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home : blogs_old : random thoughts of an unabashed america lover July 23, 2016

Random Thoughts of an Unabashed America Lover
By Linda Athens, Kingman,, AZ

Sunday, April 28, 2013

71st and Final Reunion of Jimmy Doolittle's Raiders

Linda Athens

Crew No. 1: 34th Bombardment Squadron, front row: Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, pilot; Lt. Richard E. Cole, copilot; back row: Lt. Henry A. Potter, navigator; Staff Sgt. Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; and Staff Sgt. Paul J. Leonard, flight engineer/gunner. (Pacific Air Forces Photo)

They were known as the Greatest Generation. Here is but one of their amazing stories. . .

On a quiet Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, when most ships were in port and many soldiers didn't have to report to duty, our American military forces suffered a devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor followed by four more months of defeats as our bases in the Pacific were overcome by the Japanese.

American morale was low. President Roosevelt was searching for a way to make a retaliatory air attack to remedy that while showing the Japanese we were capable of doing so.

On April 18, 1942, that remarkable attack did take place under the leadership of Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle with 80 B 25 combat crew volunteers from the 17th Bomb Group and a less than 50/50 chance of coming back alive. Later the odds would get worse but not a single man opted out. It would be a one way flight at best.

Last week, around the April 18th date, three of the last four surviving members of this distinguished group that are Doolittle's Raiders met for their 71st and final reunion in Fort Walton Beach, FL near Eglen Air Force Base where they trained for this top secret mission. Their ages are 92 to 97. One was unable to attend and a fifth died in February of this year. Here is their remarkable story.

There weren't a lot of good reasons their mission should have worked due to distance, bomb load etc. So they simply did what had never been done before and made it work anyway.

Settling on 16 Army B-25 Mitchell medium bombers with a shorter wing span then others they considered, they retrofitted the planes to meet their needs, added extra fuel tanks for the long journey and then did the unthinkable. They launched off the deck of the Navy carrier Hornet with less than 500' to do so, not the usual 1200' feet needed, the only time in our history a US Army Air Force bomber launched off a carrier on a combat mission. Only Jimmy Doolittle and his men thought it could be done.

Each carried 4 - 500 lb bombs and 1141 US gallons of gas rather than their usual 646 gallons with the mission to bomb Tokyo and three or four other cities. Unable to land back on a carrier and with little fuel left, their plan was to try to make it to China where a Japanese presence already existed. While Russia was closer, it had signed a neutrality pact with the Japanese so landing there was forbidden.

The plan was to fly off the Hornet 450 miles from Japan but the two Navy carriers and 14 supporting ships were spotted by an enemy boat who radioed the Japanese. The Navy fighters had been put below deck to allow room for the 16 B-25's. There were but two choices, dump the B-25's in the ocean and bring up the Navy fighters for protection or launch 200 miles further out and ten hours early.

They launched. Doolittle leading them, warned them to do exactly as he did due to the pitching deck. A gale had come up and they had to fly directly into it. All 16 made it safely. Six hours later they were over Japan, made their drops and then 15 planes headed for China. One, out of gas, flew to Vladivostok, Russia where the crew of five was interned.

Due to leaving early, they had to bail out in the dark, some ditching their planes over water. All 16 planes were lost. Two men drowned swimming to shore, one was killed on the bailout. The Japanese captured eight, three of which they put before a firing squad six months later while one died of malnutrition. The other four were tortured and starved in solitary confinement until 1945 when they were rescued.

One of the four rescued later became a Christian Missionary and went back to Japan where he lived for the next 30 years, leading the Japanese to Jesus Christ. The five imprisoned in Russia escaped to Iran 14 months later. Years later, we learn the Russians were complicit in their escape but could not divulge it at the time due to the pact they had with Japan. The rest bailing out in China were helped and hidden by the Chinese who paid dearly later when the Japanese killed thousands of them for doing so.

Of the 69 remaining, 28 continued flying missions in the China, Burma, India theater with five killed in action. Nineteen returned to the US, only to go back and fly combat missions in North Africa. Four were killed in action, four became POW's. Nine served in the European theater with one being killed. In all, 12 died in air crashes within 15 months of the Doolittle Raid.

Because all aircraft were lost, Jimmy Doolittle thought the mission was a failure and he would be court-martialed upon return. Instead, the purpose of the mission had succeeded. While military and industrial sites had been hit, the damage was not devastating but fear was put in the Japanese concerning trusting their leadership. American morale went up and the Japanese, spooked, changed their conquest strategy and instead attacked Midway island two months later where we soundly defeated them, sinking four of their aircraft carriers and changing the course of the battle in the eastern Pacific.

Each Raider received the Distinguished Flying Cross, two received Silver Stars for valor, the wounded or injured, of which there were many, received Purple hearts, all received a decoration from the Chinese government. Doolittle himself received the Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt and was promoted to Brigadier General. In the next three years, Doolittle headed the 8th Air Force in England, the 12th Air Force in N Africa, 15th Air Force in the Mediterranean.

I am of the opinion that God had Jimmy Doolittle in training for many years prior to his heading the Raiders.

Doolittle, born in 1896, had enlisted in the Army Signal Corps during WWI, was an instructor, then staying in earned a BA, studied aeronautical engineering at MIT where he earned a Masters and Doctors Degree in Science. He left the Army only to return when WWII started. Over the years he made pioneering flights that earned him most of the major air trophies and international fame including the Schneider Cup Race, the world series of seaplane racing with the fastest speed a seaplane had ever flown only to follow it up with the world speed record for land planes.

He was also the aviator who solved the problem of flying "blind" in fog by using instruments he himself had helped develop. He made the initial test flight, flying 15 miles in deep fog off Long Island completely blind, using only instruments. His landing was perfect.

In 1930, Shell Petroleum approached Doolittle about joining them in the new field of aviation gasoline. Taking a two months leave from the Army, he teamed up with Shell and became the head of development of all Shell aviation products. This would prove invaluable later in WWII.

Curtiss-Wright asked him to demonstrate a new Curtiss fighter in Europe using Shell products. He did so and for months he and three other flyers roared across Europe putting on air shows with aerial acrobatics. Making a point about his plane, a little Curtiss Hawk, he flew one under an old bridge on the Danube with only a foot or two to spare. While flying in Europe however, he also realized European progress in the aviation field was ahead of us, a disturbing fact to him.

Doolittle worked tirelessly with Shell pushing to improve aviation fuel so we wouldn't be left behind should an air war occur. Eventually he won the battle for 100 octane gasoline. The result was American and British fighters speeds were increased by 50 mph and the bomb load of each bomber by a ton. Hitler was rising in Europe and Doolittle was worried but with 100 octane, real air power could be developed.

Doolittle's life was fascinating. Small wonder men were willing to fly into hell behind him. Ernst Udet, the German ace pilot who built the Luftwaffe once remarked "You Americans really have two air forces, your Army Air Force and Jimmy Doolittle".

Jimmy Doolittle died at age 97 in 1993 and rests in peace in Arlington next to his high school sweetheart, his beloved Jo.

Meanwhile, last week another 97 year old Raider was very busy at their 71st and last reunion in Florida.

Larry Kelley, a WWII buff who owns four B-25's brought them to the reunion. All three remaining raiders went up in the planes but retired Lt Col Richard Cole, 97 years old, who was Doolittle's co-pilot flew the Panchito himself, keeping it steady and landing it beautifully.

The citizens of Tucson, AZ, after WWII, presented the Doolittle Raiders with 80 Sterling goblets, each engraved with their names both right side up and upside down. Each year they have a short ceremony honoring those lost in the Raid and others who have since passed away. Each year there are more. For those deceased, their goblet is turned upside down.

The plan was, when they were down to the last two Raiders, they were going to open a bottle of 1896 (Doolittle's birth year) Hennessy Cognac for a last toast but like the changing of their raid plan, they have decided to open it later this year with the remaining four due to their advanced age.

God bless these, the men from The Greatest Generation. If you have feelings, as I often do, that our country is headed in the wrong direction, remember, we come from men and women such as these. Read their stories. Take heart. Look at the odds many faced during WWI and WWII. Look at pictures of the rows of white crosses in the American cemeteries in France, filled with men who thought freedom was important enough to give their all for. Then realize, we are still here with a modicum of liberty to still be saved.

And then, fight on in whatsoever manner God shows you to fight.

Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Article comment by: Linda Athens

Biker Randy:

Guess my comments were too long. I didn't realize on the blogs you were limited.

Anyway, thank you and your Father both for serving and I am sure you would have done the same. I had a lot of Uncles in the battle in WWII - some on the front lines came home very quiet, one started drinking. One cousin, amazingly had his entire platoon wiped out in the south Pacific except he and another Kingmanite, a strange irony. Sometimes he stared into space, thoughts far away. He saw too much.

My long comment was simply stating the further problems Doolittle and the men had right prior to and after bailing out. Small Chinese airports were to be apprised of the fact they were coming in and turn the lights on - instead they didn't get the message - lights were out. A plea from Doolittle was mistaken for being from the Japanese so no radio transmissions either.

Dolittle landed waist deep in a rice paddy - spent a miserable, sleepless night - found a farmer next day and reached Chinese military who sent out teams to hunt for his men.

He then found out his plane was 12 miles away, halfway up a mountainside, a crumpled heap.

He couldn't know at that time the mission was a success, only 11 of the 80 were killed. In a moment of despair, this perfectionist who meticulously took care of any men and planes in his care, decided the men were all captured or dead, planes all lost.

He then did something he had not done in years, he hung his head and wept. In fact his crew was found and fine. One small ankle injury.

Again, thank you for serving. You are my hero. Vietnam was tough I hear.

Posted: Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Article comment by: Linda Athens

Sorry Mr. Kelley:

That is two sources said. In any event, so glad you had the one and the 97 year old piloted it. Thanks for the correction. A great story about these men.

Have you had the plane long? Wondered where you acquired it.

Posted: Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Article comment by: larry kelley

I do NOT own four B-25's. I own ONE B-25. I arranged to get FOUR B-25's to the reunion as requested by the event organizers. All three Raiders attending did NOT go up in the B-25's, Only Dick Cole who flew with me in Panchito... Ed Saylor and Dave Thatcher did NOT go up in the B-25's

WOW... the writer should be more careful with checking facts and not assuming so much..

Posted: Monday, May 6, 2013
Article comment by: Linda Athens

[Comment deleted for excessive length.]

Posted: Sunday, May 5, 2013
Article comment by: biker randy

Linda, you taught me so much I didn't know about Gen. Doolittle. Maybe his last name forced him to do the accomplishments of his life. I have watched that movie of this episode of our history more than once. 30 seconds over Tokyo?

My father was 1 of that generation being a bombardier on B-17s while in his 20's. He did over 30 bombing missions and I never met him until I was 2?j After the war we were on Okinawa('46-47') when my father was a bombardier on B-29s.

I was a communications tech(ETN3). on a Destroyer DD-784 off of the DMZ off Vietnam in `68. What I did is nothing compared to what Gen. Doollittle & my father did.

I'm waiting for the liberals here to spew venom.

Posted: Friday, May 3, 2013
Article comment by: Linda Athens

Thank you for the nice comments and the story on Brig Gen David Jones. Glad he made it back safely. Jimmy Doolittle was involved in the beginning of what later would be called NASA so interesting.

You give me hope back on this, a day when our President went to Mexico and apologized for our country, saying we had caused many of their problems.

I like to think we still have people like Doolittle in our country and I think we do. The firemen at 9-11 certainly qualify. The bystanders at the Boston Marathon bombing do also. This is only the tip of the iceberg in this story. There are 100 side stories that are totally amazing but already too long.

I am of the firm belief they don't get any better than Americans. There is something about us no matter what our nationality. I believe it is that our Constitution spells liberty. And freedom is what people world wide are willing to fight and die for. God bless.

Posted: Friday, May 3, 2013
Article comment by: True American

Linda Athens you are a "True American"! Thanks for sharing that remarkable story.

Posted: Friday, May 3, 2013
Article comment by: pl .....

Ask these guys what they think of Obama and his Executive Orders granting him the right to seize everything of value and necessity next time the Government pulls off another of their terror attacks upon this country. Oh, and ask if they fought so that police and their media whores could laugh their way to the bank and retirement after criminal careers violating our rights. You might even ask them why Roosevelt moved the Pacific fleet from San Diego to Honolulu and disregarded all sound military advice in doing that and failing to disperse planes there and under MacArthur in the Philippines. But these guys must be tired by now. I've seen it, which makes what is happening today in this country all the more painful.

Posted: Friday, May 3, 2013
Article comment by: Curtis Lemay

It's a story that every American should be not only aware of, but extremely proud of as well. Of course we should show our gratitude to all who fought and won WWII, along with those who've served our country in all other conflicts. But what these guys did, at such a crucial time in our country's history, is so utterly fantastic. Do people realize that such acts ARE why we are here today, with all the freedoms and privileges we have?

While many can state with well-deserved pride that they served our country in one place or another, it is a relative few who can say that they volunteered for missions with the knowledge that many or most of them would not return.

Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013
Article comment by: Just A. Citizen

Random thoughts?
More accurately, typing Doolittles bio.
A random thought (or question) might be, who could fill his shoes now? Americans of his caliber are extremely rare these days.

Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013
Article comment by: Kingmangirl Kingmangirl

I was privileged to meet Brig General David Jones, a pilot for the famed Doolitte Raiders, in the early 70's at Patrick A/F Base in Melbourne Florida. At the time of meeting him, he was Commander of the A/F Eastern Test Range at Cape Kennedy and also the DOD Mgr for Manned Space Flight Operations. My husband's secretary was getting married to General Jones's son Lt David Jones. The marriage took place at Patrick A/B Base in 1971, the first military wedding I ever saw, and it was very impressive. The dignitaries were lined up knee deep, the gifts were impressive and the food was filet mignon...was a wonderful event! Just another one of my great memories while working in Aerospace at Kennedy Space Center.

Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013
Article comment by: Brenda Young

Dear Linda, you did an amazing job on this story. I really enjoyed it. I learned many things I didn't know. You also gave me reason not to loose hope in our great country.
Thank you,
Brenda Young

Posted: Thursday, May 2, 2013
Article comment by: janice palmer

I have the greatest respect and admiration for jimmy Doolittle and his brave men.

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