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Today is the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid. On April 18th, 1942, 80 men in 16 twin-engine B-25 Mitchell bombers took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) to bomb Japan. James “Jimmy” Doolittleflew the lead B-25 and for his courageous leadership was awarded the Medal of Honor. The men who volunteered to go on what could be considered a suicide mission became known as “Doolittle’s Raiders.”

Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle (second from left) with his crew: Lt. Richard E. Cole, copilot; Lt. Henry A. Potter, navigator; SSgt. Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; SSgt. Paul J. Leonard, flight engineer/gunner.

Amazingly, most of the men survived the mission. One crew landed in the Soviet Union and was interned. Eventually, after being transferred to a location in Iran, the five men were able to escape. The rest of the crews bailed out, ditched in the ocean, or crash landed and yet only three men died. Eight Raiders were captured by the Japanese. Three were executed, one died in captivity, and the other four were freed at the end of the war. The Chinese people helped the Raiders reach friendly forces but paid a terrible price—Japanese forces massacred as many as 250,000 Chinese people in retaliation for helping the Americans.

A B-25 Mitchell takes off from the deck of the USS Hornet (CV-8) on April 18th, 1942.

This week, the National Museum of the United States Air Force (NMUSAF) is hosting a series of events related to the anniversary of the raid. Four of the five living Raiders are in attendance. For more information, see this afternoon, 20 B-25s took off and flew over the NMUSAF as a tribute to the Doolittle Raiders. It would have been neat to be there.

20 B-25's on the runway behind the Air Force Museum on Tuesday April 17, 2012. (Picture credit:

The B-25 Mitchell has been one of my favorite airplanes since I was a child. I’ve always thought of it as a beautiful airplane. I love that the Museum of Aviation has a B-25  on display. Come see it!

My dad, some uncles, and my youngest brother were in the United States Navy and so I have a very soft spot in my heart for the Navy. I’ve also been fascinated by aircraft carriers since I was a boy. It’s perhaps easy to forget the Navy as we contemplate the extraordinary courage of those 80 men who took off on their one-way mission. But the Navy’s contributions were essential. Here’s a link to a US Navy website about the raid: As a side note, the USS Hornet (CV-8)helped win the pivotal Battle of Midway in June 1942 but was resting at the bottom of the ocean just over six months after the Doolittle Raid, a victim of the ferocious fighting in the Pacific.

A B-25 takes off from the USS Hornet (CV-8) on April 18th, 1942.

– Mike Rowland, Curator


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