People referred to a recent encounter of two strangers as a kiss that was 71 years in the making. An 83-year-old woman, who formerly was a child prisoner in a Japanese camp during the Second World War, flew half way around the world to thank the Chinese interpreter who helped rescue her 71 years ago. While a young girl, the woman had been living in China with her Christian missionary parents.
Mary Previte, of Haddonfield, N.J., met Wang Chenghan, 91, in his home in Guiyang city, Guizhou province, China, reports the Daily Mail. He had helped to rescue her and 1,500 others from 30 countries.
Previte's parents were Christian missionaries who ran a Bible school in the city of Kaifeng in Henan province, before the war began, according to a BBC report last year. She had attended a boarding school, Chefoo School, set up by her great-grandfather to provide an education for children of foreign missionaries and the foreign business and diplomatic communities in China.
However, America's involvement in the war soon meant Westerners in China became 'enemy aliens'. The BBC reported that the day after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Japanese troops marched into the Chefoo School and declared themselves in charge, turning the school into a military headquarters and later moving their prisons to a larger camp at Weihsien.
Previte, her siblings and her grandfather Herbert Hudson Taylor, a retired missionary, were all held captive at the school-turned-war prison, separated from the Previte's parents. Previte was just 9 years old at the time.
In an operation titled "Duck Mission," Wang, together with a group of U.S. soldiers, rescued Previte, and the other prisons of war from a Japanese internment camp in Weifang, Shandong province, in August 1945.
Previte told the Philadelphia Inquirer it took 18 years to locate Wang, who she knew as Eddie Wang and had first spoken to last year by telephone, after making contact with four other rescuers in the late 1990s.
She was only able to contact Wang after a Chinese student studying in the United States saw an article about her and realized the missing man was his grandfather, according to the BBC.
A grateful Previte took Wang 18 thank-you letters, written by New Jersey Congressman Donald Norcross, U.S. Ambassador to China Max Baucus, and other then camp internees; he was the only man still alive of the seven rescuers. She also found the widows of two others.
"It is the end of a dream to actually have found all of the heroes and have an opportunity to see them face to face," she told Philadelphia Inquirer.
Previte said she would never forget the day they were all marched out of the school. "They had crowds of Chinese along the roadside as these white people were carrying whatever they could in their hands, no servants were helping them now, marching off to concentration camp," she recalls.
The camp reportedly had little medicine, and some people died when food became scarce. Previte told the BBC that Chefoo School's teachers would help the children by turning problems into games, telling children to try catching rats, flies or bed bugs and award prizes for the winners.
She said the teachers set up a comforting, predicable set of rituals and traditions, making the children feel safe, despite their circumstances.