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Artist honors father-in-law, 'Flying Tigers'!
Artist honors father-in-law, 'Flying Tigers

Top Photo:
Martin and Fevola at Chinese Embassy, May 2003.

Bottom Photo
Fevola, Smolensky, Anna Chennault and Loughridge at the 14th AF Reunion, May 27, 2005.

Artist honors father-in-law, 'Flying Tigers
(Original publication: March 31, 2005)

Nine years ago Paul Martin III of Yorktown gave his father-in-law a tape recorder and asked him to talk about his experiences serving during World War II. Michael John Fevola didn't talk too often about his time in the Far East, defending China and Burma from the advancing Japanese. But Martin figured that Fevola, a member of the 14th Air Force during World War II who flew 30 missions with nine other men, had a story to tell. And Martin, 47, wanted to be able to share that story with his own children.

"I had known my wife for almost 30 years," Martin said, noting that from almost the beginning of their relationship he had noticed photographs of his father-in-law, obviously taken during World War II. "I would ask him questions, but he really didn't talk about it."

After marrying Joanne Fevola in 1982, Martin began talking to his father-in-law about his war service. "He started talking about it more and more," Martin said.

Shortly after the birth of their daughter, Alyssa, in 1995, Martin gave his father-in-law the tape recorder. Alyssa is now 9 and Paul IV is 7.

"I encouraged him to record his memories," Martin said. "I told him, 'Just talk about your experiences.' "

Fevola did just that. When he was done, he gave the two to three-hour long tapes to Martin, who later transcribed the tapes to keep as a memory for future Fevola generations.

A painting

Martin, an artist, had painted many scenes of American battles. He would set up his canvas in historic battlefields and paint the landscape, later adding military figures. His work has always included researched essays about each battle. However, he had never painted a World War II piece, mainly sticking with the American Revolution and Civil War.

The memories of his father-in-law inspired him. He decided to surprise Fevola with a painting of his crew standing in front of their B-24, American Beauty.
"I wanted to do a montage of the crew (in front of American Beauty) with the plane flying above," Martin said. "I didn't find a whole lot."

All he had was a black-and-white photograph and not wanting Fevola to know about his upcoming birthday gift, Martin began tracking down members of the crew and records, as well as reels of film from the military to get details of color for his painting.
It was Martin's first World War II painting, and it was a success. He had prints made, signed by both him and Fevola.

Martin said the interest in the work was probably because people feel more connected to World War II than the Revolutionary or Civil wars because they usually know someone who was involved. "People viewing that work have more of a connection to the World War II era," he said.

He has since done a few other pieces of World War II art. His Web site has comments and photographs from people whose family members served in the military during World War II.

A book?

"I had done all of this research. I did an essay of the history of the airplane and crew to go with the print," Martin said. "I decided that it would be a shame for all of this research to go to waste so I decided to write a book."

He went back and interviewed surviving crew members. "I cross-referenced official records with actual memories (of the crew members)," he said.

The men

The 10 crew members survived the war. Martin didn't know where many of them were and went on a nationwide hunting expedition to find them, six of whom are still living.

One example of his efforts was when he tried to get a hold of Everett Mosier. "I called over 50 Mosiers to find Everett Mosier's family," Martin said. His only lead was that the Mosiers were from the Detroit area. When he finally found them, he was told Mosier had died in 1961 in a boating accident.

The families of the dead crewmen were interviewed for Martin's book, "They Flew With Tigers." He wanted to know about their lives, not just their war records. "It's the story of the 375th (Bomb Squad), but it's really on a personal level of the crew members," Martin said. "I wanted to get the human element, emotions."

After three or four years, he had tracked down all of the crew members or their families.
In one case, he was contacted. The painting he gave Fevola as well as the historic essay he wrote and black-and-white photographs are on Martin's Web site. Chester Skotak's son, also named Chester, happened to be Google searching his own name and came across the site.

"It's the story of what each man saw during the 30 missions," Fevola said. "We crash-landed once (with only minor injuries). Once our plane was so shot up we almost didn't make it back. We lost an engine once. Thank God, that only happened when we were coming back (and not at the beginning of a mission)." Fevola said he thinks the book is as accurate as Martin could make it.
he book, which is approximately 100 pages shy of completion, has a brief biography of the crew members, all children of immigrants, who hadn't gone to college. "Some of them had dropped out of high school to help support their families during the Depression," Martin said.

The book includes stories as well as official military records. It is being looked at by a few publishers and Martin hopes to have the final pages completed by the end of the summer and the book published in the next two years.
"That's my goal," he said.

His story

Michael John Fevola has been married for 56 years and lives in the same house in East Meadow, Long Island, that he and his wife, Betty, bought with his GI Bill in 1948.
"It's the first house we lived in after we got married," Fevola said. "It's the only house we've lived in."

Fevola didn't have to join the military. He was exempt from military duty. He already had two brothers in the military and one who was deceased. At 23, he joined anyway.
"All my life I had been attracted to the aircraft industry," he said of his career, mostly with Fairchild Republic-Aircraft in Long Island, from where he retired in the 1980s as general foreman of production.
He still hasn't given up his love of planes. He's a docent at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City. "The young children from schools, it's so nice talking to them," he said of their excitement at seeing the different planes on display.

Fevola said he will be 85 on April 7, but don't let his age fool you. "I'm in pretty good shape," he said. "It was an exciting experience, chapter in my life," he said of serving in World War II.

He still talks to some of the guys like Ray Loughridge, who was the pilot. "I hear from (Albert) Smolensky. He was the nose gunner," Fevola said.

Beside being a docent, Fevola belongs to the VFW, the American Legion and the 14th Air Force Association. "I have no regrets (in life)," Fevola said. "I made a lot of friends."

About the Flying Tigers

Before the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, a group of volunteers was already fighting the Japanese military ... for China. In 1938, retired Army Capt. Claire L. Chennault accepted an offer from the Chinese government to help reorganize the country's air force. In 1941, the American Volunteer Group was formed to help defend China and Burma from Japanese troops. This group was made up of men (and women), most of whom gave up their military commissions to join the effort.

Fevola was not part of the AVG, but was one of the groups sent to China after a request by Chennault, who knew the Chinese air force needed better planes to defend itself. What Chennault wanted were C-47s. That's not quite what he received. "It was still a defensive force for the Chinese," Martin said. "Gen. Chennault wanted to start taking on more of an offensive."

The 308th Bomb Group was being deployed to Europe, when their duty assignment was changed and they were sent instead to Cina via India to be part of the newly formed 14th Air Force.
"The 308th Bomb Group was originally scheduled to join the 8th Air Force in England," Martin said. The 36 to 40 B-24s and their crews were sent to Chennault.

According to Martin, the fighter pilots with the group received its catchy moniker because of the P-40s they flew. The planes had teeth painted on the nose. The Chinese gave them the name Flying Tigers.

A dangerous trip

Since most of coastal China was under Japanese control, there was only one way to get supplies to the 14th's base in Kunming, China over the Himilayas. "You couldn't get anything in through the shipping routes," Martin said. "All supplies were brought first to India and flown over the Himalayas."
It was known as the Aluminum Trail many planes never completed the trip, crashing into the mountains below when ice formed on their wings or clouds covered a pilot's ability to see.

"It was very dangerous," Martin said. "It was the most treacherous area to fly over. Many planes went down." Fevola said, "I think something like 400 airplanes went down."
It was the only way to supply the 14th, and it was the men of the 14th who did the supplying.
"They were supplying themselves by going back and forth over 'The Hump,'" Martin said, adding the men had to do three or four supply runs before going on a mission.

Fevola was one of the replacement crews of the 14th and was actually on a transport back to the U.S. when an announcement was made that American forces had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.

The Chinese embassy still hosts an annual dinner to honor the Flying Tigers.
"The Chinese government gives us a dinner and thank us for being there," Fevola said. "It's a nice gesture."

Why he did it all

Martin's father was a Korean War vet. He grew up in a Long Island neighborhood where practically everyone's father was a veteran.
"My mother and father brought us up to appreciate veterans," Martin said. "I have an appreciation for the battles our country has fought."

Martin's art is inspired by the Hudson River School of Painters. He was drawn to Civil War battlefields. His landscapes include the war scenes you almost wouldn't expect to see in such serene landscapes.

"I try to do it in the emotional spirit, if you will, of the Hudson River School of Painters," he said of scenes like dramatic sunsets. "It's a dichotomy of tranquil fields but also a battlefield. It's a strange contrast of emotion. I try to play that up within the artwork."

But it's not only the love of art that draws him to the fields of Gettysburg and other famous battle scenes. "I pay tribute to the men who fought on those battlefields," he said of the modern-day landscapes with historic battles painted into them. "It's a modern interpretation of the battlefields."

At the library

Martin and Fevola will discuss the Flying Tigers as part of a monthly series hosted by the Friends of History, according to Carl Oechsner, president of the group.
"I try to be selective," Oechsner said of choosing speakers. "We try to screen our lecturers."

Martin said they will start the lecture with a reading from his book. There will be a display of artifacts including Fevola's uniform, hat, medals and survival kits. During a slide presentation, Fevola will share stories of the men's experiences. "The pilot was an amateur photographer and took color photos of training and in China," Martin said. First Lt. Ray Loughridge would take pictures and send them home to his mother to be developed and she would supply him with fresh rolls of film.
"I think people will find it interesting," Martin said.

Of his book, Martin said, "The real objective for me is to really honor these men and all veterans of World War II the sacrifices they made to save the world from the tyranny of that time."

Send e-mail to Rachael Paradise-DePalma

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