Seventy-five years ago 80 very brave Americans, led by Army Air Corps Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, brought the nation a badly needed morale boost. The War in the Pacific was going badly as defeat followed defeat. Navy Captain Francis Low hit upon a plan to send a message, not only to the American public, but also to Japan, that the United States was not beaten and that it would strike back and prevail.
16 Mitchell B-25B bombers were placed on the carrier USS Hornet. In great secrecy the Hornet and its escorts steamed to within 650 nautical miles of Japan when the force was discovered by a Japanese picket boat which was sunk by gunfire from the USS Nashville. Fearing discovery the Doolittle force launched immediately, some 10 hours earlier than planned, and 170 nautical miles further from Japan.
The raiders reached the Japanese Home Islands at around noon. They had split up into groups ranging from two to four planes and struck targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka. The raiders then planned to fly their planes into Nationalist controlled China and make their way back to the US. Miraculously 69 of the raiders did just that. Three of the raiders died and eight were captured.
Of the captured raiders, three were executed by the Japanese on October 15, 1942 following a show trial.
The remaining five POWs were placed on starvation rations, with one of them dying prior to liberation by the Allied forces at the end of the War. Jacob DeShazer, one of the POWs, came back to Japan as a missionary in 1948 and worked there for 30 years spreading the Gospel.
The news of the raid electrified the American public. When FDR was asked where the raid originated he playfully said “Shangri-La!”, the fictional kingdom in the then popular novel Lost Horizons. The Navy went on to name one of its carriers Shangri-La.
Colonel Doolittle rose to the rank of Lieutenant General during the War and was awarded the Medal of Honor in tribute to the heroism he amply displayed in leading the raid. The raiders remained a close-knit unit after the War, holding annual reunions with this year being the last. Only one of these men, who gave America hope in victory so long ago, is still with us, 101 year old Richard Cole, a Lieutenant during the raid who would later rise in rank to Lieutenant Colonel, who flew in the lead bomber as Colonel Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot . May we have such men in the future in our time of need.