Capt. Charles A. Breingan, Former Flying Tiger
by Cate Murway
Silent heroes live among us. We are safe because they were strong enough to put themselves in danger. We thank these almost invisible heroes for what have remained their virtually unspoken valiant feats. The riveting accounts of their sacrifice and dedication are far more meaningful than any contrived fiction. Movies have nothing on reality. As often stated, “The price of Freedom is Never Free”.
“Old soldiers never die; they just fade way," was part of General Douglas MacArthur's famous 1951 speech before a joint session of the U.S. Congress.
Let’s not let them fade away.
If you were to encounter a World War II or Korean veteran on the street today, they would probably look to you like so many of the other graying, bespectacled elderly. Though they seldom talk about it, they can still tell one heck of a story.
“I’ll be 96. I can’t wait.”
Charlie’s parents, Alexander Walton Breingan, Princeton University 1912 civil engineer graduate and Catherine [Randall] met at a reunion at Princeton University. A family member of Catherine’s was also an alumnus.
In the DIRECTORY OF LIVING ALUMNI OF PRINCETON UNIVERSITY MAY 23 1928, in the  Alumni Directory, Charlie’s father was listed as Breingan, Alexander W., 160 W. 95th St., New York, N. Y.
His parents were originally from Newark, NJ and they relocated to NYC.
Alex Breingan was an only son. Charles is their only son and he and his wife, Mildred Alice [Burkett] had only one son, NJ lawyer and a BSA Central NJ Council advisor, Charles Randall Breingan, Sr. who also has just one son, Charles Randall Breingan, Jr.
Charlie’s dad worked on the Canadian Pacific Railway, originally built to connect Eastern Canada and British Columbia between 1881 and 1885, beginning its westward expansion from Bonfield, Ontario. The last spike in the CPR was driven on November 7, 1885.
Charles lost his mother when he was only eight years old. His maternal grandmother, Rebecca Randall raised him. “I never knew my grandfathers.”
They lived in Greenwich Village, on the west side of Lower Manhattan, NYC in a high rise in the 1920’s and his father had a very tough time. “I got by.”
His father’s widowed mother, Elizabeth Walton Merz, remarried a very wealthy man and they lived with her for awhile. “Then we had servants on Park Avenue. No shortage of money on that side of the family.”
Charlie attended boarding school at Kingsley Prep. He wore tall, ribbed, colorful plaid argyle socks with his knickers, tie shoes and always a shirt and tie and “well kept hair”. His sports were baseball, football and basketball and at one time, he collected stamps that represented historical events, people and places. It’s one of the most popular hobbies in the world. “I had quite a collection; mostly cancelled stamps and then I started collecting uncancelled blocks of stamps.”
He recalls a phone with a long speaker when he was growing up, most likely the “Candlestick” phone, also known as the 'Upright', popular during the early 1900s before the introduction of the one-piece handset. They needed to call the operator to connect them. “I remember my grandmother’s phone number, it was chelsea 9098!”
Charlie often listened to Lowell Thomas’ 6:00 news. These nightly news broadcasts were an American institution for nearly two generations. Lowell Jackson Thomas [1892 – 1981] was an explorer, lecturer, author, and journalist and a radio news commentator in 1930, and during World War II, he became a foreign correspondent. “It was the most interesting program at the time.”
During the Depression times, he shared, “I had a job but my father didn’t. I worked in the foreign distributor division of General Motors. We sold parts overseas for redistribution to an awful lot of people. There wasn’t much going on in the Depression. Not a lot of traffic; nothing much to do.”
He walked home from work to his apartment on 35th Street.
“We were short of money.” He can remember a little grocery store around the corner.
“It was too expensive to eat out. We ate in the house.”
The first automobile he owned was a maroon 1936 Ford cabriolet with a jump seat that he sold for $3,000. “I only paid a couple hundred dollars.”
The first time Charlie voted in an election, FDR was running. Franklin Delano Roosevelt [1882-1945] was the first US president in American history to be elected to a full third term.
Charlie was working at his uncle's cast iron pipe foundry in Florence when he was drafted into the Army in February 1941. He was sent for basic training to Fort Dix [named for Major General John Adams Dix, a veteran of the War of 1812 and the Civil War]before he served in the Signal Corps, one of the technical services in the Services of Supply. It was then that he learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Just twelve days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the Flying Tigers flew their first missions. The Flying Tigers flew as part of the Chinese Air Force until July of 1942, when they were absorbed into the US Army Air Force as the 23rd Fighter Group.
This nucleus of men formed the first fighter group in China, known as the Flying Tigers.
Until the late summer of 1943, at which time Japanese air power in China began to dwindle, a primary function of the Flying Tigers was to intercept enemy air offensives.
In 1943, Charlie entered cadet school to get flight training. He was commissioned as a lieutenant and he became a flight instructor, training new pilots for a year and a half at one of the largest military bases operated by the USA, Shaw Air Force Base near downtown Sumter, SC.
Shaw AFB is named in honor of World War I pilot 1st Lieutenant Ervin David Shaw, one of the first Americans to fly combat missions in WWI.
Charlie was ready for action after attending several schools in Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, serving as a flight trainer. He "had enough and asked to be sent into combat."
In October 1944, he got his wish. Thursday's child has far to go….
He followed orders and flew 15 missions in his P-51 Mustang fighter plane, nicknamed "Big Dog”, with the 76th Fighter Squadron when he was assigned to the 14th Air Force in central China, commanded by Col. Edward F. Rector. The combat accomplishments of the Fourteenth served to hasten the hour of Japan's ultimate defeat. Every member of the Fourteenth Air Force can take personal pride in the organizational teamwork that made such success possible.
The air base at Loahwangping, China was on a 5,500-foot mountain. “My hearing was affected.”
Charlie recalled his harrowing Asian Theatre service with the Flying Tigers during recent presentations he gave on the 71st anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. “I remember it all.”
A video documentary on this WWII veteran, partly filmed in China, and a display of his generously donated personal wartime artifacts including his uniforms and flight logs, was held at the Burlington County Historical Society.
He earned his Purple Heart from a combat injury crash, along with the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He is a very humble gentleman.
“They’re just gifts they pretty much gave to everybody.”
Charles met his wife, Mildred, an obstetrical nurse from SC while he was stationed at Shaw AF Base.
They were married in Florida in a small ceremony when he was transferred there. “No wives lived on base. There was no room.” Mildred returned home to her family and her job in South Carolina.
The 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force in 1941–1942, nicknamed the Flying Tigers, was composed of pilots from the United States Army Air Corps (USAAC), Navy (USN), and Marine Corps (USMC). “I’m one of the very few Flying Tigers left.”
Captain Breingan left the military in November 1946. He and his wife bought three lots of land in Burlington Township and built their home in 1953. He worked as a life insurance agent for Penn Mutual for 16 years before he became a partner and then bought the AMES Patch Company. He made and designed patches until he retired in 1985.
He formerly belonged to the Elks while he was working in Burlington City, now he enjoys his membership at the Red Dragon Canoe Club, a sailing club, one of the oldest boating clubs in the United States. It is housed in the Shipman Mansion, a Second Empire style mansion dating from the Civil War on six acres of waterfront in Edgewater Park.
“No canoe. I’m a drinking member.”
He still enjoys symphony music and classics. 'Gone with the Wind' is a favorite film. He lived through a time of “many movies, no television.”
One of his favorite vehicles was his 1964 light gray Falcon Sprint coupe. “It was a really nice car with nice lines.” A tree fell on another vehicle, his 1986 Lincoln, during the July 2013 storms.
“Took out the garage and the roof. The Lincoln was totaled.”
But, most fortunately, the Breingans were unhurt!
Although the Flying Tigers claim distinction on the basis of sustained teamwork rather than through individual achievement, numerous colorful personalities have inevitably appeared.
Thank you for serving, Capt. Charles Alexander Breingan!
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ALVA "ANDY" DAVID BURKETT 1926 - 2009
Alva "Andy" David Burkett, 82, passed away on September 11, 2009 due to a prolonged illness He was a native of Sumter, South Carolina. At the age of 17 he attended the Citadel Military College after which he joined the Navy, pursuing a life long dream of becoming a pilot. Andy attended Officer Candidate School, and received his commission as an Ensign and his Aviator's Wings in 1946. He served 26 years in the Navy, serving in World War II, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam. His numerous assignments included multiple tours at sea, Commanding Officer of VQ-2, and time at both the Pentagon and as an adjunct officer in the Commander In Chief of the Pacific Fleet. He enjoyed an illustrious military career as a decorated war hero, retiring as a Commander. He was a long time member of Gulf Breeze United Methodist Church. He was preceded in death by his wife, Helen; and his oldest son, Russell. He is survived by a large and loving family, which includes his wife of 23 years, Dot; two children and three stepchildren, Ann and Brad Austerman of Navarre, Ed and Merry Burkett of Baxley, GA, Mark and Vickie Heath of Gulf Breeze, Melinda and Gordon Shirley of Greenville, AL, Jon Marie and Steve Walburg of Columbus, GA.. He is also survived by 14 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and by two sisters, Ruth Bryant of Sumter, SC, Dr. Max Bryant of TN, and Mildred Breingan of Burlington, NJ; and two nephews, David Bryant of Sumter, SC and Randall Breingan of Burlington, NJ. Graveside services will be held at Barrancas Cemetery at 11:00 am on Wednesday, September 16, 2009, with full military honors bestowed. Visitation will be at Waters & Hibbert Funeral Home from 5:00-7:00 P.M. on Tuesday September 15, 2009. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the charity of your choice. Waters & Hibbert Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.
Dorothy Florence Rhawn
Dorothy F. 'Dottie' (Hopkin) Rhawn departed this life to be reunited with her loving husband, George, and their beloved daughter, Lea, on Tuesday, March 31, 2015. She was 100.
Born in Torresdale, Pa., Dottie was a 1938 graduate of Beaver College (Arcadia University).
She enjoyed summers with her family in Ocean City, N.J., where she met her husband, George. Together they built their home and had one daughter, Beverly.
Dottie was an accomplished painter and recently celebrated her 100th birthday at the Red Dragon Canoe Club surrounded by family and friends.
Dorothy was preceded in death by her parents, Florence and Alfred Hopkin Jr.; by her husband, George W. Rhawn; by her daughter, Beverly Florence (Rhawn) Milne; and by her only brother, Alfred W. 'Bud' Hopkin.
She will be sadly missed by her family, Alfred W. 'Chappy' Hopkin and Mary Ellen Hopkin, J. Paige and Mark T. Patrizio, Lindsay S. Becotte, Ruth Carleen Hopkin, three grand nieces and spouses, three great-grand nephews, and her faithful canine companion, Bitty.
Dottie loved life. Abraham Lincoln said, 'Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.' Dorothy made up her mind to be happy every single day and her happiness was contagious.
A visitation will be held from 10 to 11 a.m., Wednesday, April 8, at Page Funeral Home, 302 East Union Street, Burlington, N.J., followed by a memorial service at 11 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice, 5 Eves Dr., Suite 300, Marlton, NJ 08053, or the Shipman Mansion Foundation, c/o Red Dragon Canoe Club, 221 Edgewater Ave., Edgewater Park, NJ 08010.