Famed in her own right, Anna Chennault remembered
Fierce defender of husband’s memory
Anna Chennault, wife of Lt. Gen. Claire L. Chennault of Chennault Air Force Base, died in her home on Friday, March 30. Her daughter, Cynthia Chennault, said her mother, 94, died of complications from a December stroke.
<div class="article_viewer_container"><div class="this_article"><div id="articleViewerPopup_articleViewer" class="article_viewer ArticleViewer text ltr use-3d" data-olive-control="ArticleViewer"><div class="animation-wrapper"><div class="align-wrapper offset-wrapper"><div class="zoom-wrapper"><div class="article" lang="en" xml_lang="en" data-view-mode="text"><div class="Content"><p class="indent">Famed in her own right, Chennault’s career included journalist, political lobbyist, vice president of a cargo airline, rumored CIA operative and “secret emissary for candidate Richard Nixon during the 1968 presidential campaign,” according to her Washington Post obituary. After the death of Gen. Chennault, she settled in Washington, D.C., where she became prominent among elite social circles, hosting lavish parties in her penthouse attended by “cabinet members, congressmen, diplomats, foreign dignitaries and journalists.”
<p class="indent">Based on her personal memoirs and FBI tapes, at Nixon’s urging, Chennault is said to have convinced Vietnamese leaders to back out of the 1968 peace talks, creating ample opportunity for Nixon to seize the presidency. Her frequent trips to Asian countries entrenched in Cold War suggested possible CIA ties. However, she always responded “no comment” when pressed about the topic.
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<strong>Anna Chennault’s career included journalist, political lobbyist, vice president of a cargo airline, rumored CIA operative and ‘secret emissary for candidate Richard Nixon,’ according to her Washington Post obituary.</strong>
</div></div><p class="indent">Chennault’s local legacy, however, paints a different picture. Her interactions with Amy Boyd, first director of the Imperial Calcasieu Museum, show her as a fierce defender and preserver of her husband’s legacy.
<p class="indent">It is unclear if Chennault and Boyd knew each other personally, but it is apparent they had a mutual friend in Washington, D.C., artist, Charlotte Robinson. A museum scrapbook, dated 1967, opens with a letter from Chennault that reads, “I am very glad to know that you have such a fine museum … Our mutual friend Charlotte Robinson is doing great.” Thus begins a large collection of letters and mementos dedicated to the Chennaults, thanks in part to the connection with Robinson.
<p class="indent">Robinson’s 1958 portrait of Gen. Chennault hangs in the museum, along with many other personal items of Chennault’s, all seemingly procured by Boyd.
<p class="indent">The first item the museum received was Gen. Chennault’s uniform. It took several months for the uniform to arrive. In January 1967 Chennault wrote, “I will be very glad to send you a set of General Chennault’s uniform … Please don’t hesitate to write or call as I have a very busy schedule lecturing all around the country and I don’t want to overlook this matter.”
<p class="indent">Upon receiving the uniform in May, Boyd continued by asking for Gen. Chennault’s cap to complete the display. Chennault replied in July 1967, “This is the only one I have left. Please take good care of it. Good luck to your good work.”
<p class="indent">Looking to expand the Chennault collection, Boyd asked for Chennault’s wedding gown. In November 1967, Chennault said she would consider it and encouraged Boyd to stay in touch. Boyd persisted about the gown and it took over a year for the museum to acquire it. Chennault’s November 1968 correspondence reads, “During the past few months my activities with Mr. Nixon’s campaign have taken up most of my time and I am sorry for the delay.” Upon receipt, the dress was displayed next to the complete uniform of Gen. Chennault.
<p class="indent">Her marriage to Gen. Chennault, 30 years her senior, lasted only 10 years before he succumbed to lung cancer. In the following years, she wrote “A Thousand Springs: The Biography of Marriage,” chronicling their time together. She later wrote “Chennault and the Flying Tigers.” A 1964 American Press review read, “No one who reads this book can resist for long the spirited defense Mrs. Chennault puts up for her husband and his ideas.” A 1967 museum letter details Mrs. Chennault sending both books, autographed, to the museum.
<p class="indent">In addition to the wedding gown, uniform and autographed books, the museum houses two other dresses from Chennault’s trousseau. The scrapbook contains letters, photographs, newspaper clippings, magazine articles, lecture advertisements and party invitations all pertaining to Anna Chennault.
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