Local Delegation Arrives in China
A series of unfortunate events plagued state Sen. Harris Blake and the North Carolina Friendship Delegation's trip to China, causing him to miss out on a visit to the Great Wall.
"Our flight leaving Raleigh was three hours late, and we missed our connection to China," said Blake when he called to tell the others he wouldn't be getting to Beijing as expected. "The next available plane out of Detroit would not have put us in until the following night at 6:30. So they sent us out through Germany. Can you believe that? We had to go through Frankfurt."
The North Carolina-Hunan Friendship Delegation is composed of the relatives of Lt. Hoyle Upchurch of High Falls, elected officials, economic developers and business leaders, as well as representatives of the North Carolina China Center. The group left Saturday for a 10-day trip.
One of the main purposes of the trip is to offer respect and gratitude to residents of Guidong County who buried Upchurch when his P-41 fighter crashed in the misty Chinese mountains nearly 60 years ago during World War II. He was returning from his first combat mission with the Flying Tigers.
At a monument to Upchurch in Guidong County where he lay buried for so long, and in ceremonies in Changsha, capital of Hunan Province, they will sign and seal documents establishing Moore and Guidong as sister counties, Hunan and North Carolina as sister states, and Robbins and the little village at the foot of the mountains, Zhaiqian, as sister cities.
Other members of the delegation enjoyed seeing the Great Wall of China, a Ming Dynasty wonder of the world that stretched thousands of miles across the land to protect China from Mongol invasions.
While they were trying to get some rest and hoping their suitcases would show up, others in the group were excitedly climbing one of the most familiar sites in this ancient land, enjoying themselves snapping pictures and teasing and joking.
Dr. John Dempsey, president of Sandhills Community College, was close to tears of laughter at Pinehurst Resort's Steven Boyd's deadpan, wry, "It's such a nice wall. Why do you think President Reagan said 'Tear down this wall?'"
Blake and his daughter, Joy Blake, and Bruce Donaldson knew they would be getting into China early on Monday morning instead of Sunday night. They could not have known all their luggage would be lost.
Some of the luggage had showed up in time for the whole party to enjoy Peking duck at the same restaurant where Henry Kissinger and Mao Zedong had dined in earlier times. Only Donaldson was missing his suitcase on their last morning as the delegation trekked across the vast open reaches of Tianamen Square to enter the nested courts of the Forbidden City.
Time was fleeting as they hastened to catch their plane to Changsha, capital of Hunam.
During the trip, Dempsey will visit a college campus in Hunan to prepare a sister campus connection that will mean opportunities for study abroad for both.
Patrick Coughlin, president and CEO of the Moore County Chamber of Commerce of Moore County, is taking part in the trip. He has experience with sister relationships such as this from his days in Virginia, and found them very productive. Coughlin is writing a daily blog about the trip, which is on The Pilot's Web site at www.thepilot.com.
Economic development opportunities will be on the mind of Ray Ogden, executive director of Partners in Progress, who is also a part of the delegation.
Blake is bringing a gift from the 23rd Fighter Wing at Pope Air Force Base, the modern day Flying Tigers, to the villagers of Guidong County in Hunan Province. They did not know Upchurch's name. They knew only he died fighting with China against the invaders from Japan.
For 61 years, a Mr. Wang and others who had helped wrap his body in red silk, honored his grave and buried him, come every year to put flowers there and to remember him and his sacrifice, wondered who he was.
DNA showed him to be Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch from High Falls. When he was finally home, finally laid to rest beside his parents last April, in the family plot at High Falls United Methodist Church, the mayor of Guidong invited the people of Moore County to join with the people of Guidong County in a sister county relationship. Likewise, Hunam Province invited North Carolina to join in a sister state relationship.
The town of Robbins and the town in Hunam will be sister towns following ceremonies in Guidong on the morning of April 5 -- which is still April 4 in the United States.
But there was another glitch for the delegation. The case containing all the official documents to be signed during the ceremonies and the letter from Gov. Michael Easley to the governor of Hunam had inadvertently been left on the tour bus.
Phone call after phone call by Leon Zhang of the Peking Wok restaurant chain in Moore County who is in the delegation finally reached one of the tour guides who located the case. She was to fly to Changsha the next morning, bringing the essential papers, and Hunam government aides will see they make it to Guidong.
Blake and the others will have already been on their way to thank the now elderly Mr. Wang and the people of Guidong, and to mix the earth of their home with the earth of the part of China where one American pilot had lain unknown for so long.
John Chappell is traveling with the delegation in China. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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