A significant historical marker will be unveiled Oct. 14 honoring the late Gen. Claire Chennault — a World War II veteran born in Commerce in 1893. This historical marker, to be placed next to the existing historical marker on Monroe Street, will be the only one in Texas not written in English, but in two translations of Mandarin instead.
Chennault is being honored for his work in the Air Force during World War II, leading the first American Volunteer Group, the “Flying Tigers” — where “Flying Tiger Memorial Highway” got its name — innovating new techniques in air tactics and helping China defend itself against the Japanese. Because of his efforts with both the US Army and as an aviation adviser and trainer in China, he is revered by the people of China and considered a “liberator.”
During the event, dignitaries from around the world, including Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp, will be there.
“This coincides with the 70th anniversary of World War II,” said Wyman Williams, chairperson for a committee working to collect resources from campus and the community for this event. “It’s a great time to bring attention to this. On the 14th and 15th of August, that was when Japan officially announced their surrender. There will be a great deal of international news, especially in China and Taiwan, related to this 70th anniversary.”
Williams has been involved with this project for several years, working with the Texas A&M University—Commerce College of Business for fundraising as well as being involved with the East Texas War and Memory Project, a series of interviews conducted by A&M—Commerce students to gather stories and photos from East Texas area veterans.
Even after Chennault’s death in 1958, the Commerce community has done little to recognize his importance. A historical marker, placed in 1968, and a designation of Highway 24 as Flying Tiger Memorial Highway is all that exists to honor Chennault.
Dr. Otha Spencer, a longtime photojournalism professor at A&M—Commerce before his death in 2012, dedicated much of his life garnering interest in Chennault.
“Until his death, Spencer tried to get us all interested in promoting Commerce and understanding how important this was internationally,” Williams said. Spencer authored more than 300 magazine articles and 12 books, including “Flying the Hump: Memories of an Air War” and “Flying the Weather,” both detailing his experiences as a Hump pilot and weather reconnaissance pilot during World War II.
“Most faculty, students and staff don’t have a clue about [Chennault],” Williams said. “We want to get people to recognize the importance of General Chennault. It’s a story we’ve not told often enough.”
Williams believes the unveiling of a new historical marker will generate more interest in Chennault’s significance.
“This is to show respect to those who want to visit the birthplace of General Chennault who do not speak English,” Williams said. “This will bring positive attention to our university and our community.”