Upchurch Memorial Dedication Set
China considers an April visit by North Carolinians an important occasion.
Members of the Upchurch family and others from Moore County will travel to China as a North Carolina-Hunan Friendship Delegation.
There, they will attend the dedication of a memorial to 1st Lt. Robert Hoyle Upchurch. He was a Flying Tiger pilot whose fighter plane went down during a World War II combat mission.
Villagers in Guidong County retrieved the pilot's remains from the wreckage, and buried him with full honors near a Ming Dynasty tower. Every year, they paid tribute to this unknown man who had sacrified his life fighting to free China from invaders. His grave was marked only as "American Pilot."
After DNA identified him, Upchurch was returned to his High Falls home and reburied last year in the family plot at High Falls Methodist Church. China sent a diplomatic delegation to the services. Flying Tigers flew overhead in the "missing man" formation.
At Upchurch's graveside, China proposed a sister county relationship be established in his honor between Moore County and Guidong County, and a sister state/province relationship between North Carolina and Hunan Province in China.
State Sen. Harris Blake of Pinehurst -- at the request of the Upchurch family -- has been shepherding the coming visit. In this, he has had the assistance of Lian Xie, who is a professor at N.C. State University and also executive director of the North Carolina China Center.
"Our delegation and the dedication of the Hoyle Upchurch Memorial in Guidong County will receive nationwide TV coverage (to 1.3 billion people in China through Hunan Satellite TV Station) and major national newspapers," Xie said Thursday. "This will be unprecedented for any one from North Carolina. Hunan Province will treat our visit to Hunan Province as one of THE most important foreign affairs events this year."
Xie received a letter sent Thursday from an official of Hunan Province. Hunan has long honored Americans for their help.
"Hunan Province is the primary region where the United States Flying Tigers and the 14th Air Force Units resided during WWII," wrote Liping Pang, Hunan's vice chairman for foreign affairs. "The dormitories used to house the Flying Tigers are well preserved in Zhijiang City of Hunan Province. We have also constructed a Flying Tigers Museum and preserved the place where the Japanese surrendered at the end of WWII."
The story of the unknown hero Upchurch, his long-honored grave, and his ultimate identification and return to his hometown in Moore County has been dramatic news in China, Pang said.
"The stories of Hoyle Upchurch and the people in Guidong County make a unique and strong case for a long-lasting friendship between Hunan and North Carolina," he wrote. "Because of this historical reason that is so unique and touching, our government is strongly in favor of a sister State/Province relationship between Hunan and North Carolina. We hope your state government will feel the same way."
Leaders from other parts of the state are already committed to take part in the visit. Among them will be the director of Harnett County Economic Development, Lee Anne Nance.
Blake is hosting a meeting this afternoon at CCNC for leaders from Moore County and the state and for prospective members of the North Carolina-Hunan Friendship Delegation.
The delegation will be greeted by distinguished Chinese leaders. At least a vice governor of Hunan will meet with the North Carolina delegation, along with heads of relevant branches of the Hunan provincial government.
"The provincial Foreign Affairs Department has already in communication with the local governments in Guidong County and Changsha City to make arrangements for the arrival of the North Carolina delegation," Pang wrote in his letter. "We have discussed with Guidong government on several occasions regarding the construction of the Hoyle Upchurch memorial, establishing sister county relationship and sister school relationships."
First High School in Guidong and Liuyang First High School in Changsha (provincial capital of Hunan) both want sister relationships with counterparts in Moore County and North Carolina, respectively.
Visits to economic development parks, industries and various companies may also be part of the visit, Pang said. Discussions on two-way trade and investment are expected to be part of the delegation's visit.
The North Carolina-Hunan Friendship Delegation will be composed of relatives of Hoyle Upchurch, elected officials, economic developers and business leaders, as well as representatives of the North Carolina China Center.
"It is the most comprehensive friendship and business delegation from North Carolina to visit Hunan," Xie said. "Sixty-two years ago, a young pilot, Hoyle Upchurch, from Moore County, North Carolina, sacrificed his life in Hunan Province while fighting for the Chinese against the Japanese aggressors. For 62 years, the people in Guidong County, Hunan Province voluntarily took care of the grave of the fallen American pilot."
This trip will be a way for people from Moore County and the state to thank them.
"Sixty-two years later, the people in North Carolina want to express their gratitude to the people in Hunan Province for taking care of one of their best sons," Xie said. "This mutual friendship originates from the hearts of the people in both Hunan and North Carolina. The main purpose of the visit is to build on this long history of friendship and continue the spirit of cooperation between Hunan and North Carolina."
John Chappell can be reached at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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