By THOMAS F. NORTON
Jane Hanks, who at 25 was a nurse in Kunming, China, tending to pilots and crews of the Flying Tigers, died Oct. 17 at her home in Oxford, Maryland. She was 93.
Emma Jane Foster was one of just two women who joined the 120-member AVG in 1941, at a time when the United States was (officially, at least) neutral in World War II. “I was an oddball in those days,” she liked to say. She already knew China, for she had talked her way into a Penn State student exchange program through which she studied in Canton in 1935 and 1936. She had earned a master’s degree in nursing at Yale by the time AVG recruiters sought her out.
She was known simply as “Red” to her fellow Flying Tigers, and preferred that name to the end of her long life. Hanks married John Petach, a fighter pilot she met on the ship carrying both of them to Burma to join the AVG. Petach and his bride were among a small group who agreed to stay in China for two weeks after the AVG was disbanded in 1942, helping Gen. Chennault train Chinese pilots.
Petach was shot down by Japanese ground fire during that time and killed, leaving his wife a pregnant widow. She returned to the United States where her daughter, Joan Claire Petach, was born and became known to all of the Flying Tigers as “the one true Tiger Cub.”
Hanks taught nursing at Yale for two years, and then continued her career as a public health educator and administrator in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Romance wasn’t an issue, she told this writer. “Nobody, no man, for years could compare with the Flying Tigers,” she said. However, Fletcher Hanks was another story. She met him in 1964 at a joint reunion of the AVG and the China National Aviation Corp. “I guess he filled the bill,” she said. “We had the same interests.” They married within months. Hanks was a former Pan American Airways pilot who flew The Hump for Pan Am’s China National Airways operation during World War II. He died last year from automobile accident injuries.
She moved to Maryland’s Eastern Shore, staying active in public health work and Republican politics. She was a nationally-ranked competitive cyclist, an avid tennis player and a strong swimmer well into her 80s, and a sharp-witted conversationalist to the end. She, along with all of the Flying Tigers, was awarded the Bronze Star by the U.S. Air Force in 1992, belatedly recognizing their heroism in the war against the Japanese.
Donations may be made in her name to the Flying Tigers Scholarship Fund, Chuck Baisden, Treasurer, 109 Wales Court, Savannah, Ga., 31410. Checks should be payable to the Flying Tigers Association, with “Scholarship Fund” on the memo line.