77 years ago, on Saturday, April 18, 1942 to be exact, on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV 8), eighty young, courageous, and thoroughly trained men got into sixteen new and specially modified B-25B twin-engine bombers, launched themselves from a pitching deck caused by heavy waves in a storm-tossed sea hundreds of miles off the coast of Japan (farther away than they had planned to launch), and flew into the annals of legend.
I’ve written previously in the old print version of The Times Examiner about portions of this story, which is swiftly fading into the mists of forgotten American history, as all but one of these young and daring Raiders have taken their final flight into eternity. As of the date of this article, only one Doolittle Raider, Lt. Col. Richard Cole, of Texas, still survives, having turned 103 last September 7th. Cole was Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot on Crew #1 as it flew into history from the deck of the Hornet that stormy day. The eighty “DOOLITTLE RAIDERS” who comprised this “special fraternity” of bravery had eighty different stories, some quite ordinary, but all of them inspiring. Thirteen of them, after having been rescued by Chinese patriots and repatriated back to the U.S., were killed in action later in the war. Four of them became P.O.W.’s of the Germans in occupied Europe. Some had long and inspiring lives, like Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, who was a true hero of aviation long before WW11 began. Three were later executed as war criminals by the Japanese in Tokyo, after a mock trial, and one later died from barbarous treatment and starvation in a Japanese prison in occupied China.
When an appendicitis attack grounded the co-pilot originally scheduled to fly beside Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, 26-year-old Lt. Richard Cole was selected to serve in Crew #1 as Doolittle’s co-pilot. At
his 103rd birthday celebration in Comfort, Texas last Sept. 7th, along with his friends, family members, and airmen from Joint Base San Antonio, two “toasts” were made by all: One was to honor the other 79 Doolittle Airmen who had already passed into their places of Eternal Honor granted them by their countrymen, and the second was to Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole in celebration of his extraordinary life. This event’s co-coordinator, retired Col. Kevin Smith, remarked: “Dick Cole has done so much for our country. He’s a hero in every sense of the word. Ever since his retirement they have continued the tradition of paying tribute to those who died on the mission and those who have since passed….” Symbolizing a deeply rooted legacy among the Doolittle survivors which has continued since the 1950’s, during the ceremony the air base conducted a “fly-over tribute” while Lt. Col. Cole stood at attention, surely remembering all of his Doolittle comrades who made history with him, and reflecting upon his long and honorable life. As another co-coordinator of this event, retired Col. Joe Jones, remarked: “Richard Cole is such a humble man. At all of the celebrations like this they always recognize the other Raiders. (Cole) knows he is one of 80, not just the one. That’s something he’s always carried with him.”
Two of these Raiders—Lt. Horace Crouch, and Lt. William Farrow, were from South Carolina. All of them did much of their training in and around Columbia, South Carolina and the old Eglin Field in Florida, unaware of what they were training for, but having been assured by Doolittle that it would be “extremely dangerous”. Americans were totally shocked by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941. However, once that shock wore off and anger set in, the American military began to devise plans to retaliate against the Japanese aggressors, even if it was only symbolic at first. The original idea of using land based bombers to attack the enemy capital, Tokyo, originated with Francis Low, a Submarine Officer in the U.S. Navy who was on the staff of Admiral Ernest King. They took the idea to Army General Henry “Hap” Arnold, who endorsed the idea. It was Gen. Arnold who assigned Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle the task of planning and organizing the retaliatory raid, and training all of the volunteer airmen. (Doolittle originally was not supposed to participate in the raid on Japan, but convinced his superiors to allow him to lead it, which they did.) Within a few weeks, Doolittle presented his superiors with his quite unorthodox, but highly daring, plan to load an aircraft carrier with the new and untested B-25B bombers, get it as close to Japan as possible, and strike several Japanese cities, doing as much damage to only military targets as possible.
Their top-secret training began as soon as all of the volunteer crews were selected. The main problem was how to get a medium bomber, a B-25B, which normally required 1200 to 1400 feet to takeoff, to lift off of an aircraft carrier deck in about 450 feet. Some doubted that it was possible, but by specially modifying the bombers, the impossible was accomplished. After months of training, these 80 heroes flew to San Francisco, where they and their B-25’s were loaded aboard the USS Hornet, an almost new carrier. On April 2, 1942, along with a task force of USS Enterprise, three cruisers, and a screen of destroyers, all commanded by the legendary Admiral William “Bull” Halsey, USS Hornet sailed off into what was hoped would be America’s first retaliatory response to Japanese aggression.
Unfortunately, the American force was spotted around 700 miles off the coast of Japan, forcing Doolittle and the Captain of USS Hornet to order the launch of the sixteen B-25’s earlier and farther away from Japan than they had planned. As those who know American history recall, the April 18, 1942 raid upon five Japanese cities was a success. Some historians have claimed it was merely a “pin prick” against Japan, and did little damage. But it did extensive damage, especially to Tokyo, caused the Japanese government to “lose face” before their people, who had been assured that Japan was invulnerable to air attack, caused the enemy to pull back some ground and air forces from the Pacific to protect their homeland (forces which would have been used against Americans and our Allies), AND caused Admiral Yamamoto to incorrectly assume that the attack had come from Midway Island, thus forcing him to concentrate much of his naval force against that American island base which resulted in most of his warships being destroyed several months later during the Battle of Midway, America’s first great victory against Japan. It was an impressive win for the United States, and did much to improve the morale of Americans.
Our successful and daring attack was not without great cost. All of our bombers except one ran out of fuel over occupied China (one diverted to and landed in Siberia in the Soviet Union), and crashed after most of the crews had bailed out. One Raider, Corporal Leland Faktor of Louisiana, who was killed upon bailing out, was later found by Chinese civilians, and his burial service in China was conducted by Rev. John Birch, an American missionary to China. Two men, Sgt. Don Fitzmaurice of Nebraska, and Sgt. William Dieter of Louisiana, were drowned after crash landing in the ocean off the coast of China.
Eight Raiders were soon captured by the Japanese invaders in occupied China. Three of them—Lt. Dean Hallmark of Texas, Lt. William Farrow of South Carolina, and Sgt. Harold Spatz of Kansas, were taken to Japan, given a mock trial, never informed of the charges against them, and were executed by firing squad in Japan on Oct. 15, 1942. One, Lt. Robert Meder of Ohio, died of malnutrition and beriberi in a Japanese prison in occupied China. Four Raiders survived 40 months in various Japanese prisons in China, mostly held in solitary confinement. They were Lt. Chase Nielson of Utah, Lt. Robert Hite of Tennessee, Lt. George Barr of New York, and Cpl. Jacob DeShazer of Oregon (who after his release from captivity at the end of the war, became a Christian missionary TO the Japanese people in Japan).
Sadly, the GREATEST vengeance perpetrated by the Japanese was against Chinese civilians, virtually none of whom had been informed about the raid on Japan and the almost certain retribution that the occupying Japanese would exact upon them, especially those who valiantly and bravely aided the surviving Doolittle Raiders when they were forced to bail out after their bombers’ fuel was gone. The bravery exhibited by Chinese patriots and guerillas in rescuing the Doolittle Raiders, and the generosity shown by ordinary Chinese people in sharing their food, their homes, their medical care, and their skill and daring in smuggling the Americans to safety in Free China, soon triggered one of the most horrifying and brutal retaliations the world had ever witnessed.
As they demonstrated all throughout the 1930’s and 1940’s, the Japanese military were capable of great barbarity and inhumanity, and soon exhibited their propensity for brutality in their retaliation against the Chinese population that had been proved, or merely suspected, to have aided the Doolittle Raiders who had bombed Japanese cities. It was reliably estimated that around A QUARTER-MILLION Chinese men, women, and children were massacred by the Japanese military in retaliation for having helped the American Raiders. So brutal were the Japanese that this massacre of innocent Chinese at this time was compared to the savage and brutal Rape of Nanking of 1937-38, carried out by the invading Japanese military.
I cannot even write about the atrocities and barbarism perpetrated upon the Chinese population by their Japanese conquerors in retaliation for a relatively few of them having helped the brave Doolittle Raiders. After 77 years, only a few survivors of this brutal time still live, and still remember. China is now our enemy in more ways than we know, and Japan is our ally. Lt. Col. Richard Cole, one of those brave Raiders, still survives at age 103, still recounting the true history of that almost legendary mission, still reminding his countrymen that there are times when one’s life must be “put on the line”—when the “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”. For one brief shining time in America, the daring accomplishments of those eighty brave Doolittle Raiders who began to bring “justice” upon a brutal enemy, united all of our people in the pride of a victory well won. Though I was just a child, I remember some of the unity and spirit that adult Americans had during those difficult days, and it got us through some truly dark times. As a nation we need that spirit and that unity today. We need it badly!