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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Never Forget

I hope everyone has a simply fine holiday weekend. Let's not forget the reason we are having this holiday. It is MEMORIAL day. It is the day when we remember our servicemen and women who have fought, sacrificed, and sometimes died so we can enjoy our freedom. If it were not for these people we would likely be having no celebration at all.

I am a fanatical history buff and I enjoy looking back in amazement at events which have shaped this country, particularly when this country had to fight to preserve freedom and sometimes fight for our very existence. I think about the sacrifices made during our revolution, the War of 1812, the Mexican/American War and the great last stand at the Alamo, the horror of our Civil War, and all the horrible conflicts of the 20th century.

There are so many specific things I could write about, but one of my favorite stories in history is that of Doolittle's Raid. I guess maybe it's because I'm a pilot. The period of time between December of 1941 and June 1942 was a particularly dark time in history for this country. The Japanese had decimated our fleet at Pearl Harbor. We lost our bases on Guam and Wake Island. The Philippines came under attack and finally fell in May of 1942. Our Chinese ally had been at war already for years and the Japanese continued expansion there. Burma, the East Indes, the Solomon Islands, Singapore, Bali, Timor, were all invaded. The Japanese had begun air strikes on northern Australia, and were preparing to invade there. Even the west coast of the United States was threatened. These were dark days indeed for us and the Japanese seemed invincible. I remember my mother and father talking about this. There was a feeling among many that all was lost.

The feeling of Japanese invincibility all changed on August 18, 1942 when Colonel James "Jimmy" Doolittle would amass a rag-tag collection of air crews and mount his historic attack on the Japanese homeland. The problem was that Japan was very far away, almost isolated, and pretty much invulnerable to attack. We had no bomber with the range, and no bases close enough from which to mount air strikes.

The plan was to mount a raid with North American B-25 medium bombers. The B-25 certainly could not reach Japan from any airbase. In December 1941, a navy captain named Frances Low actually came up with the idea of launching B-25's from the deck of an aircraft carrier, and the plan was implemented by Colonel Doolittle and his airmen. Training began in February 1942. All the crews were volunteers and they were told they were volunteering for an "extremely hazardous" mission, but no details were given.

The planes and crews were eventually loaded aboard the carrier USS Hornet and on April 2, 1942, the Hornet departed Alameda, CA. in route for Japanese waters. The initial plan was to launch the aircraft when the Hornet was a little less than 500 miles from Japan. The B-25's would complete their bomb runs and make hopefully safe landings at airfields in China. Unfortunately, the task force was spotted by a Japanese picket boat about 650 miles from Japan. The decision was made to launch the planes about 10 hours earlier than expected.

It became immediately clear to Colonel Doolittle and his men that they would not be making a safe landing. The B-25's would all run out of fuel before a safe haven could be found. In spite of this and knowing this could very well be a suicide mission, they launched anyway.

The Japanese were surprised and all of the aircraft except one was able to deliver bombs to target. No aircraft were shot down over Japan.

Without the help of an unexpected tail wind, all of the aircraft would have likely had to ditch in the ocean and the mission could very well have been completely suicidal. As it was, all 16 aircraft were lost but the crews of 14 of those aircraft, mainly due to the help of the Chinese, returned in their entirety to allied control. 11 crewmen were either killed or captured. It is estimated that the Japanese slaughtered at least 250,000 Chinese while looking for Doolottle's Raiders.

The raid caused very little actual damaged, but the Japanese were shaken. Their island was not impregnable as once thought. American morale soared. The Japanese indeed could be beaten. With American action in the Coral Sea in May of 1942 and with the huge American victory at Midway the next month, the tide of the war turned against Japan forever.


1 comment:

  1. Posting a link on my Memorial Day article.


    Debbie Hamilton
    Right Truth