MY WORD: Remembering Doolittle's raid on Tokyo

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By Noble Roberts

I am one of a number of active members in the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1179 and in Governor Isaac Shelby Sons of the American Revolution in Shelbyville.

Two fellow World War II veterans are Ed Myles and Roy Hardesty. Ed flew on a B24 on bombing missions over Germany, and Roy flew on a B25 making bombing flights on Japanese positions in China. Both were gunners on their planes.

Roy is the father of Shelbyville Mayor Tom Hardesty. He recalls some of the Doolittle Raiders who became crewmembers of his B25 bomber group making bombing raids on Japanese positions in China.

Recently 98-year-old retired Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole was inducted into the Society of the Sons of the American Revolution at the national headquarters in Louisville.

Cole, then 27 years old, served in the Army Air Force during World War II as the co-pilot of Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle on a B25 bomber in the raid over Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan, on April 18, 1942. This bombing boosted morale in the United States after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7,1941.

The operation was planned and led by Doolittle. Sixteen B25 Mitchell Air Force bombers were launched from U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Hornet some 350 miles east of Japan. Each plane had five crewmen: pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier, and engineer/gunner. A number of U.S. Navy ships, with approximately 10,000 personnel, escorted the Hornet with the 16 B25 bombers and 80 crewmen toward their planned launching site.

While en route, the convoy was discovered by a Japanese picket boat, and its position was sent to the Japanese Navy. The bombers were launched from the Hornet immediately, 12 hours earlier than planned. Consequently the planes had a limited amount of fuel, enough to carry out their raid but too little to reach their safe recovery site in North China.

After bombs and incendiaries were dropped on Tokyo and Yokohama, all but one of the 16 bombers ran out of fuel. One crashed into the sea with all men on board, and 15 of the B25's crashed in China and one in the Soviet Union.

Some 75 U.S. airmen parachuted over China in Japanese-held territory. Eight of the crewmen were captured by the Japanese Army, which had invaded China. Three of the Americans were executed, and five were imprisoned by the Japanese.

Doolittle and his crew were rescued by friendly Chinese citizens and smuggled downriver to another Chinese province. Fundamentalist Baptist missionary John Birch, doing missionary work in that part of China, met them and enabled them to travel to a friendly territory in China.

Today only four of the 80 Doolittle raiders are alive, including Lt. Col. Richard Cole.


Noble Roberts lives in Shelbyville.