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Doolittle Tokyo Raiders: Anniversary event draws crowd to honor heroes

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kenna Jackson
  • Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs
It was April 18, 1942, and the United States was embroiled in World War II following the unsuspected attack on Pearl Harbor and the Imperial Japanese forces had rapidly extended their reach across the Pacific.

When called upon, 80 men volunteered for a "top secret" mission blindly - a mission that had never been accomplished before; one that would later prove to the Japanese high command that their home islands were not untouchable to the Americans and would cause them to go on the defense.

Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph and community members recognized and honored the men from this daring mission, called the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, during a 72nd anniversary event that drew a packed house at the JBSA-Randolph Parr Club.

"These men taught us nothing is insurmountable," Gary Boyd, Air Education and Training Command historian, said. "In our bleakest moment we can always find a way out,"

Retired Maj. Gen. Mike Skinner, guest speaker, agreed with Boyd, adding, "My dad was a B-25 pilot, so to be here as a part of something bigger than me fills me with pride."

The ceremony was attended by one of the four living Doolittle Tokyo Raiders: retired Lt. Col. Richard "Dick" Cole, the copilot of Aircraft No. 1.

Cole was born in Dayton, Ohio, home of the Wright Brothers, in September 1915. As if drawing from the Wright brothers' fascination with flight, Cole was anxious to enlist in the Army Air Corps as soon as possible. After two years of college, which was the requisite to qualify for pilot training, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in November 1940 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in November 1941. In February 1942, he volunteered with the other members of his squadron.

"It was a time when we needed to do something, our country was in danger," Cole said. "We did what needed to be done."

Family members of retired Lt. Col. James Parker Jr., co-pilot of Aircraft No. 9, were also in attendance.

Parker, a Texas native, was born in Houston, in February 1920. He attended Lon Morris Junior College and Texas A&M College before enlisting in the service as an aviation cadet in November 1940 and graduated from Advanced Flying School as a pilot in July 1941. Parker and his crew's target was the Tokyo Gas and Electric Company on the shore of Tokyo Bay. After the raid, he and his crew arrived over China after dark and in heavy rain. He bailed out of the aircraft 100 miles south of Pyong Lake.

"It means a lot to be here, to see all the men and women in honor of the Doolittle Raiders," said Connie Parker, daughter-in-law of James Parker.

The Doolittle Tokyo Raiders were a group of men from all walks of life who volunteered for the mission. They didn't even know the targeted destination until the 16 B-25 twin-engine bombers were loaded on the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. These men would carry out the first attack of World War II on the Japanese mainland.

Because the planes were too large to be taken below deck on the aircraft carrier, they were stored at the end of the runway on top, resulting in the runway take off being very
short - 300 feet.

Although all B-25s successfully took off from the carrier and bombed their targets, most met with anti-aircraft fire and aerial enemy interception. All except one plane crash-landed or had crew bail out. After the mission, 65 men survived and were led to safe zones by Republic of China locals. Eight men were captured by the Japanese, but only four survived. Four landed in Russia and were held in captivity for a year before escaping to Iran. One died upon bailout of the North American B-25B Mitchell aircraft, and two drowned after bailout.

"On behalf of the Doolittle Raiders, I would like to thank you for your generosity and support on this special day," Cole said as he raised his toast in honor of the Doolittle Raiders.

After the toast, Gen. Robin Rand, Air Education and Training Command commander, presented Cole with a commander's coin among other certificates of appreciation and an American flag.

"We are standing in the presence of living history today," Rand said. "We stand on the shoulders of giants, of men like Cole. We use what the other Raiders did as inspiration to propel us to do the things we need to do for our country."