Jimmy Doolittle's air raid over Tokyo restored U.S. morale

News-DemocratMay 27, 2014 

Q. On Memorial Day, you published a story about one of the survivors of Jimmy Doolittle's air raid over Tokyo honoring the general at his grave in Arlington National Cemetery. But while visiting the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum near Savannah, Ga., I thought I read that he had been reburied somewhere else.

-- Col. Robert H. Voss, of Swansea

A. I'm always reluctant to question an officer -- especially one of your caliber -- but, no, the legendary general has been buried next to Josephine, his wife and high school sweetheart, at Arlington since he died in 1993.

However, as we approach the 70th anniversary of D-Day next week, your question provides a golden opportunity to briefly remember the patriotic spark Doolittle gave the country with his daring mission in the spring of 1942.

Probably much as we felt after the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001, the nation was stunned after Japan's devastating raid on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. So, to lift spirits, President Roosevelt suggested two weeks later that Japan be bombed as soon as possible. Doolittle heartily agreed.

"The Japanese people had been told they were invulnerable," he wrote in his autobiography. "An attack on the Japanese homeland would cause confusion in the minds of the Japanese people and sow doubt about the reliability of their leaders. There was a second, and equally important, psychological reason for this attack ... Americans badly needed a morale boost."

So on April 18, 1942, Doolittle and 15 other B-25B bombers with five-man crews took off from the USS Hornet and headed toward Tokyo. They could not return to land on the carrier, so after dropping their 2,000-pound bomb loads, 15 flew on to China while one ended up in Russia.

All of the planes were lost, but only three men were reported lost during the raid and eight were later captured by the Japanese in China. (Some reports say the Japanese killed as many as 250,000 Chinese civilians while trying to find the survivors.) The surprise raid prompted the Japanese to bring its own carriers back to protect the homeland and led to their strategic blunder of attacking Midway Island six weeks later.

Some have written that Doolittle may have feared court-martial for losing all of his planes. Instead, he was given the medal of honor and was promoted to brigadier general. His citation read:

"With the apparent certainty of being forced to land in enemy territory or perish at sea, Colonel Doolittle personally led a squadron of Army bombers, manned by volunteer crews, in a high destructive raid on the Japanese mainland."

Doolittle, who started out as a flying instructor for the Army Signal Corps during World War I, retired in 1959, but was promoted to the rank of full general on the Air Force retired list in 1985. In late September 1993, he was buried next to his wife of 71 years in Section 7A, Grave 110, in Arlington as a lone B-25 Mitchell and 8th Air Force bombers flew over.

After a graveside service, Doolittle's great-grandson reportedly played "Taps" flawlessly. To see pictures of the markers, go to www.findagrave.com and search for his name. Readers also might want to watch (or rewatch) "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," which the raid survivors found accurate enough to allow their names to be used in the film.

While we're on the subject of "the greatest generation," it seems appropriate to salute your own distinguished flying record, Col. Voss. For those unfamiliar, Voss was a member of the 8th Air Force, flying 35 missions over enemy territory in Europe during World War II and winning honors too numerous to list. He even named his B-17 Flying Fortress Dorothy V after his wife.

After the war, he served two four-year assignments at Air Force headquarters, planning documents and briefing the Air Force's top brass. Then, until he retired in 1974, he served around the world throughout the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.

To read more about his contributions -- including two video interviews -- see the page dedicated to Voss on the O'Fallon Township High School's Veterans History Project at veterans.othstoday.com/colonel-robert-voss. And, thanks.

Today's trivia

Who is usually credited for originating the phrase "You can't tell the players without a scorecard"?

Answer to Tuesday's trivia: On May 25, 1866, Laura Foster mounted her horse, Belle, and took off to elope with her fiance, Tom Dula. Her body was later found in a shallow grave, stabbed once in the chest. Two years later, Dula was hanged for the murder, although some still think it may have been her jealous cousin, Ann Melton, a former girlfriend who was married but still in love with Dula. Whoever the real murderer was, we remember Foster every time we hear or sing "Hang down your head, Tom Dooley (the local pronunciation of Dula); poor boy, you're bound to die," an old North Carolina folk song that commemorates the killing. It turned into a 1958 No. 1 hit for the Kingston Trio and a 1959 TV movie for 22-year-old Michael Landon.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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