A Nation Honors WWII Heroes

Orders in hand, Navy Capt. Marc A. Mitscher, USS Hornet skipper, chats with Lt. Col. James Doolittle, attack group leader of the Army Air Forces. The group of fliers, in coordination between the two services, carried the battle of the Pacific to the heart of the Japanese empire with a daring raid on military targets in major Japanese cities. The USS Hornet carried the 16 North American B-25 bombers to within take-off distances of the Japanese Islands. (U.S. Navy photo)

Orders in hand, Navy Capt. Marc A. Mitscher, USS Hornet skipper, chats with Lt. Col. James Doolittle, attack group leader of the Army Air Forces. The group of fliers, in coordination between the two services, carried the battle of the Pacific to the heart of the Japanese empire with a daring raid on military targets in major Japanese cities. The USS Hornet carried the 16 North American B-25 bombers to within take-off distances of the Japanese Islands.
(U.S. Navy photo)

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In long overdue recognition, Doolittle Tokyo Raiders of WWII have been honored with  a Congressional Gold Medal.   Bestowed for their tremendous valor and sacrifice at a pivotal point in our military history, it is one of our nation’s highest awards.

Congressional Gold Signing-DTR May 23 14

 Congressional Gold Medal Text

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Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, provoked a responsive Declaration of War, as Americans enlisted and Doolittle Tokyo Raiders  prepared  a retaliatory strike.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers his "Day of Infamy" speech to Congress December 8, 1941 (U.S. Government - U.S. Archives)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers his “Day of Infamy” speech to Congress
December 8, 1941
(U.S. National Archives)

President Roosevelt signing the declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941 in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor. (National Archives and Records Administration - Abbie Rowe) (National Archives and Records Administration

President Roosevelt signing the declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941 in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
(National Archives and Records Administration)

Americans enlist following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 Time & Life Pictures / Getty Image

Americans enlist following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941
Time & Life Pictures / Getty Image

On April 18, 1942, fueled by the need for action in the devastating aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the U.S. launched a daring and dangerous air raid over Tokyo and a risky endeavor for safe passage of these men.   Eighty airmen, in volunteering for an unspecified and highly classified operation, willingly accepted the inherent danger.

Recruited from the Army Air Force, 17th Bombardment Group, they were among the first to receive B-25 medium bombers, integral for the mission, and some of the finest pilots from 35 states.  Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, aviation legend and attack group leader, would oversee the operation and a maneuver never previously attempted – launching B-25 bombers from a carrier deck.   Following a mere  three weeks of simulated practice, the mission moved forward.   Highly cloaked in secrecy, the destination  remained unknown to the airmen until briefed at sea.

Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, Crew No. 1: 34th Bombardment Squadron, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, pilot; Lt. Richard E. Cole, copilot; Lt. Henry A. Potter, navigator; SSgt. Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; SSgt. Paul J. Leonard, flight engineer/gunner. (U.S. Air Force photo) Lt. Cole, at the age of 98, is one of four surviving Tokyo Raiders.

Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, Crew No. 1: 34th Bombardment Squadron, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, pilot; Lt. Richard E. Cole, copilot; Lt. Henry A. Potter, navigator; SSgt. Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; SSgt. Paul J. Leonard, flight engineer/gunner. (U.S. Air Force photo)   Lt. Cole, at the age of 98, is one of four surviving Tokyo Raiders.

Passing beneath the Golden Gate on the carrier USS Hornet, as the waves of  thousands cheered their departure, the hearts and hopes of a nation sailed for those sacrificed at Pearl Harbor.  10,000 Navy personnel and a task force of ships would deliver 16 B-25 bombers and 80 crewmen within striking distance of Japan.   In a high-risk launching of bombers in the western Pacific, they were all prime targets for Japanese  forces.

B-25 bombers on the flight deck of the USS Hornet en route to the mission's launching point for the Tokyo Raid. One of the escorting cruisers, the USS Nashville, is seen in the distance. (U.S. Navy photo)

B-25 bombers on the flight deck of the USS Hornet en route to the mission’s launching point for the Tokyo Raid.
One of the escorting cruisers, the USS Nashville, is seen in the distance.
(U.S. Navy photo)

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, USAAF Wires a Japanese "friendship"medal to a bomb, for "return" to its originators in the first U.S. air raid on the Japanese Home Islands, April 1942. Photographed on board the USS Hornet, shortly before B-25 bombers were launched to attack Japan. U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, USAAF
Wires Japanese “friendship” medal to a bomb for “return” to its originators in first U.S. air raid on the Japanese Home Islands, April 1942. Photographed on board the USS Hornet, shortly before B-25 bombers launched to attack Japan.
(U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph)

Ultimately detected, hours prior to the planned raid and further out to sea than safely dictated, immediate action was demanded of the airmen.  Swiftly launching one by one in near gale force winds from a wildly heaving carrier deck, the bombers flew low over water toward Japan.  Their targets were industrial and military installations with planned escape to Chinese airfields unoccupied by the Japanese.

With fuel consumption a major concern, as well as threat of anti-aircraft fire and enemy interception, it was likely a one-way flight for these unescorted planes.   In the end, low on fuel with approaching night and deteriorating weather, none of the 16  bombers would reach their prearranged landings.

Lt. Col. Doolittle's B-25, the first of 16 bombers taking off from USS Hornet - 18 April 1942 (U.S. Navy photo)

Lt. Col. Doolittle’s B-25, the first of 16 bombers taking off from USS Hornet – 18 April 1942
(U.S. Navy photo)

Departure from the deck of the USS HORNET of an Army B-25 on its way to take part in first U.S. air raid on Japan. Doolittle Raid, April 1942. National Archives and Records Administration

Departure from the deck of the USS HORNET of an Army B-25 on its way to take part in first U.S. air raid on Japan. Doolittle Raid, April 1942.
(National Archives and Records Administration)

The attack, as predicted, was not without sacrifice.  Although most would survive, one would lose his life in bailing over China and two by ditching off the China coast.   Three of eight airmen, captured by Japanese, were ultimately executed.  A fourth perished in a Japanese prison.   All  having suffered harsh interrogation,  the remaining  captives  endured severe and prolonged confinement over three years.  Four others, seriously injured in the raid and rescued by Chinese, were treated dangerously close to Japanese  searching units.  One would linger hospitalized until 1943, while another crew of five, forced to land in Russia, was imprisoned for 14 months.

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, USAAF, (center) with members of his flight crew and Chinese officials in China after the 18 April 1942 attack on Japan. (U.S. Army Air Forces Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center)

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, USAAF, (center) with members of his flight crew and Chinese officials in China after the 18 April 1942 attack on Japan.
(U.S. Army Air Forces Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center)

U.S. Army Air Force Lt. Robert L. Hite, blindfolded by his captors, is led from a Japanese transport plane after he and seven other flyers were flown from Shanghai to Tokyo. Hite was co-pilot of crew 16, 34th Bomb Squadron, of the "Doolittle Raiders". After 45 days in Japan, all eight were returned to China by ship and imprisoned in Shanghai. On 15 October 1942 three were executed, one died in captivity. The four others, including Hite, were eventually liberated on 20 August 1945. (U.S. Air Force photo) Today, Lt. Col. Hite is one of only four surviving Tokyo Raiders.

U.S. Army Air Force Lt. Robert L. Hite, blindfolded by his captors, is led from a Japanese transport plane after he and seven other flyers were flown from Shanghai to Tokyo. Hite was co-pilot of crew 16, 34th Bomb Squadron, of the “Doolittle Raiders.” After 45 days in Japan, all eight were returned to China by ship and imprisoned in Shanghai. On 15 October 1942 three were executed, one died in captivity. The four others, including Hite, were eventually liberated on 20 August 1945. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Lt. Col. Hite is one of only four surviving Tokyo Raiders.

Essentially all 16 bombers inevitably were lost.  Of the 15 reaching China, 11 were destroyed during bail-outs and 1 crash-landing, while 3 were ditched at sea.  The remaining bomber, seriously low on fuel, was confiscated upon reaching Russia.

Despite the minimal effect of the bombing, the mission proved a definitive success in its reciprocal lesson of vulnerability which took a toll on Imperial Japan and its military strategy.  The undertaking by these Raiders, which greatly boosted American and Allied morale, would generate strategic benefits for the U.S. in the Battle of Midway and disaster for the Japanese.

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With the loss of all 16 aircraft, Doolittle believed  the raid had been a failure and court-martial faced him upon return to the states.  To the contrary, promoted to General, he was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt in a White House presentation.  A number of pilots would receive the Distinguished Flying Cross. 

While the raid created a tremendous boost to American morale which had plunged following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor,  the psychological effect on Japan was even greater than anticipated.  The intrusion into Japanese airspace created serious doubts in the minds of their war planners.    Their repositioning of seasoned fighter-plane units, in defense of their homeland, would weaken Japan’s air capabilities in the upcoming Battle of Midway and other South Pacific campaigns.

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Lt. Edgar McElroy, Pilot #13 – A Personal Account of the Training and Mission

—————————————-

In Eternal Remembrance

December 7, 1941

USN Pearl Harbor Survivor, Bill Johnson (January 20, 2004) Wall of Casualties – USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. "To the memory of the gallant men here entombed and their shipmates who gave their lives in action on December 7, 1941 on the USS Arizona" (U.S. Navy Photo)

USN Pearl Harbor Survivor, Bill Johnson (January 20, 2004)
Wall of Casualties – USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
“To the memory of the gallant men here entombed and their shipmates
who gave their lives in action on December 7, 1941 on the USS Arizona”
(U.S. Navy Photo)

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“The very soul of a nation is its heroes”

About Karen Evans

Advocate For Honoring Military Service
This entry was posted in American History, Veterans and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to A Nation Honors WWII Heroes

  1. gpcox says:

    Reblogged this on pacificparatrooper and commented:
    Fellow Blogger, Karen Evans, has written the final chapter for the Doolittle Raiders. Please enter and read her article. Thank you and have a wonderful weekend.

  2. ashokbhatia says:

    Thank you for posting this!

  3. jfwknifton says:

    Yes, thank you so much for telling this wonderful story. It deserved to be presented to a wider audience.

    • Karen Evans says:

      It does, indeed. The National WWII Museum plans a “Campaigns of Courage” exhibit: Road to Tokyo – the Pacific Theater Galleries, opening in December 2015. Surely these men deserve appropriate recognition for their valor and sacrifice at a pivotal point in our military history.

  4. Paul H. Lemmen says:

    Reblogged this on A Conservative Christian Man.

  5. Wonderful story of these brave men. That last image is very moving indeed.

  6. themofman says:

    Why did it take so long for the US government to recognize these men for what could be described as a low-altitude suicide mission?

    • Karen Evans says:

      Unfortunately, it can take years and even decades for recognition and monuments for the service and sacrifice of our veterans. The wheels of Congress move slowly and dedicated citizens and groups are always helpful in petitioning elected members on behalf of military heroism.

      Individual veterans may be awarded medals in the fields of war, others received in declining years of life and, sadly, those too often unacknowledged while still among us. It appears the honoring of a group may entail even greater effort from a grateful nation.

  7. gmroeder says:

    The first time I visited the memorial in Honolulu I broke out into tears. Seeing and reading a lot of those names and listening to our guide was too much. I thought I had lived through a horrible time with the Russian invasion of Germany towards the end of WWII THAT was honest WAR, – but this surprise attack on Pearl Harbor….that was not honest war. Reading this blog and seeing these photos of those brave men who must have known that the likelyhood of not surviving was almost sure…brings the feelings back to my first impressions many years ago. What a waste…and so much grief. Does it ever end?

    • Karen Evans says:

      I agree with your sentiments and often become poignant in thinking of the sacrifice of our veterans. Pearl Harbor was a horrific attack on those unable to defend. How courageous the men who willingly volunteered against the odds in retaliation for those sacrificed on December 7, 1941.

  8. Tammy Jo says:

    I agree with Karen Evans. These men were heroes. Thank you for sharing this story.

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