The "Flying Tigers" (formally known as the American Volunteer Group or AVG) were famous for being in the fight very early in World War II. They were recruited to fly for the Republic of China — with the quiet approval of the United States government.
Despite the fact many had no flight experience in fighters like the P-40s made famous by the AVG, they were able to inflict heavy casualties on the Japanese — even as they had to fall back due to being badly outnumbered.
So it's not surprising that some of the Flying Tiger pilots became legends later in the war and beyond.
1. Gregory Boyington
Probably the best-known Flying Tigers alum (due to the TV series "Baa Baa Black Sheep" or "Black Sheep Squadron"), Boyington claimed six kills while with the Tigers — although CAMCO gave him credit for only 3.5.
Some historians dispute that total, but what is beyond any doubt is the fact that Boyington would later become the top Marine ace of all time with 28 kills. He would also receive the Medal of Honor for his service.
"Pappy" Boyington. (U.S. Navy photo)
2. James H. Howard
Howard was recruited for the Flying Tigers from the Navy. His kill total with the Flying Tigers was six and a third, per CAMCO bonus records (pilots received a $500 bonus for every confirmed kill).
Not bad, but his real moment of glory came when the son of American missionaries in China was all that stood between 30 German fighters and a group of B-17 Flying Fortresses on Jan. 11, 1944.
At least three of the Nazi fighters were shot down in that incident, and Howard probably put lead in more. He would receive the Medal of Honor for his actions.
He modestly said, "I seen my duty and I done it."
James H. Howard, after returning from combat duty in Europe. (USAAF photo)
3. Robert L. Scott
The Georgia native unofficially flew with the Flying Tigers before he took command of their successors, the 23rd Fighter Group, and was known as a "one-man air force." Scott ultimately scored 13 kills with the 23rd Fighter Group, but was better known for writing the book "God is My Co-Pilot," which later became a movie.
Robert L. Scott - a 13-kill ace who "unofficially" flew with the Flying Tigers. (USAAF photo)
4. Robert W. Prescott
A 5.5-kill ace with the Flying Tigers, Prescott was best known for being among those who founded the Flying Tigers Line. While that aviation firm is now part of Federal Express, it did gain a measure of immortality in an episode of the 1960s iteration of Dragnet.
A 747 with the Flying Tigers airline founded by Robert Prescott, an AVG veteran. The airline was later bought by FedEx. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
5. Robert Neale
Neale scored at least 15 kills with the Flying Tigers, per AVG records. Had he accepted a commission from the United States Army Air Force, he could have racked up a much higher total.
Instead, he stayed on, and was the first commander of the 23rd Fighter Group — while still a civilian — until Robert Scott officially took command. Neale then became a civilian ferry pilot for the duration of the war.
6. David "Tex" Hill
Hill was born in Korea — like Howard, the son of missionaries.
Prior to joining the AVG he served in the Navy, where he flew two planes that were notable during the Battle of Midway: The TBD Devastator torpedo bomber (notable for the losses suffered by torpedo squadrons) and the SB2U Vindicator (the plane flown by Richard Fleming, the only Medal of Honor recipient for the Battle of Midway).
Hill scored 10.25 kills with the AVG, then stayed on afterwards with the Air Force.
Hill ended the war with 18.25 kills, and not only commanded the 23rd Fighter Group, but later commanded an Air National Guard fighter group during the Korean War.
A Vought SB2U Vindicator flie over a convoy in 1941. "Tex" Hill flew the SB2U before joining the AVG. (U.S. Navy photo)
7. Charles Older
Older wasn't only a double ace with the Flying Tigers, he scored eight more later in World War II.
Then he flew a night intruder bomber in the Korean War before graduating from law school and becoming a judge, presiding over the Manson trial.
Manson took a swing at the former Flying Tiger, but bailiffs restrained him. Probably lucky for Manson...with his experience of fighting against long odds, Older probably could have taken the punk down.
A Flying Tiger in front of Charles Older's P-40. Older had 10 kills with the Flying Tigers, and added eight more later. (AVG photo via Wikimedia Commons)