed across the Pacific on Dutch freighters, representing themselves as farmers, etc., but this group of recently discharged military pilots was going to China to fight the Japanese. After landing in Rangoon, Burma, they set up an "ostensibly" volunteer aviation force in China, and shortly after Pearl Harbor, began fighting. Ultimately the pilots amassed the greatest record in the history of air combat. The Pentagon refused to admit their real status until 1991. Now amends are being made, and the true story revealed. The AVG members, pilots and crewmen, served on "active duty," as of Defense Department findings signed on May 3, 1991.

    After Bill was discharged from AVG on July 4, 1942, he returned to Marion, Iowa after a long, slow journey to a spectacular hero's welcome, "BILL REED DAY" on September 12th, 1942 10,000 people were in the park to welcome Bill Reed. Lowell Thomas captured it for Movietone News video.


    For the next few months he appeared throughout Iowa and most of the Midwest promoting the sale of war bonds, in the company of many celebrities (including actors Pat O'Brien and Walter Able, and actress Jynx Falkenberg). General Claire Channuelt in his letter to R.T. Smith in 1952, stated " I suppose you know that Jinx Falkenberg and Bill thought quite a bit of each other and there was a rumor about their engagement. Bill saw quite a bit of her while she was on tour in China with Pat O'Brien and company. . ."

    In February 1943 he was commissioned a Major in the Army Air Corps and, after gunnery training, returned to the Chinese theater to fight again under Gen. Claire Chennault, founder of the Flying Tigers, this time with the Chinese-American Composite Wing (CACW) in the 14th United States Army Air Force. While with the CACW Bill flew sixty-six missions with six confirmed aerial kills (making a total of 9.0* including the 3.0* with the AVG), eight more on the ground, and many other probables and damaged. He was .promoted to Lt. Colonel, and was awarded the Silver Star. Bill had already earned the Distinguished Flying Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal, the British Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Fifth and Sixth Order of the Chinese Cloud Banner.

    Lt. Col William (Bill) N. Reed with the 3rd Fighter Group of the 14th Army Air Force
    Bill is the fourth (4th) person from the left in the front row.
    Armit William Lewis is the fourth from the left in the back row. Armit was one of Bill Reed's closest friends who would retire from the USAF as a Colonel.

    Bill became Commander of the Third Fighter Group, and on December 18, 1944, led one of two groups to sweep the airfields around Hankow, resulting in its destruction. The following day Bill Reed was killed returning from a mission over Pengpu when he was forced to bail out and the chute did not open. His body was returned to the base by some Chinese who had "covered him with flowers and reverently cared for him," according to William L. Turner, Major in the Air Corps which is included in the letter folder of Bill Reed, " Major Turner's Letter ." Major Turner was flying with Bill at the time, and was also forced to bail out. Bill's body was returned to his family, and he is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Anamosa, Iowa.

    General Claire Chennault wrote a letter to R.T. Smith in February of 1952. At the time R.T. was considering writing the story of Bill Reed. The letter which can be found in the Bill Reed Letter Folder stated the following:

    "I was very pleased to receive your letter dated February 12th and to know that you are planning to write the story of Bill Reed. In the AVG I considered Bill as just one of our good pilots and good reliable boys, but after he returned to me in the 14th Air Force I soon discovered that he was a real man among men. You probably do not know it, but Bill destroyed the only night flying squadron the Japanese had which was equipped with radar and which was being used to attack the B-29 bases around Chentu. It was one of the smartest combat flights pulled during the entire war including some rather smart ones pulled by the AVG. Shortly before his death, I invited Bill down to Kunming as my guest and decorated him for that particular operation as well as for some others. After his untimely and unnecessary death, I had his body brought to Kunming and had him buried in the AVG cemetery which, as you will remember, is on a hilltop overlooking the valley to the west (Bill Reed is now buried with his family in Riverside Cemetery, Anamosa, Iowa). I felt his loss as keenly as if he had been one of my sons. . . "

    I've drawn from several sources including the following to document the story of Bill Reed. These sources include but are not limited to "R.T. Smith and his Estate"; The book - "The Flying Tigers" by Daniel Ford; The video - "FEI HU - The Story of the Flying Tigers"; The video - "The Real Flying Tigers", which is on the History Channel; The book - The Flying Tiger - The "True Story of General Claire Chennault" by Jack Samson; The book - "Wings to Wings" by Carl Molesworth and Steven Mosely, Orion Books, 1991; "Bill Reed's Diary"; "The Cedar Rapids Gazette" and the Marion Library. None of this would have been possible without the help and input of Larry Martin (Bill Reed's nephew) and Edward Reed (Bill Reed's nephew)." There are several interesting facts associated with the Flying Tigers and Bill Reed. First of all, Roy Disney designed the logo for the Flying Tigers. This is the one in the upper right corner of this WEB Site. R. T. Smith (Another AVG Pilot) named one of his sons - William Reed Smith in honor of Bill Reed. Air China is an Airline based in Taiwan, which was founded by a former Flying Tiger. During Vietnam it flew for the CIA. Flying Tiger Air Cargo was formed by a former Flying Tiger pilot and is now one of the largest air cargo companies in the world.

    Bill Reed is officially credited with 9 aerial victories and 8 aircraft destroyed on the ground. In the July 6th, 1945 "China Lantern Newspaper", Bill was listed as an "ACE" . In this article it stated "

    14th Lists 74 Men As World Air Aces “HQ., 14TH AIR FORCE - July 5 (Special to the USAAF "China Lantern") - "Of all the aces who have emerged from World War II, 74 of them, to date, have been Fourteenth Air Force men. Tied for first place at the head of the Fourteenth Air Force's "ace" list with a score of 18˝ are Col. David L. Hill and Lt. Col. Charles H. Older. These men stand in 24th and 25th place in the overall list of aces of the AAF. Col. Hill charged up 12˝ of his total with the AVG and Col. Older 10˝ with the AVG. GOOD SHOW with results to match from a direct hit recently on the bridge at Quang Tri in French Indo-China by a B-25 of the Jiggs Squadron of the Fourteenth Air Force. (USAAF photo). With a score near the top of the list was the late Lt. Col. William N. Reed, who was credited with 17˝, ten and one-half of which were with the AVG".

    Several sources including the Movietone Clip with Lowell Thomas, where Bill Reed mentions 5.0 victories in the air and several WEB Sites which indicate that Bill Reed had 10.5 victories in the air with the AVG are not official. Bills official record with the AVG is noted in the attached "AVG Combat Record". Bill was also the most decorated pilot in the China-Burma-India Theatre during World War II.


    The Iowa Gold Star Military Museum located on Camp Dodge, 7105 NW 70th Ave., Johnston, Iowa, will install a full-scale replica Curtis P-40B "Tomahawk" fighter aircraft in honor of Iowans who served during the early days of World War IT in the American Volunteer Group (AVG), also known as the original "Flying Tigers." The aircraft will be installed in the museum's main gallery at Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012.

    The Iowa Gold Star Military Museum's newest exhibit honors the accomplishments of four Iowans who served with the AVG Flying Tigers - Keith Christensen, 3rd Pursuit Squadron ("Hell's Angels") from Peterson, Iowa; Noel R. Bacon, 2nd Pursuit Squadron ("Pandas") from Randalia, Iowa; Robert Neal, 1st Pursuit Squadron ("Adam and Eve") from Greene, Iowa; and William N. Reed, 3rd Pursuit Squadron ("Hell's Angels") from Marion, Iowa.

    Replica of the P-40B that Lt. Col. William N. Reed flow in China during World War II
    This replica is on display at the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum in Des Moines, Iowa

    The 1st American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force in 1941-1942, was comprised of pilots and crewmembers from the United States Army Air Corps, Navy and Marine Corps. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was persuaded to let the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO) secretly hire 300 U.S. pilots and crewmembers on behalf of the Chinese government. CAMCO purchased 100 U.S.-made Curtiss P-40B Tomahawk aircraft for the A VG to fly and shipped the aircraft to China. The pilots and crewmembers were required to resign from the U.S. military before signing one-year contracts with CAMCO, and the U.S. personnel sailed to China in July and August 1941.

    Consisting of three fighter squadrons with 33 aircraft per squadron, the A VG assembled its aircraft and trained its pilots and crewmembers in Burma during the summer and fall of 1941, months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The unit's mission was to defend China against attacking Japanese forces.

    On Dec. 20, 1941, pilots of the AVG flying P-40B Tomahawks attacked a formation of 10 Japanese bombers in the sky east ofKunming, China. Only one Japanese bomber returned to its base in Indochina. This encounter, which comprised the first combat mission ofthe Flying Tigers, was the first time a modern air force armed with U.S.-built aircraft flown by American pilots, challenged the Japanese in the skies over Asia A Chinese newspaper described the lop-sided victory achieved by these American pilots, writing: "They're fighting like tigers, Flying Tigers!"

    The full-scale replica is painted in the color scheme and markings of the P-40B flown by Reed, who is credited with destroying 17.5 Japanese aircraft (9 aerial kills and 8.5 enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground) during his service with the AVG and the u.s. Army Air Force's 14th Air Force in the Pacific Theater during wwn. Reed was later killed in action on Dec. 19, 1944, while bailing out of his disabled aircraft over China. He received the Silver Star, the third-highest U.S. military award for bravery, during wwn

    The museum is open for visitors and you can find more information on their WEB Site at Iowa Gold Star Military Museum. The complete Newsletter can be read at FLYING TIGERS AIRCRAFT TO BE INSTALLED AT IOWA GOLD STAR MILITARY MUSEUM

    Many thanks to "Br. Gerald F. Muller CSC" for his help in editing and proofing the text on this WEB Site.


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