Dedicated teachers often have to struggle to find props to bring history alive for their students.
Not music teacher Michelle Koenig, 31, of Lovinggood Middle School in Powder Springs, who recently used a living hero — her 93-year-old grandfather Ed Stiles Sr., a member of the famous Flying Tigers unit that fought the Japanese even before Pearl Harbor.
They’ve been the subject of books and movies, yet few adults — let alone kids — know much if anything about the volunteer unit of American mercenaries known as the 1st American Volunteer Group of the Chinese Air Force, who flew shark-toothed P-40 fighters. The Americans claimed credit for destroying some 300 Japanese planes, while losing 12 of their own.
The Flying Tigers made a name for themselves in China and Burma, and in the process created a lingering intimidating reputation for all U.S. flyers.
Koenig found a piece of music, “The Flying Tigers” march, and figured it was a way to get her grandfather to make a trip to the school from Sarasota, Fla., while also teaching the young musicians about history.
So they studied the history of the Flying Tigers, started playing the song and had him up recently to play it.
Wearing tuxedoes, Koenig and band director Joe Heiberger led a concert with Stiles sitting in the front row of a crowded auditorium. Their performance was flawless, and touching for Stiles, who frets that younger generations — including Baby Boomer parents of the young musicians — are fast forgetting the sacrifices made by members of the Greatest Generation.
“It was really wonderful to see my granddaughter leading the band and playing a song written for the Flying Tigers,’’ he said. “She did a good job teaching the students the music and introducing them to a little piece of history all at the same time.”
He says “today’s students need to learn and know about what the war was about and how their lives could have been very different if things didn’t go as they did.”
Before the concert, he sat behind a table in the lobby, surrounded by a painting of a Flying Tigers’ plane and medals and memorabilia from the war, answering questions and signing autographs.
“I grew up hearing about the Tigers,” Koenig said. “He is one of only four survivors of the 300 man unit. We wanted to honor him. He’s a very brave man.”
Stiles was driven to Powder Springs by his son, Ed Stiles Jr., 56, who like his daughter was a musician and band director for 30 years.
“This was very important to all of us,” said the junior Stiles. “She thought this was a good way to incorporate history into teaching as well as honoring her grandfather. For me, it was very humbling. My dad was always a normal guy, but he and the others had a real impact not only on the U.S. but the world. I’m very proud.”
Koenig said the concert was “a memorable gift” for her grandfather, and her students as well.