Seven of the Legendary Doolittle Raiders Join the Parade!

April 18, 1942. Sixteen B-25 bombers launch from the airstrip of the USS Hornet, situated deep in enemy controlled waters. Their destination: Japan.

Still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor, these last few months have gone poorly for the Allies in the Pacific. Imperial Japanese forces have taken Guam, Hong Kong, and Singapore, and invaded Burma, Java, Sumatra, and Bougainville. In the Battle of the Java Sea, combined Allied naval forces were crushed, losing five cruisers, five destroyers, and 2,300 sailors.

Costliest of all, just days earlier on April 9, United States forces on Bataan surrender unconditionally to the Japanese. The next day, 76,000 Allied prisoners of war are forced to walk over 60 miles under a blazing sun and without food or water to a new camp. The infamous Bataan Death March would leave over 5,000 Americans dead.

Determined to strike back at Japan, American war planners had conceived of an idea in which twin-engined Army bombers could be launched from an aircraft carrier. Recognizing that such an attack could provide a much-needed morale boost, U.S. Fleet Commander Admiral Ernest King and Air Forces leader General Henry Arnold enthusiastically embraced the idea. Tapped to plan and lead this difficult and dangerous mission was the famed aviator and engineer, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle.

Doolittle’s task was enormous. Gathering together 24 crews at Eglin Field in Florida, he had to teach them to lift off in a B-25 at 50 miles per hour after a 500 foot taxi—less than half the speed and distance pilots were accustomed to using. In order to lighten their loads, the bombers were stripped of all unnecessary equipment, while extra fuel capacity was installed. Each was loaded with four 500-pound bombs.

On April 2, the USS Hornet, with crews and bombers aboard, left Alameda Naval Air Station enroute to Japan. Two and one-half weeks later, on April 18th, an enemy patrol vessel was sighted about 650 miles off the coast of Japan. The vessel was quickly sunk, but not before sending a radio warning to Japan.

Recognizing that time was of the essence, Doolittle and the skipper of the Hornet, Captain Marc Mitscher, decided to launch the attack immediately, despite being 200 miles further from the Japanese coast than planned. The already dangerous mission now faced an alerted Japan, poor weather, a longer trip that would tax already perilously-limited fuel supplies, and an estimated arrival time during the middle of the day—a much easier time for Japanese fighters to attack the B-25s.

After a successful launch, all 16 planes proceeded directly to their targets—military targets in the cities of Yokohama, Kobe, Osaka, and Tokyo. In spite of anti-aircraft fire and Japanese fighters, all 16 planes successfully reached their targets.

Clear of Japanese resistance, the new fear was making it to friendly territory before running out of fuel. Fifteen of the planes raced toward the coast of China, while the 16th flew toward Russia, where upon landing, the crew was interned for several months. The other fifteen crews were forced to bail out or crash land off the coast of China or over its coastal mountains. One crew member was killed bailing out, while two more died while swimming ashore. Eight, including then-2nd LT. Robert Hite, were captured, and subsequently starved and tortured, by the Japanese. Following a mock trial, three of the eight—Dean Hallmark, William Farrow, and Harold Spatz—were convicted of charges they were never made aware of. The next day, all three were executed.

Immediately following the raid, Doolittle told his crew that he believed the loss of all sixteen aircraft, combined with the relatively minor damage inflicted on Japan, had rendered his attack a failure, and that he expected a court martial upon his return to the United States. Instead, the raid provided a tremendous morale boost to a country that was in desperate need of good news. At the same time, Doolittle’s attack struck fear into the Japanese command, which recalled fighter units back home to defend against further raids—a strategic shift that would have huge consequences at the next turning point of the war—the Battle of Midway.

For his actions, Jimmy Doolittle was awarded the Medal of Honor and promoted to Brigadier General, while each of the Raiders received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The American Veterans center is proud to welcome seven of the Doolittle Raiders to the National Memorial Day Parade. Attending will be Col. William Bower, Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, Maj. Thomas Griffin, MSgt. Edwin Horton, Lt. Col. Robert Hite, Lt. Col. Frank Kappeler, and Sgt. David Thatcher.

Jimmy Doolittle and his Raiders.

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