Charles R. Bond Jr., 94

Charles R. Bond Jr. Dies at 94; Pilot Was One of the Last Surviving Flying Tigers

Charles R. Bond Jr., an Air Force major general, was credited with downing nine Japanese planes.
Charles R. Bond Jr., an Air Force major general, was credited with downing nine Japanese planes. (Courtesy Of The Museum Of Flight)
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By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 31, 2009

Charles R. Bond Jr., a retired Air Force major general and one of the last surviving Flying Tigers, died Aug. 18 of dementia at Presbyterian Village North, an assisted living community in Dallas. He was 94.

In September 1941, he left the Army Air Forces to volunteer for service in China as part of a secret program, the American Volunteer Group, nicknamed the Flying Tigers, under Gen. Claire Chenault. Made up of about 400 pilots and ground personnel and based in Burma, the Flying Tigers protected military supply routes between China and Burma and helped to get supplies to Chinese forces fighting the Japanese.

The group's exploits became legend. Flying the P-40 aircraft, their fuselages painted with a toothsome tiger, the Flying Tigers were credited with shooting down 299 enemy planes and destroying 200 on the ground, even though the Japanese at times outnumbered Chenault's group 15 to 1. On one day in late February 1942, the Flying Tigers downed 28 Japanese planes while losing none.

During one of the 1942 engagements, Gen. Bond destroyed three Japanese I-97 planes while piloting his P-40B. He was credited with nine kills in all.

Gen . Bond was shot down twice himself. On May 4, 1942, three Japanese fighters zeroed in on his plane over Pao-shan, China, and his plane and his clothing caught fire. Parachuting into a cemetery, he ran to a creek and was able to douse the flames. After spending a few weeks in a hospital, he returned to combat and was shot down again June 12, 1942. Despite head injuries -- and shrapnel that he carried in his head the rest of his life -- he was back in action a week later.

Charles Rankin Bond Jr., born in Dallas on April 22, 1915, had wanted to fly since he was 15. An honor student and Golden Gloves boxing champion in high school, he hoped to study engineering, but his working-class family could not afford college during the Depression. A daughter, Cindy Gilmer, said that one of the reasons he eventually joined the Flying Tigers was the promise of $500 for every Japanese plane he shot down.

He used the money he earned as an ace to help his parents buy a house.

He began his military career as an enlistee in the Texas National Guard. He later served in the Army, hoping for an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Instead, he entered the Aviation Cadet Program in 1938 and was commissioned a year later at Randolph Field, Tex.

After his combat exploits in the Far East, he returned to Dallas, where the Junior Chamber of Commerce honored him as one of the outstanding young Texans in 1942. He tried civilian life, working as a commercial pilot, but found it boring. After three weeks he rejoined the Army Air Forces.

He was assigned to the Army Air Force School of Applied Tactics in Orlando. A year later, he became chief of the Air Division of the U.S. Military Mission in Moscow, where he served as aide to Ambassador Averill Harriman.

In 1949, he received an undergraduate degree in management engineering from Texas A&M University. With funds from the GI Bill running out, he took 30 hours a semester during two years on campus and graduated with honors.

He held a number of command positions during his long career, including simultaneous service during the Vietnam War as deputy commanding officer of the Second Air Division, headquartered in Vietnam, and of the 13th Air Force, headquartered in the Philippines. From 1967 until his retirement in 1969, he was commander of the 12th Air Force in Waco, Tex.

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