Doolittle Raiders: 75 years later, their spirit lives on

April 18, 2017

Barbara Jensen

Oregon Spirit of ’45
Founder/President

Seventy-five years ago this April, 80 courageous Americans carried out one of the most amazing and heart-stirring military operations in our nation’s history. Under the leadership of Lt. Col. James Doolittle, 16 B-25B bombers left the deck of the USS Hornet on a one-way mission.

Doolittle’s men (known as Doolittle’s Raiders), selected from the 17th Bomber Group based in Pendleton, were flying antisubmarine patrols in the Pacific. Their objective: to bomb the Japanese on their homeland. All 16 planes delivered their payload on Tokyo.

The message was clear: Japan was not safe from America’s wrath and we would not tolerate their unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor. We were coming.

The damage that day was heavy. It instilled fear in the Japanese people and it emboldened Americans across the country. These brave Doolittle Raiders were successful. It told the world that the United States will fight, and, no matter what it takes, we will win.

Of the 80 men who left the Hornet 75 years ago, 62 survived the war. Four of their planes crash-landed; 11 more crews bailed out. Three of the Raiders died, eight were captured, three were executed and another died of starvation in a Japanese prison camp. The last crew made it to Russia.

The entire World War II era was an incredible time that will forever be part of our American history. Americans came together as one people, one nation. It was a time, from the battlefield to home front, where everyone served and as a nation, we were proud to.

Sixteen million men and women were in uniform. One-half of all men between the ages of 18 and 50 served; 417,000 lost their lives. Here in Oregon, over 152,000 served and almost 4,000 names are engraved on the World War II Memorial within the Capital grounds in Salem, honoring their ultimate sacrifice.

In 2010, Congress unanimously passed a resolution to designate the second Sunday of every August as Spirit of ’45 Day. The goal was to remember all that was sacrificed and accomplished by the WWII generation and to more importantly, be inspired by their values of courage, sacrifice, “can-do” attitude, spirit, unity and service. In 2013, Oregon became the first state in the country to recognize a permanent Spirit of ’45 Day, to be celebrated on the second Sunday of every August.

After Oregon passed legislation, my mother — a WWII war bride from England — and I continued to carry the torch for our WWII veterans and the entire generation. In 2015, I formed the nonprofit Oregon Spirit of ’45 Inc., to ensure this generation is honored and celebrated.

In August 2015, this organization featured Oregon’s 234th Army National Guard Band and sponsored a six-city, one-week tour across the state to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the end of WWII.

Our ultimate objective is to help our state “Remember and Be Inspired” by all the courage and achievements of the WWII generation. In an effort to meet this objective, we are collecting WWII-era service photos.

The goal is to collect as many WWII-era pictures of Oregonians who served as we can. In addition, we know many of our Oregonians have parents, family and friends who enlisted and served from other states. We want their photos, too. In that way, we can honor native sons and daughters along with the families of all Oregonians.

These photos will be preserved on our website for future generations. They can also be made into posters, which will be carried in Oregon parades throughout the year, for a donation to cover the cost of printing. Send your photo to www.orspiritof45.org/photo and have your hero’s face carried on a poster in an Oregon parade by one of our youth.

Also, please join us later this year for Oregon’s Spirit of ’45 Day, which we celebrate at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland, where thousands of our WWII veterans rest. This year’s celebration will be at 11 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 13. Guest speakers include the granddaughter of Lt. Col. James Doolittle, Jonna Doolittle-Hoppes, and Ben Berry, son of a Tuskegee Airman.

Between now and Aug. 14, 2020, our nation will commemorate the 75th anniversaries of World War II: from the Battle of Midway, to D-day, the Battle of the Bulge, MacArthur’s return to the Philippines, Iwo Jima, and ultimately, V-E Day and V-J Day. Help celebrate our WWII generation by attending Spirit of ’45 day at Willamette National Cemetery and honor this generation by sending in your loved ones’ WWII-era service photos.

More information can be found online at www.orspiritof45.org.