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©Mary Previte


Mary Taylor Previte

Who can forget that August day? Who can forget those heroes?

When I was a child, I could understand the mad excitement of August 17, 1945
-- a sweltering, windy day - seven men parachuting at only 400 feet from an
American bomber to liberate 1,500 Allied prisoners in the Weihsien internment
camp. I was 12 years old. I had never seen grown ups so dizzy with joy. I had
never seen such hysteria. They were weeping, screaming, dancing, waving at
the sky.

We trailed these American heroes everywhere. With the wonder of children, we
cut off pieces of their hair for souvenirs. We begged for their signatures,
their buttons, their insignia, pieces of parachute. We sat on their laps.
We made them sing the songs of America -- "You Are My Sunshine" and "Maresey
Doats and Doesey Doats and Little Lambsey Divey." We sang these songs until
the grown-ups held their ears.

But I was too young to understand the miracle of seven men -- against how
many Japanese? -- risking their lives to rescue me and 1,500 prisoners whom they
didn't even know.

As I grew up, I wondered about that miracle. I thought about heroes like
that. Who were these men? Where could I find them after all these years? In
Japanese records? In American military records? I had no idea. But I had
their names.

In 1997, when I was running for political office, a New Jersey State Senator
-- my running mate -- asked me to substitute for him at a Saturday night
banquet reunion of World War II veterans -- a banquet in a hotel located only ten
minutes from my house. He wanted me to present the group with a thank you
proclamation from the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey, a
thank you for their service to America. These are veterans of the
China-Burma-India Veterans Association, my running mate told me.

China-Burma-India veterans! I had never heard of this group before. But I
felt the goose bumps ripple up my spine. "China-Burma-India veterans. That's
who rescued me," I said. So in preparation for that Saturday night, I dug into
my treasure chest and typed out the names of our Weihsien heroes.

The banquet hall was filled with 150 men and women in their 70s and 80s --
all American veterans who had served in the China-Burma-India theater of
operations during World War II. They had assembled from the north eastern region of
the United States. When my turn came at the microphone, I read the thank you
proclamation from the New Jersey Legislature. Then I said, "I know it was not
an accident that I was invited here tonight to substitute for Senator Adler."

I told them the miracle story of August 17, 1945 -- an American B-24
"Liberator" bomber flying low over the treetops of the Weihsien Civilian Assembly
Center. I was a child, I told them, watching parachutes drop from the belly of
the plane, dropping into the gaoliang fields beyond the barrier walls.

Weihsien went mad. With 1,500 other prisoners, I dashed for the gates.

I poured out the story -- prisoners bursting through the gate, into the
fields to welcome seven angel liberators. I told about the Salvation Army Band up
on a mound by the gate, playing the Victory Medley to welcome these
sun-bronzed American heroes.

"I brought their names," I said. Slowly, clearly, I read each name into the
microphone. "Major Stanley Staiger, Ensign James Moore, 1st Lt. James J.
Hannon, T/4 Raymond Hanchulak, Sgt. Tadash Nagaki, T/5 Peter Orlich, Eddie Wang."
I paused. I was hoping against hope. "Is any one of my heroes in this room

I was greeted by silence. I was greeted with men and women weeping. But
when the banquet ended, they crushed me in their arms.

They told me to write these names down in their national magazine. "Write
their names, their rank, anything you know about them." They told me to write
that I was looking for all of these heroes -- to include my name address and
telephone number.

So I wrote a notice for their national magazine.

At the banquet, one veteran from the state of Maryland become so excited by
my story that he took my list of names. A few days later, a fat brown
envelope arrived in the mail from Maryland. He had done a computer search for every
telephone number in the United States that matched the names of my heroes.
Out of how many million Americans, he had listed pages and pages of names,
addresses, and phone numbers.

Somewhere in those pages on my kitchen table were the whereabouts of my
World War II heroes. I was campaigning door-to-door for political office, and I
had no idea where to start. Should I phone? Should I send out letters --
"Are you the Stanley Staiger who liberated the Weihsien concentration camp in
China, August 17, 1945"? Should I include self addressed, stamped return

Some of my self-addressed envelopes returned with loving responses: "God
bless you in your search."

But still no heroes.

The first break came in September, 1997. I couldn't believe it! The call
came from a woman who lives ten minutes from my house. She had read in the
"CBIVA Soundoff" magazine that I was looking for men who had liberated Weihsien.
She had served in Burma as a nurse, she said. "My sister lives next door to
Raymond Hanchulak," she told me. Hanchulak was the medic on the Weihsien
rescue mission. She gave me the telephone number in Bear Creek Village,

I decided to make my telephone calls on Sunday nights. Sunday night calls
gave me a cheap 5 cents a minute rate.

When I asked for Raymond Hanchulak, the woman who answered the telephone,
asked me the purpose of my call. When I told her, I heard her gasp. "My Raymond
died last year," she said. Here was a widow begging me for every detail I
could give her about her hero husband. "He was trained in secrecy," she said.
He had gone to war from the ethnic enclaves of Pennsylvania's mining region.
He had been a member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and later
served in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He was trained not to talk.
Until I told her, Helen Hanchulak had never heard her husband's Weihsien story.

I began to have misgivings. Would I find only widows? I knew I needed to
speed up my search.

My list included only one Peter Orlich. Peter Orlich was the radio operator
-- and the youngest member of the rescue team. A lady answered the phone when
I called. Another widow. Carol Orlich told me that Peter had died four
years before. But she knew Pete's Weihsien story. She had been corresponding
with him all through the war. She told me he had volunteered for the rescue
mission. She told me that he had feared being excluded because he wore glasses.
So he tucked his glasses into his pocket as he stood in the examination
line. He listened to each man before him reading off the letters on the eye
chart. He passed the exam by memorizing the letters. On his first practice
parachute jump, his glasses flew up onto his forehead so he couldn't see. So for
the jump in Weihsien, he taped his glasses to his head.

Taking a gift from the bottom of a drawer in Pete's bedroom bureau, Carol
Orlich mailed to me one of the treasures of my life today -- a piece of silk
parachute embroidered with the rescue scene and autographed by each of the
liberation team. A woman internee had given it to Pete as a goodbye gift when the
team was leaving for Tsingtao. Carol wanted me to have it.

Now I had found two widows. I knew time was not on my side. My telephone
bills provide a history of my search. On a Sunday night, I phoned Alliance,
Nebraska, deep in America's heartland, hoping desperately to connect with the
only Tadash Nagaki on my list. Nagaki was the Japanese American interpreter on
the rescue team

"I'm calling for Tadash Nagaki," I said.

"Speaking," he said.

I began to cry. I had found my first hero. We chattered for an hour. I was
full of questions. A widower, Tad farms beans, and corn, and sugar beets on
his farm outside Alliance and is most comfortable with the solitude of his
tractor. So I had to pull. "What did it feel like to have all of us children
following you around," I asked.

"Like being on a pedestal," he said. I knew that was the understatement of
the century. They were heroes. They were gods. Tad remembered a girl
cutting off a chunk of his hair so she'd have a souvenir.

Tad said he could help me find Jim Moore in Dallas, Texas. Their families
had remained friends for more than fifty years, exchanging cards at Christmas
time. Bless my soul! I wanted to hug the world. I had dreaded the task of
phoning more than 150 James Moores on my list.

Jim Moore bowled me over with his story. He was the child of missionaries to
China, he said -- just like me. He had attended the Chefoo School -- just
like me. When he graduated in 1936, he returned to the United States,
graduated from college, started law school, and joined the Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI). After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the Chefoo School's alumni
magazine announced that the Japanese had captured the school and marched it to
internment camp. Jim could picture it all -- his teachers, the little brothers
and sisters of his classmates, all marched off and locked up. The magazine
listed his classmates already serving in the military.

By this time, Jim had a wife and two children. Because the FBI was already
protecting America's homeland, the rules said he didn't have to go to war.
His heart said something else. He had to go. Jim Moore resigned from the FBI,
joined the Navy and the super-secret OSS, signed up to go to China because he
could speak Chinese, and volunteered for the rescue mission. When he
parachuted into the goaliang fields outside Weihsien, the first person he asked to
see was "PA" Bruce, head master of the Chefoo School. Jim had retired from a
career in the CIA when I found him.

I had come to a dead end in my search. I couldn't find Major Stanley
Staiger. I couldn't find 1st Lt. Jim Hannon. Jim Moore promised to help me search.
With a retiree's time and the skill of an intelligence professional, he
didn't take long.

One morning, he phoned me at work to say he had found Stanley Staiger. He
had searched in a program listing every driver's license in the United States
and found Staiger in Reno, Nevada. "I talked with him today," he told me.

Forget about the 5 cents a minute phone calls! I used my personal credit
card at my desk and phoned at the high priced, middle-of-the-day rates.
Stanley Staiger was fragile and recuperating from a fall and a broken hip. Here
was the hero -- wasn't he ten feet tall? -- who had lead the mission that
rescued Weihsien hoping out loud to me -- once a little girl he had rescued -- the
hero-rescuer hoping out loud that he'd be able to walk again.

I promised him. "Anyone who had the guts and spizerinctum to lead a mission
that rescued 1,500 people is definitely -- guaranteed -- going to walk again."

In December, Jim Moore phoned again. He had found Jim Hannon in Yucca
Valley, California. I connected by phone again.

As I found each hero, I telephoned the newspapers in each of their towns and
trumpeted the news: "Your town has a hero in its midst." Our heroes made
headlines that they had never made after World War II. Today, when I tell
this story to students in schools and colleges, I bring the names and addresses
of our rescue team and ask students to write to the men and the widows. Tad
Nagaki and Peter Orlich's widow says they have a heaping box full of these
letters and Valentine's day cards made by adoring children. I phone the men on
holidays and send cards on their birthdays. My heroes have become friends.

Four months after I was sworn into office as an Assemblywoman, the agency of
retired FBI agents flew Jim Moore and his wife from Dallas, Texas, for a
surprise -- and very public -- reunion with Jim Moore and me on the floor of the
New Jersey General Assembly. I wept. No-nonsense legislators wept. Even
cynic TV cameramen wept.

My heart said it wasn't enough. So late in 1998, I started my pilgrimage to
crisscross America to say thank you to each one of these heroes face to face.
I went looking for the soul of Americas and it is beautiful.

Who are these men? The war snatched Stanley Staiger out of business studies
at the University of Oregon. After the war, he never returned to college.
Tad Nagaki was a Nisei farm boy who didn't speak English until he went to a
tiny elementary school in America's heartland. His immigrant father had come to
America to work on the railroad and sent for a "picture bride" from Japan.
Jim Hannon was the youngest of a very large family and an adventurer who had
mined for gold in Alaska. He had escaped from a German concentration camp in
1944. Raymond Hanchulak came from coal mining regions of Pennsylvania and
served his whole career in the military, including service in Vietnam. Jim
Moore was son of Southern Baptist missionaries to China and the only college
graduate in the group. Growing up in the Queens, New York, Peter Orlich was
offered a scholarship to Columbia University. But his family needed Pete to work to
help support the family, not go to college.

I'm still looking for "Eddie" Cheng-Han Wang, the Chinese interpreter on the

What a journey of joy to honor these heroes in public and private meetings
-- in church, civic group, veterans' meetings and conventions! I
celebrated Stanley Staiger's 81st birthday with him in Reno, Nevada. What a journey!
I have honored each of the six Americans on the team or his widow.

I could never say enough thank yous. Some people say America has no heroes.
I know their names.

(Mary T. Previte, 351 Kings Highway East, Haddonfield, New Jersey, 08033,
USA.) #

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