China morns the death of their national hero.
Gordon Poon, China aviation pioneer, died Tuesday, 1/12/1999, at the age of 84. Gordon Poon (Pan Guoding) is the father of Connie Chang, wife of Oakland vice mayor Henry Chang. Poon had Oakland root. He attended the Boeing Flight Academy here at the Oakland Airport in 1936.
He returned to China during the 2nd World War and flew with the CNAC over the Himalayas Mountain from India to Kunming, aiding the Flying Tigers in China. He had completed 500 trips over the Hump, the flying was hazardous in the extreme, and he was credited for discovering many new routes over the treacherous mountains where most of his colleagues lost their lives. Poon is nick-named in China as the “Eagle of the Sky” because he had established routes for air services that no one had ever ventured into. In 1942 the US Airforce with a B-25 Bomber and Poon with a C-53 freighter competing to be the first to reach the top of the world at Tibet. Poon successfully completed the trip and the US Air Force was unsuccessful.
In 1950 , Poon, with the Chiang Kai Shek controlled CNAC, flew a fleet of aircrafts from China to Hong Kong fleeing from the invading army of Mao Tse Tung. Unhappy with the corruption of the Nationalists, Poon had no desire to follow the Nationalists to Taiwan, Poon led the famous defection of a large contingence of pilots, aircrafts and mechanics from Hong Kong back to China. Led by Poon in a Convair 240, 12 aircraft were surreptitiously fueled and on November 9, 1949 they defected to Mainland China and landed near Beijing which was followed by 2,800 crew members and technicians. Premier Chou Enlai welcomed Poon and the group in Beijing. The following month, Chou gave the order to start up CAAC with Poon's Convair christened Beijing with Mao himself writing the stylized calligraphy for the plane and the logo that the fleet still carries today. Poon became the first chief pilot to lead and build the CAAC for China. He took great pride upon the CAAC he helped to build from scratch. Poon proudly states that he had been teacher to every single one of the CAAC pilots who now captained the B-747s.
The decision to defect to China was a matter of strong feelings of attachment for the motherland. He suffered many personal consequences from this fateful decision. For one, Poon had left his family behind in Hong Kong and for the next 30 years they were out of touch. Poon's wife stayed back in Hong Kong waiting for him to make contact and sent the three daughters back to the U.S. to live with her brother's family in Seattle. After waiting for 10 years in Hong Kong without any success she returned to the United States and lived in San Francisco to take care of the three daughters and a son that was born a few months after Poon defected to China.
In 1966, the fanatic xenophobia began to envelop China in Mao's disastrous Cultural Revolution. The Red Guards swept through CAAC looking for anybody who was educated, had ever been in contact with foreigners, or spoke a foreign language. Poon qualified on all counts - and worse - had a wife and children who were citizens of the United States. For the next 10 years Poon was jailed in harsh and solitary confinement. Poon survived this ultimate humiliation by the country he loved. Many of his long-time associates did not survive the experience. After the Cultural Revolution Poon was allowed to return to Beijing. In recognition for his service and suffering - he was name as the president of Beijing Aviation Consulting Service under the CAAC. He held that position until his death. He also was the longest serving member of the China Peoples Congress serving 5-5year terms (25 years) until his death as the Standing representative of Beijing to the National Political Committee. Since Gordon refused to be a member of the Communist Party he did not receive a Party ranking when he was alive. After his death the Central government honored him by creating a special title just for him (the highest ranking title for a non-communist member in the country).
In 1979, his oldest daughter, Connie and husband Henry were on a trip to Bankok. While visiting Hong Kong some distance relative from China informed her that her father believed to be dead is now living in Beijing. The Changs revised the trip itinerary and went to Beijing to search for the father. Connie and her father met first time in 30 years. The reunion was very emotional. For the next 18 years the mother refused to meet with him because of the bitter memory that Poon had abandoned her and the children for 30 years.
The Chinese government will have a state funeral to honor Poon. Connie and Henry are invited as guests by the Chinese government to attend.