By Mike Palmer
While house hunting in North Carolina recently, I met a professor whose work in East Asian Studies at Davidson College is supported by a grant from the Freeman Foundation. In the course of our conversation I told her of my interest in the Stilwell Museum in my home town of Chongqing.
She asked if I knew that the Freeman Foundation had made a large grant to that museum. My curiosity piqued, I decided to write Houghton “Buck” Freeman to ask how this came about. Since we were both boys in Shanghai years ago, I am sure we must have known one another, but memory fails me as to how or where.
I received a nice reply and some pictures of the refurbished museum. It seems that four years ago, Buck returned to Chongqing for the first time since he was a junior naval attaché at our embassy there during World War II. (At that time the name of the city was commonly spelled “Chungking.”) Noting that the museum looked a little seedy, Buck contacted the city government and offered to help spruce it up if the City of Chongqing would match his foundation grant. That same day his offer was accepted.
This photo shows my brother and me, in 1993, donating our Dad’s wartime invention, an aluminum drum for transporting aviation fuel by air over the “Hump” (the Himalayas) from India. This was an important technique for reducing the weight of the fuel containers, allowing more of the precious payload to reach Chongqing. The woman in the photo is Nancy Easterbrook, one of General Stilwell’s daughters.
For those whose historical memories don’t go back quite that far, let me explain that Joseph Stilwell was one of the outstanding military leaders of his day. While his peers, the likes of Dwight Eisenhower, received more glamorous assignments, Stilwell, who spoke Chinese, was ordered to create a Chinese force to prosecute the war against Japan on the Chinese mainland. This was logistically and politically an almost impossible job, not least because President Chiang Kaishek, whom Stilwell grew to hate, was uncooperative. Nevertheless, Stilwell created a force which he led against the Japanese in Burma, successfully opening a supply road into China. For a brief period at War’s end, he was quite famous, even being mooted as a possible presidential candidate. But he was far too blunt and plain spoken for that. He died of cancer not long after war’s end.
CAFAM members may be interested to learn of some of the many ways the Freeman Foundation has benefited activities in Maine. For example, the Chinese opera demonstration at Bates on March 26 came courtesy of a Freeman grant. Each summer there is a seminar for Maine teachers, called, “Views of the East: Teaching China, Korea, and Japan in Maine Schools.” This is also funded by the Foundation. Of course the three major private Colleges in Maine have all received substantial donations as well. And attentive listeners to National Public Radio will occasionally hear credit being given to the Foundation for support of Asia coverage.
Probably no single individual has done more to sponsor East Asian understanding than Buck Freeman. One might ask how one arrives at a position to give away up to $50 million annually. That itself is an interesting business saga. Perhaps I will write an account of that in a future Newsletter.
[From the May 2005 CAFAM Newsletter]