It was 75 years ago this week that Colonel “Jimmy” Doolittle and his Raiders carried out a successful operation against the Japanese just 4 months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. To commemorate the bravery of Doolittle’s Raiders, there was an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., with several WWII vets present and ready to lay commemorative wreaths this week at the ceremony.
The Doolittle Raid was one of the most interesting of WWII because it indirectly proved the validity of symbolism and the power of psychological warfare. The raid itself did not do that much physical damage to Japan, even though Tokyo was in fact bombed. However, it provided Americans with a greatly needed boost in morale, and exposed the fact that the Japanese were indeed vulnerable to air strikes. This proved to be their undoing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It also inspired the Japanese to attack Midway, which led to their demise at sea.
The Raiders were hailed as heroes, which indeed they were. The story was the stuff of legends due to them having to leave out early because the Japanese found out they were coming, running out of fuel and having to abandon their planes over China after they delivered their payload, and the fact that some were captured and executed. One plane landed in Russia, and the crew was detained there for a year. Doolittle’s Raid has been the subject of several books and movies, and Doolittle’s memoires are considered a must read for any serious student of the Pacific Theatre in WWII. The newsreels that ran in movie houses and reported the raid during the spring of ‘42 were greeted with cheers all across America.
Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, who planned and commanded the operation, was sure that he would end up being court-martialed due to the fact that the planes were all lost. To his surprise, he was promoted up two slots from Colonel to Brigadier General, and received the Medal of Honor. Every Raider received the Distinguished Flying Cross, and those who died received the Purple Heart. Two received Silver Stars. One who had been held captive by the Japanese became a missionary and returned to Japan to serve for three decades. Many returned from the Raid and served with other units during the war, and some lost their lives in the Mediterranean Theatre.
For their part, the Japanese scoured the coast of China in order to make sure it could never be used again for an air attack. They also used germ warfare and committed brutal atrocities. It is estimated that at least 10,000 Chinese civilians were killed by the Japanese during the post-Doolittle campaign known as Zhejiang-Jiangxi. It is said that if any of the Chinese were found possessing anything that was American they were automatically killed, and many others were tortured.
The Doolittle Raiders have all passed on, but at the Honor Flight Ceremony this past Monday, the WWII Vets who were serving 75 years ago reminded us of their bravery. God bless the Raiders, and God bless those who make Honor Flights possible.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner