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Last of World War II's legendary Flying Tigers dies at 99

Col. Walt Jackim, 45th Space Wing vice commander, greets Frank Losonsky, the sole remaining member of the American Volunteer Group Flying Tigers during a visit to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on Sept. 21, 2017.

MATTHEW JURGENS/U.S. AIR FORCE

By MARK RICE | Columbus Ledger-Enquirer | Published: February 13, 2020

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — A man believed to be the last of the surviving Flying Tigers from World War II has died.

Frank Losonsky, 99, died Feb. 6 at home in Colombus from natural causes, his son Chris told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview Monday. No funeral service is planned, he said.

Losonsky was the last survivor of the Flying Tigers, the legendary World War II unit officially called the American Volunteer Group, according to the U.S. Air Force.

Losonsky joined the Flying Tigers in May 1941. The unit's 311 members helped protect China from Japanese forces, according to the Air Force. Losonsky became a crew chief and sergeant with the 3rd Squadron, nicknamed the Hell’s Angels.

The Flying Tigers soon made their mark, according to Tripp Alyn, chair of the Historical & Museums Committee AVG Flying Tigers Association.

"The Japanese referred to them as 'gangsters' because they said they didn't fight fair," Alyn said in an Air Force statement. “The Flying Tigers, though they were characterized by some as mercenaries or soldiers of fortune, were largely patriotic American officers who joined a covert operation to help keep China in the war.”

“The Flying Tigers were instrumental in delaying Japan from capitalizing on regional natural resources. Their effort not only delayed Japan, but it was vital to U.S. strategy of thwarting the Japanese Army from taking root on the Chinese mainland.”

The Flying Tigers were only around for a year, but they had 20 aces and shot down 297 enemy aircraft.

After the United States joined the war in December 1941, the AVG disbanded and became part of the U.S. Air Force 23rd Fighter Group in July 1942.

“It wasn’t easy for Frank, who had to wend his way around the world, via South Africa, before he eventually found himself back in the States,” WarBirdNews.com reported. “He got married in the interim, and then returned to China as a mechanic with China National Aviation Corporation, a quasi-civilian airline which took part in the massive logistics operation flying supplies between India and China over the Himalayan Mountains during the period when Japanese forces had cut off the normal land route via the Burma Road. After the war he joined TransAsiatic Airlines in Burma, eventually becoming a pilot himself.”

Losonsky’s military memoir, “Flying Tiger: A Crew Chief’s Story,” written with his son Terry, was published in 2004.

In 2012, Losonsky was among the surviving Flying Tigers honored at the National Infantry Museum & Soldier Center in Columbus.

“He was kind of a hero,” said Chris, president of Part IV Inc., the restaurant group that owns the Speakeasy in Columbus. “We went to many, many of the reunions these individuals had over the years. It was always exciting being among those gentlemen. I kind of grew up with it, but everybody acknowledged him for his duty and his service.”

And it never got old for him.

“When he got around Flying Tigers stuff,” Chris said, “he lit up.”

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