Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Celebrate 64th Anniversary
By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio, April 19, 2006 Eight of the surviving 16 "Doolittle Tokyo Raiders" gathered at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force here yesterday for their 64th annual reunion and to remember those who have gone before them.
The surviving members of the famed Doolittle Raiders listening in on the dedication ceremony at the Doolittle Raider Memorial at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The event commemorated the raid's 64th anniversary April 18. Photo by William D. Moss
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"We're gathered to remember a historic event that changed the hearts of the American people," Lloyd Bryant, a Dayton, Ohio, radio announcer and former U.S. Air Force officer, said at the memorial ceremony. "We are here to pay tribute to those brave men, whose courageous action gave Americans their first glimpse of victory during the darkest days of World War II."
The Doolittle Raiders were a group of 80 volunteer airmen from the U.S. Army Air Forces who on April 18, 1942, flew 16 B-25 Mitchell airplanes from the deck of the USS Hornet on a daring mission to bomb Japan. Their name is derived from the man who led the air raid, Army Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle.
The raiders' objective was to bomb multiple Japanese cities and then land at an airstrip in China for refueling. Unfortunately, a Japanese patrol boat spotted the Hornet, forcing the Americans to launch the attack hundreds of miles before the intended launch point. After dropping their payloads, the raiders continued on toward China, but a combination of bad weather and low fuel forced the crewmembers to either bail out or crash land in a Japanese-occupied portion of China. One plane landed safely in Russia, where its crew was interned.
"We were on empty and flew about 500 miles inside the coast of China before we ran out of fuel and had to bail out in Japanese-occupied territory," co-pilot retired Lt. Col. Bob Hite said. The Japanese captured Hite along with his crew. He was held as a prisoner of war until Japan surrendered in August 1945.
The raid achieved little in terms of damage inflicted on Japan, but was a huge morale booster to the American people, coming just four months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Navigator retired Lt. Col. Chase Nielson, who also was held as a prisoner of war, said he hoped the actions of the Doolittle Raiders would always serve as an inspiration to all Americans. "I learned a few lessons, especially how to appreciate mankind, our democracy and the beautiful wonderful world we live in," he said. "I hope others do too."
Nielson said the greatest satisfaction he got from participating in the raid was the fact that he helped defend the ideals of the United States. "We are all honored that we had a part in protecting the freedoms and the democracy that we call the United States," Nielson said. "There isn't a better place in the world to live, believe me."
The surviving members of the raid cite the leadership of Jimmy Doolittle as the biggest factor in enabling them to undertake their perilous mission. "We had a great leader in Jimmy Doolittle," Tom Griffin, who was a 25-year-old lieutenant at the time of the raid, said. "He was the kind of leader who made us believe we could do this job."
"We all felt that Jimmy Doolittle was No. 1," Hite added. "He had it all -- intelligence, bravery and great leadership qualities."
Also attending the reunion was Tung Sheng Liu, a Chinese citizen who at age 24 helped one of the Doolittle crews escape the clutches of the Japanese. Liu, who spoke some English at the time, acted as a translator between the raiders and other sympathetic Chinese citizens. After some intense planning and daring maneuvering, Liu and his cohorts delivered the crew safely to Chungking, a city in southwestern China that was not occupied by Japan.
"It took us 10 days to travel a short distance, because it was occupied territory. Japanese units constantly patrolled," Liu said. "Then we traveled two more days by bus, eventually making it to Chunking."
In 1946, Liu moved to Minneapolis to attend graduate school and was stunned two years later when he learned that the Doolittle reunion was scheduled to be held there. "I read this in the paper and went to join them," he said. "They welcomed me as an honorary raider. I've been coming to the reunion ever since."
The bond among the Doolittle Raiders has remained tight over the years. "They're a great bunch of guys. We all know each other's children and grandchildren," Griffin said. "We're like a big family."
"This is a pretty fine group of guys," Hite said. "I don't know anybody better."
The first 10 Doolittle Raiders reunions were attended by the crewmembers only and, Griffin said, were somewhat raucous affairs. But when their wives began attending, things began to calm down a bit, he said. "From then on, the whole tenor of the reunions changed," Griffin said. "We calmed down and got to bed like civilized people. But the first 10 were some pretty wild reunions."
Other Doolittle Raiders in attendance were Bill Bower, Ed Horton, Frank Kappeler, Dick Cole and David Thatcher.