Flightlines

“Here’s Why” of the week

Taking our “Here’s Why” from the paper to the blog. An explanation for why something is the way it is in the Air Force/military.

The protocol for pilots who’ve been shot down has changed from one war to the next: In Korea and Vietnam, for example, a pilot would most likely use Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), an Air Force program best known to provide any military member with the skills to evade capture, survive, while remaining under the military code of conduct.  It even proved useful for fighter pilot Scott Francis O’Grady, who used the skill for six days after he ejected over Bosnia from his hit F-16C in 1995. The program remains in use today.

Early cloth blood chit from the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater. Although this hand-painted chit did not offer a reward, it carried the flag of Nationalist China for recognition and asked for help and protection. (National Museum of the U.S. Air Force photo).

But in the WWI and WWII eras, just a small, square fabric cut-out could have saved a pilot’s life. How, and more importantly, why?

Called a “blood chit,” this piece of fabric — jacket patch, card and or letter — was written in many languages, and served as official IOUs from the U.S. government to those who helped downed fliers. Each chit was printed with a unique number that identifies a service member.

They read something like this:

“I am an American aviator. My plane is destroyed. I do not speak your language … I am the enemy of the [fill in the blank here]… have the kindness to protect me, to care for me and to take me to the nearest allied military office. My government will pay you.”

According to author Cate Lineberry, the British regularly used blood chits during World War I, but the U.S. first began using them in China during WWII. The National Museum of the Air Force says the first known blood chits were carried by the 14th Volunteer Bombardment Squadron in China, with many distributed to the American Volunteer Group, or Flying Tigers, from 1941 to 1942.

Lineberry adds, “The amount awarded for authenticated claims, which numbered in the tens of thousands, ranged from $50 to $250, depending on the theater.”

The use of blood chits also continued into the Korean and Vietnam wars alongside emerging SERE. According to the New York Times’ “At War” blog, “After the Vietnam War the program was disestablished and then re-established for Desert Storm and has been in continuous use ever since.”

Today, the program remains classified.

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