Prior to the official entrance of the United States’s into World War II, a group of U.S. military veterans nicknamed the “Flying Tigers” had already begun flying missions over Burma and China to fight Japanese attackers.

Now, 90-year-old Flying Tiger John R. “Dick” Rossi, who flew combat missions over China in 1942, is scheduled to take part in a question-and-answer session about his aviation exploits as part of a veterans salute, at 10 a.m. Thursday, November 10th, at the LAX Flight Path Museum, 6661 Imperial Highway, Westchester. Admission is free.

Rossi had first been a U.S. Navy flight instructor. After his active duty, he joined the American Volunteer Group, later known as the Flying Tigers, in 1941.

The group was formed by retired Army Air Force colonel Claire L. Chennault after an executive order was signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. The order called for U.S. enlisted men to resign from the Army Air Corps and Naval and Marine air services to join the American Volunteer Group to help defend China, which had a fledgling — nearly nonexistent — air force.

American Volunteer Group airmen were paid a salary of up to $750 per month plus a bonus of $500 for each Japanese plane destroyed.

After a number of successful missions shooting down Japanese bombers, American Volunteer Group members were surprised to find out they had become famous in the American newspapers under the moniker the Flying Tigers. Members of the group, many of whom had shark teeth painted on the fronts of their Curtiss P-40 aircraft, were perplexed as to why they were called Flying Tigers, but the name stuck.

Rossi engaged in his first combat over Burma in January of 1942 (the second time he fired his plane’s guns he was in combat) and flew his last mission over the East China Front in 1942, according to wife Lydia Rossi. Most of his missions were over Rangoon.

After World War II, Rossi became involved in the founding of the Flying Tiger Line, an airline which would conduct civilian missions carrying freight rather than engaging in military combat. The company has since been bought out by Federal Express.

Rossi attained ace status as a pilot and his awards include two Distinguished Flying Crosses, an Air Medal, two Presidential Unit Citations and four Bronze Stars.

On September 3rd, Rossi was honored at a dinner in Beijing where he received a toast from Chinese leader Hu Jintao thanking Rossi for what he and the Flying Tigers did to defend the Chinese people.

In addition to Rossi, special guests at the Flight Path Museum event will be members of the Tiger Retirement Club and local veterans. Don Hassig, former Flying Tiger senior captain, will introduce Rossi.

Information, (310) 215-5291.

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