The USS Hornet‘s radio operator intercepted a message in Japanese at 07:45; its origins were close. Just earlier, SBD Dauntless aircraft that had launched off the USS Enterprise had spotted a small Japanese fishing vessel, and then later flew over the Enterprise’s deck, dropping a message, causing Vice Admiral William F. Halsey to immediately change course. At 07:38, another patrol vessel was spotted, so with the radio interception and sightings, the hand was dealt. Halsey had no option; he ordered the USS Nashville to sink the vessel, and then flashed a message to the Hornet: LAUNCH PLANES X TO COL DOOLITTLE AND GALLANT COMMAND GOOD LUCK AND GOD BLESS YOU.
The Doolittle Raid on Japan, April 18, 1942, was a high-risk, all-volunteer, first- and last-time experiment. Not designed so much as a major strategic strike, the goal, which was accomplished, was to demonstrate to the Japanese people they weren’t untouchable. Eighty men led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle from the U.S. Army Air Force launched in 16 B-25B Mitchells from the deck of the Hornet that morning. Their story is one of the great accounts of patriotism, youth and determination that was celebrated on April 18, 2012, in Dayton, Ohio, at the 70th Doolittle Raiders Reunion.
Of the 80 volunteers who made up the Doolittle Raiders in 1942, four of the five living attended the celebration: Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, co-pilot of B-25 #1 (he was Doolittle’s co-pilot); Maj. Thomas C. Griffin, navigator on B-25 #9; Lt. Col. Edward J. Saylor, engineer-gunner B-25 #15; and Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher, engineer-gunner B-25 #7. All these heroes, now in their 90s, are an inspiration, and you could always tell when they were present with the round of applause and the large crowds straining to tell them thanks for their service!
|The AZ CAF crew with pilot Spike McLane at the helm check out the right engine the night before the flight of Maid In The Shade. Grimes was a constant buzz as crews gave their B-25s some TLC, so they would be ready to please the crowds at the memorial.|
While the formal Raiders Reunion was at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, it started informally at Grimes Field, Urbana Municipal Airport, on Saturday the 14th, as the B-25s for the memorial flyover on the 18th started to come in (some not making it in until Monday due to weather). Twenty B-25s from around the country flew in to participate in the ceremonies.
The Texas Flying Legends Museum also brought in their A6M Zero, P-51D Mustang Dakota Kid, Aleutian Tiger P-40 Warhawk and FG-1D Corsair. The roar of engines could be heard to the crowd’s delight Saturday through Monday, as B-25 flights for the public were conducted, and the Texas Flying Legends put on a show one evening. Estimates of 10,000 folks came to Grimes to celebrate the Raiders and see the largest collection of B-25s since WWII.
On Tuesday morning, a rare sound rattled the city of Urbana as 20 B-25s started turn over at 06:40 for the scheduled 07:00 launch to Wright-Patterson AFB. Larry Kelly of Panchito organized The Gathering of B-25s to Urbana and led the brief the night before the flight. At the beginning of the brief, we were honored to have Navy Chief Petty Officer Allen Josey, an electrician on the Hornet the day the Raiders launched for Japan, recount his stories to us. It was a great way to put into perspective the mission over the next couple of days. It can’t be stated enough just how dedicated the B-25 flight crews were in order to attend the event that day. Some flew for 12 hours through very nasty weather and some, like Grumpy III, didn’t arrive until late Monday night.
The boys of the Texas Legends Flying Museum pose in front of their B-25, Betty’s Dream. The nose art of Betty’s Dream was a huge crowd draw, keeping the Texas gang talking well into the evening.
I was incredibly fortunate to make the flight this morning in the nose of Arizona CAF B-25J Maid In The Shade. It cranked at 06:53 and taxied into position for takeoff. At 90-second intervals, the 20 B-25s roared out of Grimes and flew over to Wright-Patterson, where they landed and parked wing tip to wing tip, staging for the massive group portrait of aircraft and crews. The gates opened at 10:00, and the crowds flooded in. It was great to see young and old stroll among the B-25s, asking questions, examining the planes and buying t-shirts from all the crews. At 17:00, the four Raiders arrived and went down the line of B-25s big-eyed, looking at the planes they flew 70 years ago over Japan and thanking the air crews for flying them in for the ceremony. Once the crowds had left for the day, the B-25s were turned over, taxied to the end of the runway and parked like they were on the morning of April 18, 1942, on the deck of the Hornet.
It was a gorgeous morning on the 18th, quite the opposite of that morning 70 years ago on the deck of the Hornet. At 12:20, Panchito was the first to take off from Wright-Patterson, and then one by one, in the same order they launched from Grimes the night before, the 20 B-25s took to the air to start forming up for the flyover. The fences surrounding the field were packed with onlookers taking in the sights and sounds of the launch. Michael Polly of Pacific Princess said that while forming up over Dayton, he could see people coming out of office buildings, getting out of cars and looking up. It was simply an amazing sight!
The 20 B-25s flew from Grimes to Wright-Patterson, and after landing and staging, taxied to the display area to get ready for the crowds. Even though there was a gathering at Grimes, there was a whole new energy and socializing once all the planes were in line on the strip at Wright-Patterson. It’s doubtful we’ll see these many B-25s gathered in one place again. At exactly 13:00, the B-25s, in flights of four, winged over the memorial to the delight of the crowd.
At exactly 13:00, the wave of B-25s started to fly over the memorial site where the four Raiders watched. In echelons of four, the B-25s roared overhead in the blue backdrop, white-cloud dotted skies. There was hardly a dry eye on the field as the sound of the flight thumped in everyone’s chest. As the flight went overhead, you could see the aircraft turn clockwise and form up for their second pass. In an even tighter formation, the B-25s came back over. As the last echelon passed overhead, we saw a flight of four continue on around clockwise over the field. A few minutes later, Panchito, Betty’s Dream, Pacific Princess and Miss Hap performed a missing-man formation, with Pacific Princess pulling up and out of the formation. (Sixteen of the B-25s returned to Grimes field after the flyover at Wright-Patterson, four flew back home.)
This was the start of the ceremonies, which continued on at the memorial directly afterward and didn’t end until Friday. During that time, the Raiders were at various luncheons, banquets, autographing sessions and functions. It was great to see these gentlemen be honored by thousands of people! A very stirring moment was Thursday morning, when the Raiders came to Grimes for a breakfast to say thanks to the B-25 aircrews for all they did to make the celebration and flyover happen. Cole, Thatcher and Saylor attended, talking with crew members and then posing with each crew for portraits. You’ve never seen so many smiles or heard as many laughs as stories were exchanged among all.
The AZ CAF crew of Maid In The Shade revel in taxiing at o’dark thirty at Grimes on the way to Wright-Patterson. The view out the cockpit of 18 B-25s in front of us
is one I’ll never forget.
|Raiders (left to right) Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, Maj. Thomas Griffin, Sgt. Dave Thatcher and Lt .Col. Dick Cole are center stage as the Doolittle Raid is celebrated at the memorial.|
On Thursday morning, the Doolittle Raiders said thanks to all the crews of the B-25s at a breakfast at Grimes. Here they are with the crew of Pacific Princess.
Executive Suite taxis down the ramp at Grimes, with its crew waving at the fans standing at the fence to watch the amazing sight not seen for decades.
When asked to volunteer for a high-risk mission, more than 80 men put their life on the line. Not until they were on the Hornet steaming to sea did they know that they would be taking the war to Japan. Their dedication was honored by that of the 20 B-25 crews who journeyed to Dayton to fly for only a few minutes overhead. But in those minutes, they said a lifetime of thanks from a country forever grateful for this sense of duty 70 years ago, when they launched off the pitching deck of a carrier. The Doolittle Raider Reunion has occurred many times in the years past, and at the closing of the 70th, it was announced there will be another one in 2013 in Florida. I hope all five are there to hear the thanks once again for what they did for this nation!
|B-25J Panchito—Mardela Springs, Md.
B-25J Pacific Princess—Chino, Calif.
B-25A Miss Hap—Farmingdale, N.Y.
B-25J Russian To Get Ya—San Antonio, Texas
B-25J Betty’s Dream—Houston, Texas
B-25D Grumpy III—Mukilteo, Wash.
B-25J Axis Nightmare—Batavia, Ohio
B-25D Yankee Warrior—Ypsilanti, Mich.
B-25J Executive Sweet—Ventura, Calif.
B-25J Special Delivery—Galveston, Texas
|B-25J Champaign Gal—Urbana, Ohio
B-25H Barbie III—Marathon, Fla.
B-25J Tondelayo—Stow, Mass.
B-25J Take Off Time—Philadelphia, Pa.
B-25J Old Glory—Coulterville, Calif.
B-25J Miss Mitchell—Baxter, Minn.
B-25J Show Me—St. Louis, Mo.
B-25J Yellow Rose—Midland, Texas
B-25J Maid in the Shade—Mesa, Ariz
B-25J/PBJ-1J Devil Dog—Midland, Texas