Pentagon opens exhibit on US-China WWII military history

World Today

An aged Chinese civilian getting a light for his cigarette from a US Army sergeant. Yunnan, China. 1944. (U.S. National Archives )

The Pentagon hosted an exhibit highlighting US-China military alliance during WWII. Launching the ceremony, Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said these photos are reminders of the shared history between the two militaries.

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The United States and China were allies during the war in which more than 250,000 Americans served in the China/Burma/India theater under Army General Joseph Stilwell.

Speaking at the opening ceremony about the campaign, retired Army Colonel John Easterbrook, grandson of Stilwell, said that actions in Europe and in the Pacific overshadowed the scope of the effort in the region, and many present day Americans are surprised to learn of the US effort against Japan in China.

Zhang Dongpan, who served four years in the People’s Liberation Army, recalled how he helped collect the photos and research into the China-U.S. cooperation in fighting Japanese aggression during that period.

“In 1999, a friend sent me an old photograph from World War II; it showed a U.S. soldier’s funeral at a Yunnan battlefield,” Zhang said at the ceremony via translation.

Zhang’s research led him to Easterbrook, and they worked to contact survivors of the Americans killed in China during the war. Zhang also discovered that the U.S. National Archives had more than 23,000 photos of the American interactions with Chinese during the war taken by Army Signal Corps photographers.

In 2006, Zhang and his team copied and digitized the photos, and in 2010 he opened the exhibit titled “National Memories” in China. Millions of Chinese have seen the photos in cities around the country, he noted.

“Today, when you discuss the Second World War with the Chinese people, increasingly they will tell you (that) in that war, the United States helped us, and we thank them,” Zhang said.

Dempsey praised Zhang and Easterbrook for their efforts. “This exhibit can help people on both sides of the Pacific remember this part of our shared history,” he said, “you can take pride knowing that your hard work will continue to deepen the understanding and communication between the United States and China.”

“America has long-standing interests in peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region, clearly demonstrated today,” said Dempsey, who has made a number of trips to the region, including a trip to China last year.

Chinese defense and air attaches attended the opening, as did combat cameramen from the U.S. 55th Signal Battalion, military descendants of the men who shot the photos from 1942 to 1945, the 164th Combat Camera Company.

This story is also compiled with the information from Xinhua.