ALAMEDA -- Moon Chin, a pilot with the China National Aviation Company, did not know why he was told to pick up the American that day in April 1942 and ferry him to Calcutta. Chin did not even get a good look at the man's face as he arrived at the airfield in Chongqing and people gathered around him.
"I got closer and I saw the name on the patch of his leather jacket," said Chin, now age 100. "Then I knew who he was. It was (U.S. Air Force Gen.) Jimmy Doolittle."
Chin had witnessed Doolittle's skill as a pilot nearly a decade earlier, when the Alameda native performed aerobatics in the skies over Shanghai.
What Chin did not know as he waited at the airfield was that Doolittle had just led a bombing mission over Japan -- the legendary "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" that would boost American morale in the early days of World War II -- and that he was now making his way back to the United States.
Like most others on the mission, Doolittle's B-25 Mitchell had run out of fuel, forcing him and his crew to bail out over China.
Chin ushered Doolittle and his fellow passengers aboard the DC-3 aircraft and they set off for Kunming, a refueling stop on the way to India.
"Over the radio, I heard that Japanese aircraft were in the area," Chin said Sunday, when he was honored at Alameda South Shore Center during the Asian Pacific Islander Festival. "So we had to land for safety."
Other veterans honored during the festival included Shiro "Jug" Takeshita, who served with the U.S. Army's 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II, and Richard Hum, who briefed President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile crisis while serving as a U.S. Air Force colonel.
The festival featured Polynesian and Mongolian music, Hawaiian, Chinese and Japanese dancers, as well as a singers performing East Indian songs and demonstrations of Korean and Filipino martial arts.
The Lincoln Middle School marching band kicked off the event.
"The music and the costumes of the dancers are beautiful," said Ellen Kwok, 36, as she watched the performances with her 6-year-old daughter, Mandy. "It shows you the richness of people's cultures."
Chin said that he landed the DC-3 on a dusty road after learning that Japanese aircraft had been reported in the area. The pilot and his passengers then camouflaged the airliner as best they could.
When they were getting ready to take off again, Doolittle pointed out that a telephone wire was stretched across the road, said Chin, who lives in Hillsborough. Doolittle feared it might crash the aircraft.
"I joked that we would take the wire with us Kunming," Chin said.
The DC-3 made another stop in Myitkyina in Burma, where Chin had been ordered to help evacuate the airline company's personnel and equipment before the Japanese arrived.
Dozens of refugees crowded into the aircraft, which had been designed to carry about 20 passengers. They took off with 72 people, including eight stowaways in the mail compartment, Chin said.
Only after they had landed at Calcutta did Chin learn about Doolittle's bombing raid over Japan.
"I heard about it on the radio," he said. "Until then I did not know anything about it."
Chin went on to rescue other Americans during the war. When the conflict ended, he continued his career in civilian aviation.
In 1995, Chin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal by the U.S. Air Force, decorations usually awarded only to those who have served in the military.
Jason Delacourt, 27, who happened upon the cultural festival while shopping at the center, said he did not know much about the military exploits of those being honored.
"These kind of things remind you that this stuff happened not that long ago," Delacourt said. "But at the same time, it's still a part of history."
Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.