American prisoner of war reunited with Chinese rescuer after 71 years

Updated: 2016-08-05 10:20 By Yang Fan, Jacob Hooson and Yan Weijue

American prisoner of war reunited with Chinese rescuer after 71 years

Mary Taylor Previte was 9 years old when Japanese troops marched into Chefoo boarding school in 1941, a day after the deadly attack on Pearl Harbor. It was then that her life would change forever.

Three long years later on August 17, 1945, after being held in torturous conditions at Weihsein concentration camp in Weifang, Shandong province, Previte and 1,500 Allied civilian prisoners were liberated.

Mary remembers the day as if it was yesterday. She had been lying in a second floor hospital dormitory, withering in diarrhea, when she heard the drone of a B-24 bomber overhead.

"I jumped and looked out of the window and saw a plane flying low over the treetops and then parachutes started dropping," said Ms Previte.

"The people rushed out to the fields to these six Americans and one Chinese interpreter and picked up these heroes and carried them to the gates of the camp," Previte recalled tearfully.

American prisoner of war reunited with Chinese rescuer after 71 years
In photos: woman reunited with rescuer 71 years on 

More than 70 years after the heroic deed saved her life, Previte has travelled half way around the world to thank the 91-year old Wang Chenghan in his hometown of Guiyang, Guizhou province.

"This is my hero!" exclaimed 83-year-old Previte when she saw Wang waiting for her outside his the door of his home. Tears and words of gratitude were then exchanged as the two became locked in a tight embrace.

It took Previte 18 years to track down Wang, after having already located and thanked the other six rescuers from the operation dubbed "Duck Mission".

Ms Previte brought Wang, the only man of the rescuers still alive, 18 thank-you letters written by New Jersey Congressman Donald Norcross, US Ambassador to China Max Baucus, and other internees of the concentration camp.

"If you and your brave comrades hadn't saved us, I would probably have died before I reached 19," wrote Pamela Masters-Flynn of Placerville, California, in a letter to Wang. "Thank you for giving me 70 more years of living here on earth with all the wonderful people who touched my life along the way."

US State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, another camp internee, wrote that Wang was "deserving of the highest commendation and praise," while US Congressman Norcross entered Wang's name into the US Congressional Record for his "selfless acts and service".

Wang led Mary to his home and the two sat down hand in hand, laughing and recalling the past. "It's the end of a dream to actually have found all of the heroes and have the opportunity to see them face to face," said Previte. "I never thought I could still meet [Mr Wang] in my life."

The nearly two-decade-long-search for Mr Wang, who Mary knew as "Eddie Wang", had left her with many questions about how he came to join the rescue operation.

Wang explained that he decided to join the army when he was still in sophomore year at Sichuan University in 1943. Two years later, he graduated from the army's interpreter training class and was assigned to rescue the foreign prisoners at Weihsein. Wang had never tried parachuting before, but felt it was his duty to carry out the mission.

It was not until March this year that Private discovered the last hero she had been searching for. The breakthrough came after a Chinese student studying in the US saw an article about her and realized that the missing man was his grandfather.

The two old friends talked and laughed for a whole afternoon. They even sang the song You Are My Sunshine which helped them pass the time during difficult periods of the camp.

"My life has been made so beautiful with these friendships," said Previte. "This is the last stop on my pilgrimage to find my heroes."

Wang Chenghan Biography

American prisoner of war reunited with Chinese rescuer after 71 years

Wang Chenghan at age of 23 (left) and now at age 91. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Wang Chenghan was born in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, in 1925. In 1943, Wang enrolled in a course at the Department of Physics of Sichuan University.

However, in 1944, Wang dropped out of school and joined in the National Revolutionary Army. It was there that he received training to be an interpreter, before being enrolled by the US-controlled Office of Strategic Services (OSS) - the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

After training in Yunnan’s Kaiyuan city, Wang was among the operatives that carried out “Duck Mission,” where some 1,500 internees were rescued from Weihsien Camp in central Shandong province in August 1945.

Two months after in October 1945, Wang returned to school to continue his engineering degree and worked as an engineer in Shenyang, Liaonin province, after graduation. Fifty years later, Wang moved to Guiyang.

American prisoner of war reunited with Chinese rescuer after 71 years

What they say:

Fashion-angel_:Every deed of benevolence is bound to be repaid; it’s only a matter of time.

愤怒的公牛在嬉戏:They are just like families; it’s so warm and sweet.

INSIDERinside:Their story explains the true sense of friends in adversity.

朵朵PJM:I hope China will never have to experience war again.

俺叫赵富贵儿:Less confrontation and more gratitude. It’s better to maintain a friendly relation.

姑娘你到底需要什么感觉我猜不透:I wish the two elders good health and longevity.

American prisoner of war reunited with Chinese rescuer after 71 years

Editors' notes: 

At its height, WWII was one of the most divisive wars the world has ever seen. Yet among the horrors, it also brought humanity us closer together. More than 70 years on, it is difficult for such tales of reunions and memories of those times not to give us a warm feeling inside. >>> (Jacob Hooson)


American prisoner of war reunited with Chinese rescuer after 71 years

As a foreigner living and working in China, I have been forced to confront the gaps and missteps in my understanding of these tragic historical events.  I have gained a new appreciation of the intense and desperate struggle of the Chinese nation to restore freedom to its people at that time. >>> (Owen Fishwick)



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