Doolittle Raider and historian recall mission of air power during visit to Selfridge

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Public Affairs
Long before there was a U.S. Air Force, there were questions. Could American air power be a dominant force? Could it really be a factor? Could U.S. air power truly make a difference?

In the days after the December 1941 Japanese attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, President Franklin Roosevelt "pleaded with his top generals and admirals to find some way -- any way - to show Japan that America could retaliate," recalled Col. Carroll V. Glines, a retired Air Force pilot and one of the most nation's prolific writers of Air Force history.

"The answer was the Doolittle Raid," Glines said.

Glines and Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole (ret.) spoke on the history of the famous 1942 Doolittle Raid while at Selfridge Air National Guard Base during a standing room-only presentation to the Selfridge Base Community Council, May 19. The retired pilots bring a special insight to the April 1942 raid against Japan. Cole was the co-pilot of the lead B-25 Mitchell bomber that took off from the Navy's USS Hornet aircraft carrier, sitting next to Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle himself. Sixteen B-25s took off on the unprecedented mission - bombers, launched from carriers at maximum range to strike a first blow back at the enemy. Glines has written a book on the raid and assisted the late Doolittle with his autobiography.

"Doolittle came to our B-25 Group and asked for volunteers. The entire group volunteered," Cole recalled. It wouldn't be until a couple of months later that the Airmen, then part of the U.S. Army Air Corps, knew what it was that they had volunteered for.

Two days before the mission, in the cramped crew quarters of the Hornet, steaming across the Pacific Ocean toward Japan, the crews finally learned the mission: a long range bombing of Tokyo and other Japanese cities, followed by a risky plan to attempt to land in China after the raid and a hope for eventual pick-up and return to the U.S.

When the announcement was finally made about the details of the mission, "there was a lot of jubilation initially. After a while, it got quiet as people contemplated the consequences of the mission," Cole recalled, sitting before the Selfridge audience, some 67 years after the fact.

"But no one jumped ship. No one backed out. We knew we had a job to do and we did it," Cole said.

It's that same kind of attitude and mission focus that keeps Glines writing about the Air Force. Over the years, he's authored 37 books on various aspects of Air Force history and countless articles in every manner of magazine and official publications.

While the Doolittle Raid rightly occupies an important page in the World War II history book, the contribution of the Raid to the future of the U.S. Air Force may have been of even greater significance.

Through a combination of ingenuity and insightful leadership, incomparable airmanship, rock solid team work and a healthy dose of the American never-say-never attitude, the Doolittle Raiders answered the question once and for all: Can U.S. air power make a difference?

Several generations of military air superiority later, the answer clearly is YES.