Pioneers of The Sky: The Story of Arthur Chin
Arthur Chin’s life is one straight out of a Hollywood playbook, also known by his Chinese name Chan Sui Tin, Chin scored 8.5 kills against superior Japanese aircraft, making him the first American fighter ace of World War II. Born in Portland, Oregon to a Chinese father and a Peruvian mother, Chin was part of group of Chinese-Americans who volunteered for duty with the Chinese Nationalists to fight the Japanese Empire. Often overshadowed by the popular First American Volunteer group “The Flying Tigers”, Chin’s efforts were recognized by the US Army Airforce and the US Airforce when he was awarded medals for gallantry in combat in WWII.
Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1932 motivated 14 Chinese Americans to enroll in the Al Greenwood flying school in Portland. Two of these students were Arthur Chin and fellow Pioneer of the Skies, Hazel Ying Lee. Due to the high cost of tuition for flight school, the Chinese community in Portland rallied around the students and paid for their training. Four years later, Chin and his classmates joined the Canton Air Corps of Guangdong, China under the command of warlord Chen Chidang as the first and original group of American volunteer combat aviators. Since the Nationalist Chinese Government had a combat flight training agreement with Germany, Chin was eventually transferred to the Luftwaffe training base at Lagerlechfeld, Germany for aerial-gunnery training. He later returned to China when the integration of the Guangdong Provincial Air Force into the Kuomintang Nationalist air force took place.
Curtis Hawk II
Mitsubishi G3M Aircraft
Chin flew in combat with the 28th Pursuit Squadron of the 5th Pursuit Group equipped with obsolete Curtis Hawk II bi planes. The squadron, led by Captain Chan Kee-Wong, engaged Japanese aircraft in the Battle of Shanghai. On August 16th 1937, Japanese heavy bombers began their attack on Jurong airbase. It was then when Arthur Chin and Capt. Chang Kee-Wong confronted enemy aircraft with their outdated Hawk IIs. Flying these obsolete aircraft, Chin was still able to knock down many of the faster G3M bombers. The Hawk IIs slow speed made Chin an easy target for the Japanese tail-gunners who scored hits which caused Chin to make a force-landing on an airfield in Jiaxing.
It wasn’t until 1939 when Chin flew his outdated British Gloster Gladiator bi-plane fighter (the aircraft responsible for 6.5 of his 8.5 aerial victories) that his aircraft was hit and he bailed out from his burning aircraft. Chin was able to bail out safely but suffered serious burns. Chin returned to his family’s home at Lichow Airfield to recover from his injuries but his luck ran out when Japanese bombers eventually attacked the base. Chin was not the only hero in his family. His wife Eva Wu saved the couple’s children by taking them to an air-raid shelter as bombs dropped around them. When the children reached safety, Eva went back to the house to rescue Chin as he lay in bed immobilized from bandages on his upper body. As the explosions got louder and louder, his loving and heroic wife Eva threw herself on top of Chin to shield him from the explosion which destroyed their home and killed her. It has been reported from an earlier interview that Chin remembers holding his dead wife’s body on top of him until help came for him.
Arthur Chin and wife Eva Chin
After several years of surgeries and recovery followed by an escape from Japanese occupied Hong Kong, Chin returned to China joining the U.S Army Airforce to fly supplies over the Himalayas on a route dubbed the “Hump”. Chin was known as being charismatic flyer a cigar in his mouth seeming to ignore the scars left behind from his combat flying. After his aviation career ended, Chin became a postal worker in his hometown of Portland, Oregon, a job which he loved.
Fifty years after the war ended, Chin, who was accepted by the U.S Army Airforce, was recognized as a heroic veteran being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal. In 1997 Chin was also commemorated by being inducted into the Hall of Fame of the American Airpower Heritage Museum in Midland, Texas as the first American Ace of WWII. Sadly, the induction came a month after Chin passed away on September 3rd, 1997. Arthur Chin’s legacy still lives on today, thankfully through the House Resolution 5220 which passed on January 29th, 2008; it named a United States Post Office in Aloha, Oregon as the “Major Arthur Chin Post Office Building”. Arthur Chin’s heroism and determination to keep flying against the enemy, even after being shot down three times, is one to remember. Cockpit USA honors Arthur Chin as a Pioneer of the Skies.