40¢ Claire Chennault
Great Americans Series
Issue Date: September 6, 1990
City: Monroe, LA
Printed By: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Engraved
Color: Dark blue
Issued between 1980 and 1999, the Great Americans definitive series features 63 designs, making it the larges set of face different Regular Issue stamps issued in the 20th century. One stamp honors a couple (Lila and Dewitt Wallace) while the remaining 62 commemorate individuals.
The series is characterized by a standard definitive size, simple design and monochromatic colors. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing produced most of the stamps, but some were printed by private firms. Several stamps saw multiple printings. The result is many different varieties, with tagging being the key to understanding them.
Claire Lee Chennault was born on September 6, 1893, in Commerce, Texas.
Chennault spent his early years in Louisiana, attended Louisiana State University, and joined the ROTC. He worked as a school principal until the outbreak of World War I, at which point he joined the Army Signal Corps. Chennault went on to fly with the Army Air Service during that war.
After World War I, Chennault was made Chief of Pursuant Section at the Air Corps Tactical School. He also led the 1st Pursuit Group Army Air Corps aerobatic team, the Three Musketeers, which he later reorganized as Three Men on the Flying Trapeze.
By the mid-1930s, Chennault’s health was suffering and he fought with superiors after he was passed over for a promotion. So he retired from the military on April 30, 1937. He was then invited to join a small group of American civilians in China training their airmen.
Shortly after Chennault’s arrival in China, the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out and he was made chief air advisor to Chiang Kai-shek. In this role he trained Chinese Air Force pilots and flew on occasional scouting missions. Then in 1940 he traveled back to the U.S. to request more planes and pilots. From this meeting came the creation of the American Volunteer Group, also known as the Flying Tigers. The U.S. promised 100 planes as well as mechanics, pilots, and aviation supplies.
Chennault planned and campaigned for a bombing raid by his tigers, which he believed could end the war. The raid never happened because airfields weren’t built close enough to Japan to launch the planes. Then on December 20, 1941, Chennault’s Tigers shot down four Japanese planes bound for Kunming.
The Tigers continued to guard the Burma Road, Rangoon, and other important locations in Southeast Asia and Western China. Eventually, Chennault rejoined the Army and the Tigers were formally incorporated into the U.S. Army Air Forces.
After the war Chennault returned to China and created Civil Air Transport (later Air America) to aid Nationalist China in its struggle against Communist China. He was eventually promoted to lieutenant general in the Air Force nine days before his death on July 27, 1958.