Letter: Restore Chennault statue

It is not too late for Louisiana to right the wrong that the state has done to the memory of Lt. Gen. Claire Lee Chennault and to the honor of the nation of Taiwan.

Gen. Chennault, who was raised in Louisiana and attended LSU, was a military genius who became America’s first World War II hero by organizing and leading in combat the American Volunteer Group, the Flying Tigers, a group of daring American fighter pilots who volunteered at the outset of the war to follow Chennault to China to defend that country from invasion by Japan. As a result of Chennault’s innovative aerial warfare tactics — later adopted by the USAAF in all war theaters —the Flying Tigers piloting what were thought to be obsolete P-40’s proved for the first time in the war that Americans could defeat the alleged invincible forces of Imperial Japan.

In 1976, the nation of Taiwan, in appreciation for Chennault’s wartime exploits on behalf of the Chinese people, donated to Louisiana a magnificent bronze statue of the general together with an imposing pedestal detailing his military achievements. The statue and pedestal were placed on state property near the State Capitol so that all who visited the Capitol could view and remember Gen. Chennault.

In 1997, in a maneuver typical of Louisiana politicians, the then-governor and his legislative leaders unceremoniously had the statue and pedestal removed from the Capitol grounds to make room for a parking lot.

To their credit, the directors of the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum rescued the statue from oblivion by offering to display the statue, sans pedestal, at the museum where, for a fee, visitors could see the statue.

When the late philanthropist Patrick Taylor learned in 2001 what had been done to the Chennault memorial, he initiated a plan to move it back to a prominent place on state property in Baton Rouge. Alas, Mr. Taylor’s untimely death ended the plan.

It is wrong for Louisiana to treat a gift from Taiwan in such a shoddy manner. Our nation has treated the 1912 gift of cherry trees from World War II enemy Japan better than our state has treated the Chennault statue.

Both Louisiana and Baton Rouge are now working to establish closer business ties to Taiwan.

The state and city should therefore take the necessary steps to right a wrong done to Taiwan by moving the statue and restored pedestal to a prominent place on state property in Baton Rouge (LSU Parade Ground?) so that young and old alike who visit the Capital City can, free of charge, view, remember and draw inspiration from this authentic Louisiana military hero.

Howard Franques

retired lawyer

Lafayette