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The Doolittle Raid

10-02-2017

The Doolittle Tokyo Raiders was a group eighty men from all walks of life who flew into history on April 18, 1942. The Raid was a total secret to all involved and the members of the raid were chosen by volunteering for a “dangerous secret mission”. The members did not know the target destination until the planes were loaded on the ship and the raid was underway. This was to prevent any “leakage” of information about the raid. 16 B-25 twin engine bombers  were to take off from the deck of the Aircraft Carrier USS Hornet  and bomb Japan mainland. This would be the first attack on Japan mainland of World War II. Because the airplanes were too large to be taken below deck on the aircraft carrier they had to be stored at the end of the runway on top.  As a result the runway was very short, especially for the first plane in line, and special training was required to teach the pilots to be able to take off in such a short distance with a full payload.

They were all volunteers and this was a very dangerous mission led by Colonel Jimmy Doolittle . They were to fly over Japan, drop their bombs and fly on to land in a part of China that was still free.  Of course, things do not always go as planned.

The months following the attack on Pearl Harbor  were the darkest of the war, as Imperial Japanese forces rapidly extended their reach across the Pacific. Our military was caught off guard, forced to retreat, and losing many men in the fall of the Philippines, leading to the infamous Bataan Death March.

By spring, 1942, America needed a severe morale boost. The raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942, certainly provided that – cheering the American military and public. Yet, the Doolittle Raid meant so much more, proving to the Japanese high command that their home islands were not invulnerable to American attacks and causing them to shift vital resources to their defense. Two months later that decision would play a role in the outcome of the Battle of Midway, the American victory that would begin to turn the tide in the Pacific War. 

Following the Doolittle Raid, most of the B-25 crews who had reached China eventually achieved safety with the help of Chinese civilians and soldiers. Of the sixteen planes and 80 airmen who participated in the raid all either crash-landed, were ditched or crashed after their crews bailed out, with the single exception of Capt. York and his crew, who landed in Soviet Russia after which the crew was interned, as described above. Despite the loss of these fifteen aircraft, 69 airmen escaped capture or death, with only three killed in action (KIA).

Total crew casualties: 3 KIA: 2 off the coast of China, 1 in China; 8 POW: 3 executed, 1 died in captivity, 4 repatriated. In addition, seven crew members (including all five members of Lawson’s crew) received injuries serious enough to require medical treatment. Of the surviving prisoners, George Barr   died of heart failure in 1967, Chase Nielsen  in 2007, Jacob DeShazer  on 15 March 2008, and the last, Robert Hite  , died 29 March 2015.

In order to honor all the Raiders, past and present, for their valor, courage and patriotism, we are working to get the Congressional Gold Medal awarded while we still have three members who are able to travel to receive the award.

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