Gregg B. Millett has planned another goodwill visit to a country he loves — China.
The 74-year-old former teacher will travel to Kunming in southwest China this week, his sixth trip in the past nine years.
“Always with a project,” said Millett.
The latest affair was developed by Millett’s friend, Chinese entrepreneur and mountain climber Jin Fei Bao, and is a salute to the Flying Tigers air group.
Millett never knew any of the Flying Tigers, the U.S. pilots who helped defend China against Japan during the early 1940s. But his father, U.S. Army doctor Clinton Millett, was serving in Kunming during that time and treated some of the injured fliers.
“There’s a whole complex history of the Flying Tigers,” said Millett, known locally for founding Singles Outreach Services — a group that serves the Capital Region’s singles community through educational and social activities — in 1983. “They were involved in the war before we declared war, under the direction of Claire Chennault [Flying Tigers commanding officer]. In Kunming and all of China, I’d say America’s involvement in World War II in China is best known as the Flying Tigers — in Kunming especially, because that’s where we were based. The story goes that the Japanese were bombing Kunming and southwest China every day. But when the Flying Tigers appeared and shot down half of the bombers, Kunming was never bombed again.”
Gregg Millett became famous in Kunming in 2004, when he and granddaughter Krystal Garrison of Altamont traveled to the city for the opening of the “1944 — Colorful Kunming” photo exhibit. The photos had been taken by Clinton Millett, who traveled with multiple rolls of Kodachrome color slide film. While other servicemen spent free hours playing cards in their tents, Dr. Millett explored the country and took pictures of flower markets, street scenes, fishing boats and other parts of Kunming culture.
Years later, Gregg Millett made connections in China. He learned people were thrilled to hear photos of Kunming from the 1940s existed; many historical relics had been destroyed or lost during Mao Zedong’s “Cultural Revolution” of the 1960s and ’70s. Once people in Kunming learned about Millett’s slides, arrangements for the exhibit were made.
It was through the exhibit, which was promoted by Jin Fei Bao, that the two became friends. Jin visited Schenectady in 2006.
Millet’s upcoming trip begins Wednesday. He will fly to Newark, N.J., and board a noon flight for Beijing. He will land in China 14 hours later and after a brief stay, take the four-hour flight to Kunming. The Flying Tigers celebration will include a foot race at Kunming’s Wujiaba Airport, which recently was abandoned in favor of a new facility, and a banquet inside the city’s Flying Tiger restaurant.
“Two days later, we’re going to Tengchong, where one of the biggest battles of western China happened and the Japanese advancement into China was stopped,” said Millett, who will bring greetings from Schenectady Mayor Gary R. McCarthy and gifts from the Empire State Aerosciences Museum.
“I would like to extend my appreciation and support of Gregg Millett’s trip to China,” McCarthy wrote. “We know that Gregg’s father’s 1945 colored photographs of Kunming were exhibited in Kunming, Beijing and also here in Schenectady, New York, and are a historical connection between our countries and our peoples.”
Millett is happy to travel and interact with people as a goodwill ambassador.
“I find China incredibly interesting, just because it’s different,” Millett said. “If I can make any contribution to the world, like making international connections to raise levels of consciousness higher, that we’re all people, we’re all related, we’re all in the same ball game, we’ve got to be friends.”
Some may consider China and the United States competing superpowers in a strained relationship. Not Millett.
“I try not to pay too much attention to that,” he said. “First of all, you’re never sure of the media spin, and secondly, because that’s not the level upon which I work. I work people to people.”
Some of those people will recognize him for the connection to his father’s slides — now in the permanent collection of the National Museum of China in Beijing.
“I’m famous in Kunming,” he said with a smile. “It’s been eight years since the really big deal, so I’m probably history right now.”
Millett has taken children and grandchildren with him to China. His nephew, Jesse Millett, has become immersed in Chinese culture.
“I stand in a certain awe of Chinese culture and language, in that it’s so different and it has such history,” Millett said. “I’m just intrigued with how the Chinese think.”
He’s not sure if this will be his last expedition to see Jin Fei Bao.
“My last trip was my last trip,” he said, “so I never know.”