Flying Tiger Parker Dupouy Inducted Into Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame
As we approach Memorial Day, we recall not only those who gave their lives for their country, but also those who put their lives at great risk and were both skillful and fortunate enough to survive harrowing wartime experiences. One such World War II veteran was Parker S. Dupouy, who was a Rehoboth resident for many years. He was recently inducted posthumously into the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame, along with five other distinguished flyers from Rhode Island.
Parker was born in Providence on April 22, 1917 to Milton and Rachael Shapleigh Dupouy, who had eight children in all. The family moved to Seekonk when he was a baby. Although Parker Dupouy lived in Rhode Island at various times during his life, he was also a resident of Rehoboth for many years, and he and his wife Virginia (Ginny) raised their four children (Parker Jr., Melissa, Susan, and Priscilla) in Rehoboth. He died on May 16, 1994 at age 77.
Flying Tigers in China
Parker S. Dupouy was one of the 57 combat pilots serving as the Flying Tigers in China in the early days of World War II. The American Volunteer Group (AVG) or Flying Tigers were an elite group of volunteer pilots formed in the summer of 1941 to help the Chinese in their struggle against Japan. A Central Technical High School graduate, Parker enrolled as an aviation cadet after graduating from Brown University in 1939, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering. In May, 1941 he resigned his Army Air Corps commission to volunteer with General Claire Lee Chennault and the Chinese Air Force.
He eventually moved to Kunming, China, as vice-commander of the Hells Angels Squadron. In July of 1941, his unit (with 18 planes and 25 pilots) destroyed 81 Japanese planes while being outnumbered ten to one. He was awarded the "Chinese Sixth Cloud Banner" after his encounter with a Japanese Zero on Christmas day, 1941. Pursuing the Zero, DuPouy sheared off the enemy plane's left wing, which sent the Japanese plane spiraling below. In the process he lost the last four feet of his own right wing.
Parker later said he quickly figured out that he could fly his damaged plane at exactly 142 mph without it listing too far to the right or to the left, so he flew the crippled plane 45 minutes to get back to base. This dramatic encounter is the subject of a painting by Dan Zoernig called "One the Hard Way". The Flying Tigers' victories against the Japanese so early in the war gave a big morale boost to US forces at this very difficult time. Parker also flew Madame Chiang Kai-Shek around China on her tours.
After the AVG disbanded in July 1942, Dupouy returned to the US and became one of an elite group of test pilots, working for Republic Aviation. His daring work testing aircraft contributed greatly to the war effort too. In one gripping story of being a test pilot, Parker was flying a plane and realized that the landing gear wasn't going to work, so he got out his toolkit and fixed it mid-flight, after putting the plane on automatic pilot.
He and one other AVG pilot did all of the testing on the P-47 Thunderbolt as it came off the production line. He taught Charles Lindberg to fly the P-47 Thunderbolt too. He became chief test pilot in 1944, working on Republic's new XP-72 Thunderstorm fighter. In 1946 he moved to Pratt & Whitney where he worked as a test pilot for the B-29 and also worked on the experimental B-50 bomber. After his years in aviation, Parker went back to work as an engineer, ending his professional career with KG Engineering in Woonsocket.
In remarks at the recent induction ceremony at the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame, Parker Dupouy Jr. said that in the basement of their Rehoboth home there was a rudder from a Japanese Zero his father had shot down in Burma. "Our dad was a wizard to us, his four children," he said. "It seemed that he could make or fix anything in his wonderful workshop. He was always there for any of us four children to help with our math, science, physics or chemistry homework."
He also recalled, "Our dad rarely talked about his exploits from his Flying Tiger days, but I do remember sitting with him while he was talking to one of his closest friends, Dick Ramspott. Dick may have asked Parker if he missed the excitement of 'dog fighting'. My dad answered that it was extremely exciting and challenging until you had to shoot down your opponent. He said that after playing this three dimensional chess game in the sky with a pilot whose maneuvers you began to admire, having to kill him was awful and made him feel very sad."
Longtime Rehoboth resident Lende McMullen (Dick Ramspott's daughter) recalls how well liked Parker Dupouy was. "All the young boys in the neighborhood wanted to visit with Mr. Dupouy and learn about the Flying Tigers. And Ginny was very active in Rehoboth, both as a leader of the Garden Club and the Girls Scouts. She was an artist known for her pottery."
Melissa Dupouy Smith, the only one of Parker's children who still lives in Rehoboth, says that they didn't talk about her father's World War II experiences much when they were kids growing up and that it was always a surprise to hear someone say, "Your father is famous." She added, "We've learned more about him in the past 20 years than when we were growing up. My mother kept every article about him."