Doolittle Raiders honored during 74th anniversary at JBSA-Randolph

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stormy Archer
  • Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs

The World War II Doolittle Raiders were honored during a ceremony marking the 74th anniversary of their Tokyo raid April 18 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph.

On the same day, in 1942, Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle led a select team of 80 pilots, gunners, navigators and bombardiers as they flew 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers to execute a surprise attack over the islands of Japan in retaliation after the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

“What a historic event,” said Maj. Gen. James Hecker, 19th Air Force commander. “We’re here to celebrate the 74th anniversary of one of the most historic bombing missions we have ever had. It’s truly amazing what the 80 crewmembers did only four months after Pearl Harbor was attacked. They were able to take a B-25 that normally uses 3,000 feet to take off and they did it in 500 feet aboard an aircraft carrier. They risked their lives so we can do what we are doing today.”

Lt. Col. Dick Cole, copilot of Aircraft No. 1 with Doolittle and one of two remaining Raiders still alive, was in attendance and recalled his time flying with Doolittle.

“We were both there and we both knew what we needed to do,” said Cole. “Him more than me of course. I was just a brand new second lieutenant and at that time in the military, second lieutenants were to be seen and not heard; but we were all part of his team.”

Prior to the raid, the ships carrying the B-25s were spotted by a Japanese naval ship, forcing the Raiders to launch nearly 200 miles early, resulting in them arriving over Japan at the height of day with little cover.

The Doolittle Raiders were still able to hit their targets with complete surprise and out run interceptors.

After the raid, 15 of the 16 B-25s made it to China and one of the aircraft landed in Russia. Three of the Airmen were executed after being captured by the Japanese, one died of disease while in a prison camp, one died parachuting from his aircraft and two Airmen drowned while trying to ditch their aircraft.

“The Doolittle Raid has, over time, been misunderstood,” said Gary Boyd, Air Education and Training Command historian. “Originally, I think we were content with calling it a psychological victory. In reality it changed all of World War II in the Pacific because it proved to the Japanese how vulnerable they were to air attack; it changed their mindset and sense of self protection. After the attack they recalled aircraft back to Japan and they became obsessed with increasing the zone of protection for the home empire.”

The decision to pull resources back to protect the homeland led directly to U.S. success at the Battle of Midway, said Boyd.

“It was a tremendous victory at a time when we needed a victory of any kind,” said Boyd. “At the end of the day, they were successful at changing the dynamic of the war.”