Fleeing Shanghai, August 1937: what happened to Donald Wong after he was hit by “friendly” machineguns

This post builds directly on Moon Chin’s first air raid, part 2, in which Chinese anti-aircraft gunners machine gunned Donald Wong as he was trying to land a “Tin Goose” Ford Trimotor at Nanking, hitting him ten times…

Wong Ford Trimotor
Donald Wong in front of a Ford Trimotor in China

The “friendly fire” holes in his airplane rattled Donald Wong. In Hankow, Colonel Lam ordered him to fly a load of bombs. Like Moon Chin, Donald Wong was an American citizen (like Chuck Sharp, Hugh Woods, Bob Pottschmidt, Hal Sweet, William Bond, or Harold Bixby, for that matter). He’d been born in Chicago. He refused to fly the ordinance. Colonel Lam didn’t care a whit about some piece of American paper. Wong’s blood was Chinese. In Chinese eyes that made him a countryman. Lam threatened to arrest Wong for desertion.

Wong fled to the Hankow foreign concession and tried to get aboard the U.S.S. Luzon, one of the Yangtze Patrol gunboats. The U.S. Navy wouldn’t give him safe harbor. (If Wong were Caucasian, I’ll bet they would have; but then again, if he were Caucasian, Col Lam wouldn’t have threatened him, either.) He took shelter in the YMCA in the Hankow foreign concession, beyond the reach of Chinese law, and refused to leave.

USS Luzon
USS Luzon (PR-7)

Harold Bixby penned a curt letter of protest to Colonel Lam attempting to halt the military missions. “Our American pilots can be a real help to China in maintaining communications in the present emergency,” he wrote. ‘They are as willing and anxious to do their part as we are to have them cooperate.” However, he continued, the provisions of American neutrality forbid them from flying combat missions. “All American pilots in the employ of CNAC have been instructed to remain on the ground until safeguards have been taken to protect American pilots against unauthorized and illegal acts of the nature experienced by pilot Sharp.” (A day or two before, a Chinese officer had held a gun to Sharp’s head and forced him to fly a DC-2 loaded with bombs, China’s Wings, pp. 95-96.)

Donald Wong, 2nd from left; Harold Bixby, 2nd from right; in front of a Ford Trimotor in China
Donald Wong, 2nd from left; Harold Bixby, 2nd from right; in front of a Ford Trimotor in China (Dona Wong collection; click for enlargement)

A few weeks later, in early September, (as is recounted in China’s Wings, pp. 112) Donald Wong was flown to Hong Kong with William Bond, instructed by Col Lam to return to China with a DC-2 that had been “attached” by Pan Am as security against a debt that CNAC owned Pan Am. “Attachment” is how liens were handled in Hong Kong, and it was a hugely complicated situation for William Bond as he attempted to balance the interests of Pan Am, CNAC, the United States, and China.

In Hong Kong and beyond the reach of Chinese authority, Wong quit CNAC instead and took a steamship back to the United States. He returned to the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) after Pearl Harbor and flew several hundred Hump missions.

(I’ll resume these stories next week; I might have an off-topic or two to post in the meantime.)

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Donald Wong’s experiences: Bond to Kitsi, written in Hong Kong, August 28, 1937, the Bond Papers; author’s interviews with Moon Chin; author’s interview and emails with Wong’s daughter, Dona Wong; author’s interviews with Frieda Chen, Donald Wong’s sister.

“Our American pilots…”: Bixby to Colonel Lam, August 15, 1937, provided to the author via email by Ernie Allison’s daughter, Nancy Allison Wright, November 15, 2005.

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China's Wings cover



  1. Greg,

    Just found your site – great to learn more about the events surrounding “China’s Wings.” Thank you for these posts!

    Bob Johnston, San Diego

    1. You’re welcome! I’ve got quite a few more outtakes primed to go, which I’ll be posting in coming weeks. (Punctuated with various off-topics.) Hope you’ll check back often–or subscribe to the updates. Cheers, Greg

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