MCRD PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. -- White hair gleamed from beneath a sky blue cover and the sparkle of medals were not dimmed by their antiquity for Maj. Gen. Fred Chiao, a former pilot with the famed Flying Tigers of the Chinese Air Force, as he sat in the reviewing stands awaiting the graduation of his grandson Jan. 3.
For the Chiaos, the enlistment of Fred's grandson, PFC Kevin Chiao, marks a family tradition of honor and courage, and a dedication to country, which spans two continents.
The surviving family's participation in the armed forces began in 1942 when a young Fred Chiao became a pilot in the Chinese Air Force under instruction by a volunteer group of former American military pilots enlisted to help train and advise the Chinese Air Force.
"I served with the Flying Tigers from 1942 until the war was over," Fred began in a singsong style revealing his native Chinese language. "I came to America after my retirement ... I had done a lot of working together with the U.S. Air Force, and there was a lot of mutual understanding between the two air forces ... when we fought for Free China."
Fred would leave China after retiring in 1974, because of communism, but his son, David, would not follow for three more years, because of his own obligation to serve in the military.
"It is a family tradition," said David Chiao, standing beside his father and son. I was in the Marine Corps from 1975 to 1977."
A laugh erupts as he specified, "I was not a Marine here. I served in the Republic of China, on Taiwan."
Still, the mark of service continued after David followed his father to America as a student at the University of Tennessee. After graduating from college, David moved the family to Norcross, Ga., where Kevin was born. Twenty years later, the tradition of service continues.
"I wanted to be part of the best in leadership," began Kevin, standing tall and proud between generations of tradition. "I wanted to grow up, not just grow old. My grandpa played the biggest part in me joining the armed forces. He is my hero, and my idol."
While Fred had happily recalled service in the Flying Tigers, it was Kevin who would remark about the war stories of World War II China, and about how his grandpa was shot down by the Japanese.
"It just made me want to know what it was like to belong to something so great," said Kevin. "Chills went up my back and I couldn't hold back the tears yesterday when they said we were Marines. I really felt it."
"Three months ago I came here not knowing what to expect. I woke up every morning wondering what I was doing here, but I knew I would make it because I wanted to honor my grandpa and become part of the
world's greatest fighting force."
As the congratulations continued through the small group of family members, Fred and Kevin touched parts of each other's uniforms, with a better knowledge of what each is made of. The singsong poetry of Chinese and English melded together as the tradition of service blends in a family honed by honor and courage, spanning two nations.