Long-term restaurateur and Whitestone resident George Lum, my neighbor and good friend, invited me into his home one day. While in his den, I noticed hanging on the wall an autographed photo of the American Volunteer Group the “Flying Tigers.” I asked George where he acquired such a remarkable and rare photograph. He modestly pointed to one of the photos indicating, “This one is me.”
I was flabbergasted. In our 15-year friendship we had never discussed military service, and he went on to relate his story to me.
As a young boy, George had come to the United States from China, joining his family already here in the U.S. Educated in American schools, he wanted to join the military and become a pilot. The Army Air Force agreed to enlist him, but much to his dismay, sent him to aircraft mechanic school.
Having served his enlistment and being ready to be discharged from the Army, George was approached by the forerunner of the CIA to consider an offer to join a group of American airmen who would fight for the Chinese government. As the Japanese were killing thousands of Chinese, knowing his skills as an aircraft mechanic and his fluency in Chinese would be useful to the AVG, he readily agreed to join the group.
He served with the AVG, who became infamous throughout the initial dark days of World War II, downing hundreds of Japanese military aircraft.
When the U.S. entered WWII, the group was absorbed into the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Upon returning to civilian life, George and his wife, Emelia, settled in Whitestone and with other family members opened the famous LUM’s restaurant in Flushing, one of the first Chinese restaurants in Queens.
We remained good friends until his passing several years ago. I considered myself fortunate to have known him.
Paul De Stefano