A weekend to remember

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- While Team Little Rock Airmen were participating in Sports Day activities April 17 and the Eagles were beating the Chiefs in softball, two prominent honorary commanders from the base and I were heading out on our own great adventure.

That day, Mr. Phil Davis, honorary 19th Airlift Wing commander, Mr. Paschal Gagliardo, honorary 314th Operations Group commander, and I departed North Little Rock Airport with a destination of Columbia, S.C., to attend the 67th Doolittle Raiders Reunion. There are nine of the original 80 raiders still alive and four of these, plus many family members and descendents attended the reunion weekend events.

Activities included a banquet in the Raiders honor, a barbecue lunch, mini-airshow and static displays, a World War II era dance on April 18, plus two special autograph signing sessions by the raiders.

Gen. Arthur Lichte, Air Mobility Command commander, was the guest speaker at both the banquet and the barbecue lunch.

On April 18, 1942, the Doolittle Raiders became the first to bomb Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The raid demonstrated that Japan itself was vulnerable to Allied air attack and provided an expedient means for U.S. retaliation for Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The raid was planned and led by Lt. Col. James "Jimmy" Doolittle. Doolittle would later recount in his autobiography that the raid was intended to cause the Japanese to doubt their leadership and to raise American morale.

Sixteen B-25B Mitchell bombers were launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet deep within enemy waters. The daring and innovative plan called for them to hit military targets in Japan, and then land in China although one B-25 landed in Soviet territory and the crew was interned in the Soviet Union for more than a year. All 16 aircraft were lost and 11 crewmen were either killed or captured. The crews of 14 aircraft, in their entirety returned safely to the United States or to Allied control.

Compared to the devastating B-29 Superfortress attacks against Japan later in the war, the Doolittle raid did little material damage. Eight primary and five secondary targets were struck. At least one bomb from the plane of Lt. Edgar E. McElroy struck the Japanese aircraft carrier Ryuho.

Nevertheless, when the news of the raid was released, American morale soared. Stinging from the attack on Pearl Harbor and Japan's subsequent territorial gains, it was important for the American public to know that a successful military response had been undertaken.

The raid also had a strategic impact, though it was not understood at the time, in that it caused the Japanese to recall some fighter units back to the home islands for defense.

The Japanese Navy also bore a special responsibility for the fact that an American carrier task force had approached the Japanese Home Islands in a manner similar to that on Pearl Harbor, and then escaped unpunished.

The fact that land-based bombers carried out the attack served to confuse Japanese war planners about the source of the attack.

This confusion and an assumption that Japan was vulnerable to air attack strengthened Admiral Yamamoto's resolve to seize Midway Island, resulting in the decisive Battle of Midway.

What these visionary raiders accomplished is incredible. While many age-old principals of war were incorporated in the planning and execution of the raid...objective, offensive, economy of force, security and surprise, these men had no way of knowing that they set the stage for Core Competencies that now serve as the foundation of a our current Service Doctrine...Global Attack...Rapid Global Mobility...and above all the importance of Joint Operations.

Reflecting back on the weekend, I was in awe at actually getting up close and personal to Colonel Richard "Dick" Cole, co-pilot of the no. 1 aircraft with Jimmy Doolittle. At age 93, Dick is still very alert, active and can recall with great precision the raid. I kept thinking to myself this man is a national treasure; I will remember the events of this weekend the rest of my life.