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By Bryan Thompson


Lewis Sherman Bishop was born at the family home on the Old State Road near St Henry’s Cemetery in the town of De Kalb August 21, 1915. He was one of 12 children born to George Bishop and Mary Cook Bishop. The story of his military service reads like the script of a World War 2 Hollywood adventure movie.

Lewis grew up just outside the hamlet of De Kalb Junction where he was a familiar face, often helping his father deliver milk door to door. He attended the De Kalb Junction School until his senior year when he transferred to Gouverneur’s Dean High School receiving a Regents diploma in 1934.

Bishop enrolled in the aeronautical engineering program at Oklahoma Military Academy in Claremore, Oklahoma. He was in attendance during the great dust storms of 1935 and wrote home that during a typical storm visibility on campus was reduced to thirty feet. Lewis graduated from the junior college program in December of 1936 returning to De Kalb.

On April 25, 1937 the New York Times reported that Lewis Bishop of De Kalb Junction was one of only 12 candidates from the Third Naval District (included all of New York State, Connecticut and northern New Jersey) selected for US Naval Reserve aviation cadet training program. He was sent to Pensacola, Florida for a year of pilots training. He graduated in September 1938 as a naval aviator. He was commissioned as an officer, lieutenant, junior grade in the naval reserve. He was sent to San Diego, CA aboard the USS West Virginia where he was stationed for a year. While on this assignment he was married to Marie Pierce, May 25, 1940, in Reno, Nevada.

In January 1941 Lewis Bishop was sent back to Pensacola, FL as a flight instructor at the naval training base. In August 1941 Bishop resigned his Naval Commission as an ensign in order to join the American Volunteer Group, better known as the Flying Tigers.
The Flying Tigers.

The American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air force was formed April 15, 1941 under the command of Claire Lee Chennault. The Sino-Japanese War had been going on since 1937. The Chinese had lost control of the entire eastern portion of the country. The only route for resupply of their forces was the Burma Road. The AVF was organized to assist in the defense of the Burma Road.

Because of the terms of Neutrality act of 1939 US forces could not be directly involved in the fighting tin China. To circumvent this cash was loan to a third part from the US Cash and Carry Plan who then acted for the Chinese government purchasing US P40 fighter planes, which were shipped to Tangoo, where they were assembled.

The same funds were used to pay the volunteers for the AVF group. The monthly pay was $250 for ground crew, $600 for pilots, $675 for flight leaders and $750 for squadron leaders. This was roughly three times the pay of the same rank in the regular US forces.

Lewis Bishop mentions in letters home that he was offered duty in Iceland or the Atlantic but he chose to join the service in Burma. As a member of the AVF he traveled on a civilian passport sailing September 24th 1941 from San Francisco. The trip to Burma took 50 days, much of it spent in what is now Indonesia and Singapore. The numerous stops were an attempt to hide their true destination from the Japanese.

Bishop arrived in Rangoon, Burma (Yangon, Myamar) on November 12, 1941 less than a month before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He immediately began flight training under Commander Chenault. Chenault had studied the air tactics of the various forces against the Japanese. The Japanese fighter jets were by far the fastest planes in the air. However this speed was made at a cost, the planes were of very light construction. They would disintegrate undergoing high speed dives. The sturdier US P40’s could withstand these maneuvers diving at speeds as high as 450 miles per hour.

High speed dives were a flight tactic not taught to any US pilots up to this point. Commander Chenault had to retrain all the Flying Tigers to execute this maneuver.

The Flying Tigers had their first combat experience on December 20, 1941 when the Mingaladon airfield at Rangoon was attacked. Lewis Bishop was in town on leave that day. His transport broke down on the way back to the base. By the time he arrived the attack was over.

The Japanese attacked the airfield again on December 25, 1941. This time Bishop was already in the air flying reconnaissance. One of only 14 AVG planes in the air that day, he was able to get one probable hit before he had to return to base due to low fuel. The combines US and British squadrons, shot down 25 enemy bomber and fighters that day.

Following this exchange Lewis and his third squadron were transferred to Kumming, China. He was happy to report that he had running water at the new base and the food was much better.

On January 12, 1942 the Japanese launched their Burma campaign. The AVG was involved in many fire fights and performed very well though significantly out gunned. During this time Bishop continued to fly flights out of China. By mid February the attrition had taken its toll on the AVG. on the 27 of February all AVG fighters were withdrawn to northern Burma.

In late February Bishop’s third squadron was moved down from China to Magway in central Burma to reinforce the beleaguered first and second squadrons. The Allies continued to suffer heavy losses. Eventually they retreated to Loiwing, in the mountains of southwestern China. On April 29th the AVG was ordered to evacuate Loiwing and moved to Baoshan in China.

From the seventh of May until the eleventh the AVG lead a successful air campaign to halt the Japanese advance over the Upper Salween River. The Japanese were attempting to build a pontoon bridge in a mile deep river gorge to protect them from allied fire. For five days the AVG, with Bishop involved, made numerous attacks on the bridge in the deep ravine. The Japanese eventually withdrew bringing to an end the Burma campaign.

This campaign is credited with preventing the entire collapse of the Chinese nation.
The AVG was reassigned to guard the border between China and occupied Indo China.

On the 12th of May Lewis Bishop was involved in a successful mission over Hanoi.

On May fifteenth 1942 General Chiang Kai Shek promoted Bishop to vice squadron leader, said at the time to be the highest honor ever bestowed on an American pilot by the Chinese.

On May 17th 1942, Lewis Bishop was leading his squadron on a mission against Japanese Rail communications near “Lackey” on the border of modern day Vietnam. He released a bomb. The bomb was defective and detonated just outside his aircraft disabling it. Bishop was forced to parachute from his plane. It was a very windy day and he drifted across the border landing in Indo China where he was picked up by Vichy French forces.

On May 18 Lewis Bishop was turned over to Japanese forces for interrogation. He was held as a political prisoner for the fist year. E was questioned and tortured for two and half months. His treatment included full preparation for a traditional Japanese military beheading, which was not carried out.

On July third 1942 he was transferred to the notorious Bridgehouse Prison in Shanghai. The day after Lewis Bishop entered the prison the AVG group was officially merged into the USAAF 23rd Fighter group. According to accounts by Bishop in the Ogdesnburg Journal of Sep 7, 1945, when he entered the Bridgehouse prison he weighed 170#. Nine months later when he was transferred out he weighed 110#.

During this period he was fed three teacups of rice each day along with fish head stew once per day. During the first year of captivity he had no bed, was allowed no reading material and was not allowed to talk in his unheated solitary cell. By the time he left he had beri-beri, and pellagra. He had had two baths, one shave and one haircut in his first year of captivity.

When Lewis Bishop arrived at the Kiangwan POW Camp it took four blood transfusions and four glucose injections to save his life. He credited the Red Cross with the better treatment and food he received at Kiangwan.

By the spring of 1945 the war in Europe was winding down and not going well for the Japanese. The Kiangwan POW camp was evacuated to the north for security reason in May 1945. As the train passed near Beijing Lewis Bishop managed to jump from a window of the moving train. Four other marines also escaped from the train. Within a few days local Chinese Communist Guerillas united the group. Over the next forty days, “We traveled by foot, boat, donkeys, and horses. We were treated like kings by the Chinese. Always there was more food than we could possibly eat and it was because of this excellent treatment over the forty day period that each of us regained good solid weight and got in good physical condition.”

After 40 days they reached an American airbase. They were flown to Chungking (Chongqing) then on to Kunming where Bishop was reunited with his former commander

General Chennault and other members of his former unit. On this flight Lewis Bishop was allowed to take the controls of the airplane for the first time in almost three years.

Bishop was not the only member of his family to serve in World War Two. In June 1942, following Lewis’s capture, while he was missing in action his three sisters; Elizabeth, Alice and Doris Bishop enlisted in the Women’s Army Corp at Odgensburg. The sisters were featured in a WAC recruiting drive. All served the duration of the war. In addition Lewis’s nephews, Richard Bishop, Lloyd Bishop, and Lyle Bishop also served.

Elizabeth Bishop, Alice Bishop and Doris Bishop
from an army recruitment photograph.

On July 9, 1945 Lewis Bishop flew into Washington D.C. There he met his four and a half year old daughter for the first time. He spent a few months at home resting before accepting a commission in the Chinese National Air corps. He only flew two missions before retiring because his nerves were too bad to continue such flying. During this time his first wife divorced him and he quickly remarried.

He was commissioned in the Navy and promoted to the rank of Commander. He was awarded the bronze star for “Meritorious achievement while interned as a prisoner of war in China” by Rear Admiral Monroe Kelly in New York City on April 8, 1947.

Lewis Bishop was the first veteran served at the new Veterans Affairs office in Ogdensburg when it opened on November 9, 1946. Bishop attended St Lawrence University on the G. I. Bill.

Lewis Bishop never fully recovered from his internment experiences. Undergoing shock treatments at the VA, he continued to suffer from PTSD until his death in Boynton Beach, Florida, November 1, 1987.

As a Flying Tiger ace he claimed 5.2 victories.

Lewis Bishop and his daughter Sheila Bishop Irwin wrote a book about his experiences in the Flying Tigers, Escape From Hell, An AVG Flying Tiger’s Journey.

Sources:
Advance News March 22, 1942.
Advance News March 29, 1942.
Commercial Advertiser July 31, 1945.
Ford, Daniel (2007) Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and his American Volunteers Harper Collins
Gouverneur Tribune Press June 6, 1934.
New York Times April 25, 1937.
New York Times October 17, 1942.
Ogdensburg Journal May 16, 1935.
Ogdensburg Journal March 7, 1942.
Ogdensburg Journal April 15, 1942
Ogdensburg Journal November 5, 1942.
Ogdensburg Journal August 7, 1943.
Ogdensburg Journal December 28, 1943.
Ogdensburg Journal September 7, 1945.
Ogdensburg Journal November 9, 1946.
Plattsburgh Daily Press February 17, 1942.

 

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