A World War II bombardier who flew 52 missions defending China has died at the age of 96.

Maj. Richard Sherman died Wednesday, said Marquita Mihaliak, administrator of the Northeast Louisiana War Veterans Home in Monroe.

Sherman spent 13 months in China as a bombardier and navigator with the 11th Bomb Squadron of the Army's 14th Air Force, commanded by Maj. Gen. Claire Chennault, said Nell Calloway, Chennault's granddaughter and head of the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum in Monroe.

The 14th Air Force was nicknamed the Flying Tigers after the famed volunteer fighter group that, as a civilian adviser to nationalist China, Chennault had created to defend that country before the U.S. entered the war.

In a telephone interview, Calloway said only one volunteer Flying Tiger, Frank Losonsky, and a few members of the 14th Air Force are still alive.

Sherman's plane was shot down once, by Japanese disguised as a Chinese fishing crew, Calloway said.

"They had to make a decision whether to bail out or try to land on a small strip they found," she recounted. "They decided to try to land. That turned out to be a good thing — when they unpacked, they found that rats had eaten their parachutes."

As a reservist, Sherman served in Germany during the Berlin Airlift, in which U.S., British and French cargo planes brought supplies to West Berlin for more than a year in 1948 and 1949, according to an obituary provided by Mihaliak.

He was assigned to Selman Army Airfield near Monroe after the war and stayed in the area, where he helped found the Chennault museum.

Sherman's funeral will be 1 p.m. Friday at First Methodist Church in Monroe, with burial at the Northeast Louisiana Veterans Cemetery in Rayville, according to the obituary.

Sherman is survived by his wife, daughter, two sons, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Calloway said Sherman's mind remained sharp to the end, and he was interviewed in July by a Chinese painter who was also making a portrait of him. That portrait will be on display at his funeral Friday, Calloway said.

"This man served in China — 52 missions in a bomber — yet he lives to the ripe old age of 96 with his mind, his mentality and everything. Is that not amazing?" she said.