Wednesday, April 18, 2012

70 Years Ago Today...America's First Strike Back At Japan By Doolittle's Raiders

Seventy years ago today, four months after the attack on US military bases at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the United States responded with an attack on Japan, by launching land-based medium bombers off a US Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet.

Of the 80 men who participated in the raid, five are still living today, all in their 90s. From the Washington Times:
Seven decades later, the five remaining survivors of the raid led by then-Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle recognize their prominent place in history. Nothing like it had ever been done before. But faced with an enemy that already had proved its ability to strike the U.S. homeland, 80 brave men volunteered for what had all the makings of a suicide mission, its main purposes to satisfy a burning desire for revenge, to boost morale in the war’s darkest days and to demonstrate that the nation’s resolve remained as strong as steel.

Planning for the April 18, 1942, raid combined that need for vengeance with raw American ingenuity. It was the first-ever joint operation between the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF), predecessor to today’s Air Force, and the Navy. B-25 bombers had never taken off from a Navy aircraft carrier before, and Doolittle, selected as mission leader, who piloted the first of the squadron’s 16 planes, had less than 400 feet of runway to work with.

Unable to carry enough fuel for a round trip, Doolittle and his men planned to drop their bombs on Tokyo and several other Japanese cities and make a quick escape toward China, a U.S. ally. American political leaders had tried to hammer out an agreement with Josef Stalin to allow the bombers to land in the Soviet Union after the raid, but the Soviet leader refused, leaving China as the only realistic option.

Except for one plane that landed in the then Soviet Union, the other planes ran out of fuel and the crews bailed out.

Eight raiders — including 92-year-old survivor Robert L. Hite, co-pilot on plane No. 16 — were captured by Japanese forces. Three of those men were executed by firing squad, and another died of malnutrition.

“They treated us pretty rough,” Mr. Hite said of his time in captivity. “We were in solitary confinement. Each person was in a cell by himself. We couldn’t speak to one another. We didn’t know for sure what would happen. Then they condemned us all to death.”

Mr. Hite and his three comrades avoided that fate, surviving more than three years in the Japanese prison before eventually being liberated by Allied forces as the war came to a close.

Mr. Cole’s crew members made it into China and were rescued. Mr. Griffin and the rest of the crew on plane No. 9 safely bailed out over China.

Mr. Thatcher pulled his four fellow crew members from the wreckage of plane No. 7, which had come to rest in waist-deep water. He spent the night bandaging the other men, all of whom had suffered cuts, gashes and other minor injuries. He later was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in the line of duty.

Each of the 80 men received the Distinguished Flying Cross for their parts in the raid. Doolittle, eventually promoted to the rank of general, was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Due recognition

Yet the Raiders received little credit during the immediate aftermath of the mission.

“There was no victory parade or bond drive, or effort to capture all of them together and have a public display,” Mr. Anderegg said. “There was a war on, and they had their jobs to do. Reading the press releases [about the mission] was probably not high on their list of things to do.”

Confirmation of the daring raid first leaked out not from American press accounts but via Japanese newspapers. Many American media outlets on April 18 reported that the raid had taken place but that it had not yet been confirmed by either political or military leaders. The location from which the Raiders launched was shrouded in mystery, and FDR, questioned by reporters three days later, refused to shed light on the situation.

The war raged on for another three years, and it was only after it ended, in 1946, that the survivors began their annual reunion ceremony. Mr. Hite, Mr. Thatcher, Mr. Griffin, Mr. Cole and Mr. Saylor will gather next week in Dayton, Ohio, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for the events marking the 70th anniversary of the raid. It’s expected to be the last time the five men will come together.

On display at the base, which houses the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, are 80 goblets, one representing each Raider, and a bottle of Hennessy Very Special Cognac, a gift from Doolittle to be opened by the final two living Raiders.

Over the past 70 years, as their fellow Raiders have passed away — Doolittle died in September 1993 at the age of 96 — the five survivors have remained grateful that they were given the chance to make military history, defend the U.S. during one of its darkest periods and live to tell about all of it.

“You realize you were lucky that you weren’t one of the victims in the war,” Mr. Cole said. “I lived my dream.”

It was an honor to be able to meet a few of these men, as well as Gen. Doolittle's son, John, nine years ago when the Doolittle Raiders had their 61st reunion in Fairfield, CA. This is history of which the participants are almost all gone, but what they did must never be forgotten.

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