Flag Day

On this Flag Day, we’d like to highlight a flag in our collection that was used for a very special purpose during World War II. American air crew members who flew missions over foreign countries often carried small pieces of fabric known as “blood chits”. They identified the service member as a friendly soldier or airman and were meant to be given to local civilians in the event of a bail out or forced landing. Blood chits carried messages asking locals to help the downed service member return to friendly lines and often promised a reward for doing so.

Blood chit carried by Lieutenant William L. Mullin, USNR
Gift to the Naval War College Foundation by Mrs. Marcia Mullin

This is an example of a blood chit carried by air crews who flew in the China-Burma-India theater. It belonged to Lieutenant William L. Mullin, USNR, who served as an Air Combat Intelligence Officer on the staff of Commander, Aircraft, Seventh Fleet, and performed temporary duty with Patrol Bombing Squadron 33. The translations are in Burmese, Thai, Chinese, Kachin, Libu, and Urdu. They read, “This foreign person (American) has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue, protect, and provide him with medical care.” Each chit also had a serial number that could be used to identify the individual who carried it.

A Chinese soldier points to the blood chit on the back of this American pilot’s jacket

The first Americans to use blood chits were the Flying Tigers of the 1st American Volunteer Group which began operating in China soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Initially they sewed the chits to the backs of their jackets and identified themselves as Allied airmen by displaying both the American and Nationalist Chinese flags. China was in the middle of a civil war at the same time it was fighting the Japanese, however, and some areas of the country were ruled by Communist forces. The Flying Tigers soon realized that the Nationalist flag would not be a welcome sight if they had to bail out over Communist territory, so they began sewing the flags to the insides of their jackets or carrying them in their pockets instead.

Blood chits were simple, effective tools for helping downed airmen reach friendly lines. They proved to be quite popular with American air crews, and the U.S. military eventually used them in all theaters of the war.

Rob Doane
Curator, Naval War College Museum


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