Claire Lee Chennault
Lieutenant General U.S. Army Air Force
Claire Lee Chennault was born on September 6, 1893 in Commerce, Texas to parents John Stonewall Jackson Chennault and Jessie (nėe Lee) Chennault. The family pronounced their French surname "Shen-awlt". Claire grew up in Gilbert and Waterproof in Louisiana. After graduating from high school, he lied about his birth year as either 1889 or 1890 as he was because he was too young to attend college. During 1909 and 1910, he enrolled in Louisiana State University (LSU) and joined the school's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program. In 1911, he married his first wife, Nell Thompson and the couple moved to West Carroll Parish where he worked at Kilbourne School as a principal between 1913 until 1915.
During World War I, he graduated from U.S. Army Officers' School at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana and was transferred to the Aviation Division of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. He learned to fly in the Army Air Service. On April 23, 1922 he graduated as a pursuit pilot (fighter pilot) at Ellington Field in Texas. Afterwards, he became the Chief of Pursuit Section at Air Corps Tactical School in the early 1930s. Next he was assigned as Commanding Officer (C. O.) of the 1st Pursuit Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC) aerobatic team dubbed the "Three Musketeers" and performed at the 1928 National Air Races. During 1932 became a pursuit instructor at Maxwell Field in in Montgomery, Alabama and reorganized the team as "Three Men on the Flying Trapeze". Promoted to the rank of Captain but passed over as unqualified for promotion and suffered from poor health. On April 30, 1937 he resigned from the U.S. Army Air Corps.
As a civilian, he was recruited to travel to China arriving in June 1937 as part of a small group of American civilians to train Chinese pilots under a three-month contract with a salary of $1,000 per month. He was tasked to survey the Chinese Air Force and reported to Soong Mei-ling "Madame Chiang" in charge of the Aeronautical Commission.
During July 1937, the the Marco Polo Bridge Incident began the Second Sino-Japanese War. Immediately, Chennault became Chiang Kai-shek's chief air adviser, training Chinese Air Force pilots and sometimes personally flying scouting missions. He was authorized to form an "International Squadron" of mercenary pilots that later became the American Volunteer Group (AVG) "Flying Tigers".
On June 17, 1945 General Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, Commanding
General USAAF requested Chennault be replaced by Lt. Gen. George E. Stratemeyer as commander of the 14th Air Force.
Chennault continued to advocate for Chiang Kai-shek and more international support for anti-communist movements. He later returned to China, purchased surplus U.S. aircraft and created Civil Air Transport. In 1946 he formed Air America to provide aid for Nationalist China against Chinese Communist. Later, Air America flew supplies for French forces in Indochina (Vietnam) and provided support for Thailand and later supported U.S. intelligence operations during the Vietnam War.
Chennault passed away on July 27, 1958 at age 64. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery at section 2 grave 872. He also has a memorial marker installed Memorial Day 1991 at Garden of Memories Cemetery in Sweetwater, TX. The memorial reads: "Memorial Day 1991 In memory of a pure patriot, his role in life was to serve his United States as a military man against her enemies. Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault September 6, 1890 [sic 1893]–July 27, 1958"
Arlington National Cemetery (ANC Explorer) - Claire L. Chennault (photos)
FindAGrave - Claire Lee Chennault (photo, grave photo)
FindAGrave - Claire Lee Chennault (memorial marker)
Do you have photos or additional information to add?