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In his letter of 12 May, Mr. Michael Skaggs leaves out a few other instances of American citizens fighting under foreign flags without incurring any loss of U.S. citizenship. The most famous of these is the American Volunteer Group (AVG), better known as the Flying Tigers, who were mainly officers in the U.S. armed forces who resigned their commissions to fight under the Chinese flag against Japan. They were also joined by several hundred ground crewmen who were drawn from the ranks of the armed forces and commercial airlines. This was done with the connivance of Franklin Roosevelt but against the wishes of the chiefs of the armed services, who did not want to lose trained aircrew with a war on the horizon. Though they did not actually see combat prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, they were commissioned or enlisted in the Chinese air force, and were paid by the Republic of China — a very princely sum, too — $250 per month for wingmen, $500 per month for squadron and flight leaders, plus a bonus of $500 per confirmed Japanese plane destroyed, all to be paid in gold into U.S. accounts. This was at a time when a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps made less than $50 per month, including flight pay.
For this reason, as well as several others, the AVG met the current definition of “mercenaries” under both the revised Geneva Convention and the United Nations convention on mercenaries. Back then, though, we just called them heroes.
A considerable number of American citizens also fought for Israel during its War of Independence, principally in the nascent Israeli air force. Among these were Chalmers “Slick” Goodlin, also known as one of the company test pilots on the Bell X-1; and Marine Corps Captain Chris Magee, an ace in World War II with VMF-214, the famous “Black Sheep,” whose squadron commander, Major Gregory “Pappy” Boyington scored six of his 28 victories while flying with the AVG in 1942. The most important American to serve in the Israeli forces in 1948 was Colonel David “Micky” Marcus, who help organize and professionalize the staff operations of the Israel Defense Force and served as the first “Aluf” (General) in a Jewish army since the era of Herod the Great.p>Since then, hundreds, perhaps thousands of American citizens have served in the IDF, and fought in Israel’s wars, particularly in 1967 and 1973, when the survival of the Jewish state was believed in jeopardy. To the best of my knowledge, none of these men (and women) have ever been stripped of their American citizenship as a result of their combat service in a foreign army. br> — Stuart Koehl br> Falls Church, Virginia /p>