Chinese County Wants Special Bond With Us
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Now, two counties on opposite sides of the world may be linked more closely in his honor.
Second Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch of High Falls disappeared after his first strafing mission with the Flying Tigers. He was last seen climbing his P-40 Warhawk through clouds dangerously close to mountains.
In Guidong County of the Hunan Province in China, villagers buried the pilot in Chinese tradition, wrapping him in a red cloth, singing hymns and setting off firecrackers according to their ancient traditions. For 60 years they tended the grave of this unknown fighter.
Last April, his remains were finally identified. He was brought back to High Falls for burial in the Upchurch family plot.
Several hundred people came to pay their respects as four A-10 Thunderbolts of the 23rd Fighter Group (the "Flying Tigers") flew overhead in a missing-man formation.
Delegates from China came to honor a man long regarded as a hero in their country.
Now Luchan He, the mayor of Guidong, is proposing a sister relationship between his county and Moore, his province and North Carolina.
Local businessman Leon Zhang, who owns Peking Wok restaurants, came to this country as a result of a similar sister state relationship between his home province and the state of Kansas.
Now an American citizen, he is working with state Sen. Harris Blake to help forge a tie between the county where Upchurch was born and that faraway county where he lay buried and honored for more than 60 years.
"I am very excited about this," Zhang told Blake Thursday. "Hunan Province is one of the most progressive parts of China."
Blake has been working with the Upchurch family since DNA positively identified the long-buried pilot as the young man from High Falls. On his desk in Pinehurst stands a solid jade statuette, a gift from the mayor of Guidong County.
"In the anti-Fascist war of 1930s and 1940s, both the Chinese and American people fought hand in hand and built profound friendship, leaving lots of moving stories," Mayor He wrote. "Moore County is the hometown of the loyal international soldier Lt. Robert Upchurch He gave his young and precious life for the liberation and freedom of the Chinese people in September of 1944."
Guidong had honored the grave, which was placed in a park near the foot of an ancient Ming Dynasty tower.
"The lofty Bamianshan Mountain and Wenfeng Tower witnessed the bravery and rested the soul of the hero whose story expressed the friendship between Moore County and Guidong -- one of the best men of the American people," Mayor He wrote. "For more than 60 years, the people of Guidong have been telling the moving story to our great joy, through the effort of the governments and peoples of two places, the soul of the hero of the Flying Tigers has gone back to his hometown."
Forging a Bond
Mayor He has invited Blake to bring a delegation from Moore County, including Upchurch family members, and visit Guidong in April 2007.
It will be a first step in forging a sister county bond between Moore and Guidong, and a sister state connection between North Carolina and Hunan.
Like Moore County, Guidong enjoys a mild climate in winter and summer. Its 17,000 people live among China silver firs and water firs, and more than 30 kinds of other valuable, rare and protected trees.
Many types of bamboo are native to Guidong, and in its deep forests live wild leopards, golden monkeys and other kinds of rare animals and birds. Guidong produces more than 100 tons of award-winning tea, and -- like upper Moore County -- is rich in minerals. Tungsten, tin, coal, copper, lead arsenic, lime and other minerals abound.
"Guidong is accessible, being close to the Beijing Kowloon Railway, and even closer to the Beijing-Zhuhai Expressway.
"Guidong is a mountainous county, in the southeast of Hunan," Mayor He wrote. "It is neither rather hot in summer nor rather cold in winter. Forests cover as much as 77.29 percent, a picturesque landscape with abundant resources and a very good ecological environment a idea summer resort."
'Fully Support Idea'
Earlier this month Xie Lian -- who works with a Raleigh group promoting Chinese-American relations -- returned from a month-long trip to China where he visited Changsha, the capital city of Hunan Province. There, he met with the Head of the People's Congress as well as the Director of Foreign Affairs of Guidong County.
He returned to propose the formation of a working group on a sister state relationship between North Carolina and Hunan, and between Moore and Guidong.
"I also met the director of foreign affairs department and the vice chairman of the Sister State Committee of Hunan Province," Xie wrote in an e-mail account to Blake's office. "Here is a list of agreements we have reached:
"All levels of government in Hunan Province (from Guidong County to Hunan provincial government) fully support the idea of a sister state relationship between North Carolina and Hunan Province.
Guidong county is very enthusiastic about a sister county relationship with Moore County. ... Guidong County High School is very interested in a sister school relationship with a high school in Moore County.
"Guidong County agrees to build a memorial for Hoyle Upchurch at the original grave site. The grave will be preserved in its original form and location and a new memorial will be built next to the grave with a description of his story in both Chinese and English. The text is to be written by a joint panel from Hunan Province and North Carolina (including representatives from the Upchurch family).
"Hunan Province and Guidong County agree to receive a delegation from North Carolina and the Upchurch family (relatives) in the spring of 2007 (April, 2007)."
"A delegation from Hunan Province will visit North Carolina in return at a time that is convenient to both sides."
Blake asked Zhang to be part of that working group, and help bring that sister relationship about. It won't be the first such work for Zhang.
As a teacher in China, he served as translator with just such a team from Kansas visited his own province. That led to his going to Kansas as an exchange student, and eventually to his move here.
Blake said he is very happy to have Zhang's help and looks forward to a growing economic and cultural connection stretching around the world from the High Falls of Moore to the mountains of Guidong.
John Chappell can be reached at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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