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Claire Lee Chennault Passes Away

Today in Masonic History Claire Lee Chennault passes away in 1958.

Claire Lee Chennault was an American soldier, mercenary and pilot.

Chennault was born on September 6th, 1893 in Commerce, Texas. He was raised in Louisiana. After graduating high school he and his father began misrepresenting the year of his Chennault's birth, most commonly it is listed as 1890 or 1889. This was most likely because Chennault was too young to attend college. He attended Louisiana State University in 1909 and 1910. He was enrolled in ROTC training at the school.

From 1913 to 1915 Chennault served as the principal of Kilbourne School before enlisting in the United States Army during World War I. It was during World War I that he learned how to fly. Following the war he graduated from pursuit pilot school in 1922. He would remain as part of the service after it became the Air Corps and would become the head Chief of Pursuit Section at the Air Corps Tactical School in the 1930's.

In the mid 1930's Chennault became the head of the Army Air Corps aerobatic team nicknamed "The Three Musketeers." He would later reorganize them to "The Three Men on the Flying Trapeze."

In 1937, Chennault resigned from the military due to declining health and a disagreement with his superiors. This largely came from the opinion that Chennault was not qualified to be promoted. Shortly after his resignation he was asked to come and serve as a consultant in China who in the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Originally a three month contract, Chennault stayed in China and became a mercenary in the service of the Chinese military.

In 1940 and early 1941, Chennault was sent by the Chinese government to negotiate with the United States for planes, parts and pilots. The pilots would be mercenaries like Chennault and the planes would receive Chinese markings. At the same time Chennault advocated for a plan to end the war quickly. He wanted the Chinese government to build airstrips in the north of China so that bombing runs could begin against Japanese cities. American military leadership was against it, in part they did not think that the Chinese would be able to build the base, they also questioned Chennault leadership since he was only a few years earlier called unacceptable for promotion. Although the planes and pilots would arrive after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the air bases also never materialized. The planes and pilots were formed into the American Volunteer Group, which was nicknamed the "Flying Tigers."

Chennault proved to have incredible success with the Flying Tigers. In 1942, the Chinese government for the first time released information about the Flying Tigers and Chennault's efforts. He was put on the cover of Life magazine and Time magazine. He was also brought back in to the United States military along with the Flying Tigers. He was given command of the Fourteenth Air Force after he was promoted to the rank of Major General.

After World War II, Chennault remained in China. After purchasing some surplus military aircraft he created the Civil Air Transport which was active during the time that Chinese Communists were taking over China. He was even called to Washington D.C. to testify on the matter. Later the Civil Air Transport changed it's name to Air America and continued to operate in southeast Asia up through the Vietnam War.

Nine days before Chennault passed away he was promoted to lieutenant general in the United States Air Force. He passed away from Lung Cancer in New Orleans.

Chennault was a member of League City Lodge No. 1053, League City, Texas. He was a 32° of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, Orient of China at Shanghai (in exile) and a member of Islam Shrine Temple, San Francisco, California.