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Friday, April 18, 2014

REMEMBERING THE DOOLITTLE RAID

BRYCE ON HISTORY

- 72 years ago, American flyers dropped bombs on Japan as retribution for Pearl Harbor.

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April 18th represents the anniversary of many key events in history; in 1906 it marked the destructive San Francisco earthquake and fire, Yankee Stadium opened in 1923 ("The House that Ruth Built"), in 1943 Japanese Admiral Yamamoto was shot down by American flyers over Bougainville, and in 1983 a suicide bomber destroyed the American embassy in Beirut, killing 63 people. To me though, April 18th primarily means one thing, the 1942 Doolittle Raid on Japan.

72 years ago today, Lieutenant Colonel James "Jimmy" Doolittle of the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF, the precursor to the U.S. Air Force), led an attack on industrial targets in Japan as retribution for the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, just over four months earlier. Considering the state of our military at the time, it is amazing America was able to pull together this response in such a short period of time. Make no mistake though, this was done more for rallying the spirit of America as opposed to making a strategic knockout punch.

My fascination with the raid began as a young man, when I purchased the book, "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," by Captain Ted W. Lawson (1943). This is the first book I purchased at my grammar school book fair. Like a lot of youths of the period, the early 1960's, I wrote a book report on it. In 1944, the book was followed by a movie of the same name, starring Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson.

From the book, I developed a fascination with the B-25 "Mitchell" representing the sixteen aircraft used in the raid. It remains my favorite medium bomber from that era. Interestingly, it was named after General Billy Mitchell, a hero of mine who was an early pioneer of "air power." As an aside, it was Mitchell who predicted the attack on Hawaii a full 17 years before it happened. Mitchell also foresaw the need for medium and heavy bombers.

I will not try to explain the story of the raid herein as it has already been well told in both print and film. Suffice it to say it was an imaginative and courageous effort to strike back at the Japanese war machine. The raiders were escorted to Japan aboard the USS Hornet, which they launched from when they got within range of Japan, a daring feat as bombers had never before flown off an aircraft carrier. The raiders carried out their bombing run on various targets in and around Tokyo, before making their escape to China (one group made it to the USSR where they were imprisoned for a year). Two groups were captured by the Japanese, with three men being tried for military crimes and executed, the others were imprisoned in a Japanese POW camp for over three years. A few perished as they tried to land in China, but most made their escape thanks to the Chinese. Because of this, the Japanese killed approximately 250,000 Chinese for assisting the Americans.

Of the 80 men participating in the raid, only four survive to date, one of which is approaching 99 years of age (Richard "Dick" Cole). Over the years, the raiders held many reunions. Following the war, the citizens of Tucson, Arizona made a presentation of 80 sterling goblets to the group so the raiders could toast each other, both living and passed. A bottle of cognac accompanies the goblets for the last two remaining raiders to open and enjoy. The raiders no longer hold reunions as they have become old and frail, and the goblets are now maintained at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

As an aside, there is now an effort underway to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the raiders before the last few pass away. For information, see "The Doolittle Tokyo Raiders." The group needs your support.

Following Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt was looking for a way to lift the morale of the American people. He also wanted to send a message to the Japanese people that they were not as invulnerable as their government would have them believe. Navy Captain Francis Low, the Assistant Chief of Staff for anti-submarine warfare, was credited with the idea for launching bombers off of aircraft carriers. The plan was developed and implemented by Colonel Doolittle, a well known and respected aviator prior to the war.

The mission was bold, imaginative, inspirational, and achieved its goals. The raid caused nominal material destruction on Japan, nothing like the extensive daylight and evening bombings of Europe. However, it achieved the psychological objectives Roosevelt was hoping for, such as lifting the spirits of Americans while planting the seeds of doubt in the Japanese.

I write about the Doolittle Raid for two reasons: as a history lesson for our youth, and to remind us that we could use such ingenuity and courage today.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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