SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - David Lee “Tex” Hill, who flew with the Flying Tigers in China during World War Two and was said to be the inspiration for John Wayne’s character in a 1942 movie about the squadron, died at his San Antonio home on Thursday at the age of 92, his family said.
He was a Naval aviator who in 1941 joined what was officially known as the American Volunteer Group, a mercenary squad recruited to help defend China against Japan.
The Flying Tigers had a fearsome shark’s mouth painted on the front of their single-engine fighter planes and gained much publicity for their success against the Japanese early in the war, when good news about the Allied forces was rare.
The squadron, which was led by Gen. Claire Chennault, became part of the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942.
Hill was credited with downing 18 enemy planes, making him one of the top combat aces of the Pacific theater.
Wayne made “Flying Tigers” in 1942, but did not meet Hill until several years after the war. He told Hill he based his movie character on him, and they became lifelong friends.
Hill was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and other decorations from the U.S., Chinese and British governments for his war service.
The son of missionaries, Hill was born in Korea in 1915 and moved to Texas in 1921 when his father was appointed pastor at a San Antonio church.