By Louis Petrone / Key West Lou

Today, a step back in history.

I am 78. I have found that many younger than me do not have an awareness of history. They know neither names nor places. I  assumed one learned history in school. I am beginning to think it is not taught with the same attention to detail as in the past. On the other hand, perhaps it is the individual himself who may not care to know or remember.

It bothers me. One reason is because we learn from history. History does repeat itself. Another reason is because historical fact on occasion can impress one with a sense of pride….. Look what my country did!

I share with you the Doolittle Raid.

It was early 1942. Pearl Harbor had occurred on December 7, 1941. The American people were despondent. The Japanese started World War II with a bang and were experiencing continued success. We were getting our asses kicked. Guam, Wake Island, Singapore and Hong Kong had fallen. The Philippines were close to being lost. American soldiers were making a valiant stand at Corregidor. They shortly would lose. Survivors would then participate in the Bataan Death March following which they would spend four years as Japanese prisoners of war.

American morale was at a low ebb. Japanese confidence high. President Roosevelt sensed it. He called his military team together and said come up with a plan to bomb Japan.

The Doolittle Raid was that plan.

The Raid is named after its leader, Jimmy Doolittle. A lieutenant colonel at the time. Prior to the War, Doolittle had been a famous civilian aviator and aeronautical engineer.


Navy Captain Francis Low was of the opinion that bombers could fly off of a carrier and bomb Japan. It was the only way American bombers at the time could reach Japan.

Doolittle was given the task of carrying out such a mission. It was decided the plane to be used was the B-25, a middle class bomber. Eighty volunteers were sought. All they were told was that they were volunteering for an “extremely dangerous mission.” They would not learn of their mission till they and their bomber planes were on a carrier and on the way to Japan.

Training took only three weeks. Lines were painted on a runway which exactly set forth the length of a carrier. Repeated landings were made till the 80 were proficient in taking off within a very limited space. No bomber had ever flown off a carrier before. The bombers too large and a carrier too small.

The USS Hornet was the the designated carrier. The Hornet would carry the planes and men till they were a certain distance from Japan. The planes would then take off and bomb Tokyo and other places. Thereafter, the planes would fly to selected landing sites in China. China was part free and part Japanese occupied at the time.

Six hundred miles off the coast of Japan, the Hornet was sighted by a small Japanese patrol boat. The Hornet sunk the boat. However, there was no certainty whether the boat had had time to radio Tokyo of the existence of the Hornet.

Doolittle therefore decided that the bombers had to take off immediately. The Hornet was still 170 miles from the designated take off spot. Which meant, the planes would have that much less fuel to get to China.

The men were undaunted. Bombing Tokyo was their primary consideration. Not whether they would safely make It to a Chinese landing field.

The bombers had been stripped of any extra weight. Stripped literally to the bone. Including guns. Only 2-3 guns were permitted. The rest too heavy. They would cause a plane to would burn too much fuel. In their place were erected broom handles painted black to fool enemy planes. Whereas the B-25 had been configured to carry 646 gallons of fuel, the strip down version permitted the planes to carry 1,141 gallons.

Each plane carried only four bombs. Three 500 pound bombs and one incendiary bomb. Weight was the consideration here also. The fewer and lighter the bombs, the less fuel required to carry them to Japan.

The object of the mission was more mental than physical. The purpose was to show the enemy that they were not invulnerable to attack. That what happened to the United States at Pearl Harbor could happen to them on their homeland.

Normally bomber flights have a fighter plane escort. Not these planes. Where were the fighter planes to come from? Again, too far.

The bombers flew wave height to avoid discovery.

The 16 bombers reached Japan. Tokyo and surrounding cities were bombed. There was little significant damage. However, the enemy know knew they were vulnerable. With vulnerability came fear.

None of the planes had sufficient fuel to reach the Chinese air bases. Fifteen crash landed or the crews bailed out. One plane made it to Russia. Two crews bailed out over Tokyo. Of those who bailed out over Tokyo, two were shot by a firing squad. The remainder imprisoned for the balance of the war. Some died of malnutrition while so imprisoned.

Sixty nine escaped capture or death. Many, including Doolittle, made it out of China with the help of the Chinese people.

The Chinese were made to pay a dear price for their assistance. It has been reliably reported that 250,000 were killed by the Japanese in an attempt to capture crew members or punish those Chinese who assisted them. The Japanese retaliation included germ warfare.

Doolittle was convinced the mission was a failure. He had lost all 16 planes and the damage done to Japan was minimal . He was wrong. He was welcomed home as a conquering hero by Roosevelt and the American people. Roosevelt immediately made him a Brigadier General, jumping him over the Colonel rank. He also awarded Doolittle the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Some interesting tidbits.

Five crew members were jailed in Japan. One died of starvation. The other four claim they received comfort from the lone copy of a Bible they had. They read it every day.

One crew member was killed when he bailed out over China. He was buried by the Rev. John M. Bircher, a Chinese missionary. Bircher is the same Bircher after whom The John Birch Society was named many years later. Bircher also personally assisted Doolittle and his crew and helped them escape China.

One crew member was Jacob De Shazer. He returned to China in 1948 and served there as a missionary for thirty years.

Each member of the Doolittle Raid were forever considered heroes.

Doolittle arranged for a yearly gathering of the survivors. A cognac toast was drunk to those departed. There was a special bottle of cognac provided by Doolittle. It had been bottled the year of his birth. It was intended to be drunk in toast by the last two survivors.

The years have passed. There are now four of these men left. They enjoyed their last reunion last week in Dayton, Ohio. Three could make it. The fourth was too ill to travel. All four are in their nineties.

The four decided not to wait till their number was down to two. There might never be two remaining. They opened that special bottle of cognac last week and drank a toast to their Raid brothers departed.

Hollywood made several movies surrounding the event. The best from my perspective was Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. The movie starred Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson. Even the movie was a long time ago. Tracy played Doolittle.

A true to life story. A moment of great pride in American history. An event every one should know.

[livemarket market_name="KONK Life LiveMarket" limit=3 category=“” show_signup=0 show_more=0]