Many people don’t realize that the U.S. and China were close allies during World War II – and that Guilin played a central role in military cooperation between the two countries.

The “Flying Tigers” were an American volunteer air force squadron based in Guilin during the initial years of the war. Officially part the Chinese Air Force, their mission was to defend China against the Japanese.

The wide mouth full of sharp teeth painted onto the nose of the Flying Tiger planes (pictured above) is one of the most recognizable images of WWII. The Flying Tigers fought more than 100 combat missions, shooting down 272 enemy aircraft and destroying another 225 on the ground.

Last month, the Flying Tiger Heritage Park was opened in Guilin in conjunction with the U.S.-based Flying Tiger Historical Organization. The park is built on the original Flying Tigers airfield and includes a museum, aircraft shelters, and hundreds of historical items.

In a recent speech, U.S. Consul General Jennifer Zimdahl Galt perfectly captured the importance of the park and the significance of the historical era it recognizes: “As we honor their memory, let us look to the Flying Tigers for inspiration, as a shining example of the great things that can be accomplished when Americans and Chinese join together in a spirit of mutual friendship and support.”

Source: Xinhua News Agency

Photos: Flying Tiger Historical Organization, Imperial War Museums collection, and the German Federal Archive