Doolittle's Raiders

Doolittle's Raiders

As a response to the merciless attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States outlined an offensive strike on Japan. Comprised of 80 men and led by Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, this attack would be known to history as “Doolittle’s Raid.” The raid sought to cripple the Japanese war effort and set a precedent that the United States was indeed a world power, and not one to be reckoned with.

Retaliatory by nature, the attack was an emotional response as well as one that demonstrated the reach of the United States military. Because the raid was top secret, its participants did not know what they had volunteered for. All they knew was that they were volunteering for a “dangerous secret mission.” Captain Ski York acknowledged that he “was fairly well convinced that none of us would come out of this thing alive. I was surprised that with such a conviction, my excitement and nervousness was replaced by a deep, and unusual for me, calm.”

The men that volunteered for this mission knew that they would most likely be sacrificing themselves for their country. Personal sacrifice obviously dictated no objection. American nationalism at the time was very high, and one would do almost anything in the name of the United States of America.

The mission itself was dangerous enough as planned, but like any great story in history, things did not unfold the way they were intended to. The original plan was to take out several manufacturing plants that were crucial to Japan’s military authority. However, about 600 miles from Japan’s mainland, the men onboard the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, spotted a small boat bearing Japan’s colors. General Doolittle, who was concerned that the ship might warn Japan of their position, ordered the sixteen modified B-25 bombers to depart for Japan – knowing that they did not carry enough fuel to make it to their rendezvous point from their current location. After the successful air strike, most navigated toward China. Seven men did not make it out alive.

Four years after the raid, on Doolittle’s birthday in December of 1946, the survivors held their first gathering in honor of their fallen brothers. In 1959, the city of Tucson, AZ donated eighty silver goblets, each bearing the name of a Raider. At each reunion the gathered men toast bourbon and then overturn the goblets of those who have passed away. This annual tradition has been extended to the present day.

On November 9th, 2013, the four remaining Raiders will meet for the 67th and final reunion due to health conditions. Although this will mark the end of the goblet tradition, the legacy of Doolittle’s Raiders, and the service, bravery, and sacrifice these men made will never be forgotten.

Cheers to our American heroes.

Note: This article is displaying as it appeared in Volume 13 of our PlaneSense: Informational Quarterly newsletter.
Photo courtesy of US Air Force Photos

Click here to return to the index of articles.