Lawson was assigned to the 95th Bomb Squadron, 17th Bomb Group (Medium) at McChord Field, Washington. He was assigned as a co-pilot flying B-18 Bolo medium bombers and checked out in the Douglas B-23 Dragon. He became a first pilot in February 1941 and two months later the group received seven B-25 Mitchells, the first of the new medium bombers to be assigned to a unit in the Air Corps.
While his squadron was based at McChord, Lawson married Ellen Arlene Reynolds, a librarian at LACC he had met while a student, in Spokane on 05-09-1941. His best man at the ceremony was squadron-mate Lieutenant Robert Manning Gray, who would be a fellow pilot on the Doolittle Raid. Robert Gray was killed in action during a combat mission near Assam, India, on 18-10-1942, age23.
In early 1942, Lawson, then a First Lieutenant, was flying antisubmarine patrols with the 17th BG out of Pendleton, Oregon. As the first Army Air Corps group to receive the B-25 Mitchell, the 17th BG had the most experienced pilots and so was ordered from Oregon to Lexington County Army Air Base at Columbia, South Carolina, ostensibly to fly similar patrols off the East Coast of the United States but in actuality to prepare for the mission against Japan. The group officially transferred effective 9 February to Columbia, where its combat crews were offered the opportunity to volunteer for an “extremely hazardous” but unspecified mission. On 17 February the group was detached from the Eighth Air Force.
Lieutenant Lawson was accepted as a volunteer for the mission led by then-Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle to bomb Tokyo and several other cities with 16 carrier-launched B-25 Mitchell bombers from aboard the USS Hornet (CV-8) – the first air raid on mainland Japan during World War II following the Pearl Harbor attack. The aircraft that he flew on the raid was nicknamed “The Ruptured Duck” (AAF serial 40-2261). According to Lawson in his book, the plane’s unusual name evolved from a minor training accident where the aircraft tail scraped the ground on take-off. Soon after Lawson found someone had written “ruptured duck” in chalk on the fuselage. Inspired, he had B-25 gunner Cpl. Rodger Lovelace create the now-famous caricature of Donald Duck with crutches and pilot’s headphones.
After launching the mission 170 miles (275 km) further out than planned and bombing their targets in Japan, all of the aircraft ran out of fuel short of their intended recovery airfields in non-Japanese occupied China. Lawson and his crew crashed their plane off the coast of the small island of Nantien when its engines failed while trying to land on the beach during a storm. Lawson and his co-pilot were both thrown through the windscreen of the B-25, with Lawson suffering a compound fracture of the left leg, a lacerated left bicep, and severe facial injuries in the process.
All five crew members survived the crash; however all but flight engineer/gunner David J. Thatcher
received serious injuries. Bombardier Robert Clever
would be returned to the U.S., only to die in another plane crash in 20-11-1942, age 28. After he was transported by friendly Chinese throughout several provinces in China to evade Japanese troops searching for his crew, Lawson’s infected leg was amputated by the mission’s flight surgeon, Lieutenant Thomas Robert White “Doc”,
who had volunteered to fly the mission as a gunner on the crew of Lieutenant Donald Smith.
The nose art of the crashed bomber, “The Ruptured Duck”, was later salvaged by the Japanese and put on display in Tokyo. David Jonathan Thatcher, survived the war and died on 21-06-2016, age 95, in Missoula, Mont. Thomas Robert White “Doc” also survived the war and died on 29-11-1992, age 83. Lieutenant Donald Smith was later killed in the crash of his B-26 on 12-11-1942, age 24.
Along with the majority of the surviving Doolittle Raiders, Lawson was eventually repatriated back to the United States, and in his case, for further medical care including a second amputation of his injured leg and reconstruction of his lower face. During his recuperation, Lawson was promoted to captain in accordance with Doolittle’s recommendation that all the raiders be promoted one grade, and later to major. He served as Liaison Officer, U.S. Air Mission, Santiago, Chile from May 1943 until April 1944. He was retired from the U.S. Army Air Forces for physical disability on 02-02-1945. His decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and the Chinese Army, Navy, and Air Corps Medal, Class A, 1st Grade.
Death and burial ground of Lawson, Ted William.
After the war, Lawson owned and operated a machine shop in Southern California, and also worked for Reynolds Metals as a liaison between the company and the military. He died at his home in Chico, California on 19-01-1992, age 74 and was interred at the Chico Cemetery Mausoleum.