Today, I thought you might like to meet some of the real Doolittle Raiders who helped shape my sweet romance, Home of Her Heart.
General James Harold “Jimmy” Doolittle (pictured above second from left)
Doolittle was an aviation pioneer, aeronautical engineer, combat leader and military strategist. His career stretched from World War I to the height of the Cold War. Born in California, he spent his childhood in a rough Alaskan town where he learned to fight. Although small of statute (he was just 5’4″), he never let his size hold him back from pursuing his dreams. When his mother brought him back to California, leaving his father in Alaska, Doolittle began boxing. This upset his mother, so he assumed a fake name and went on to become a professional boxer. In 1917 Doolittle became a flying cadet in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and joined World War I in 1918 as a commissioned first lieutenant who served as a flight leader and gunner instructor. In the years between then and America’s entry into World War II, Doolittle received the Distinguished Flying Cross (more than once), graduated from MIT, flew ground-breaking transcontinental flights, and served as a test pilot. Doolittle pioneered instrument flying and made great contributions to aeronautical technology in his civilian work. Following the reorganization of the Army Air Corps into the United States Army Air Force in June 1941, Doolittle wanted back in the military. He was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel in January 1942 and volunteered to lead the secret mission being planned to drop bombs on Japan. After the raid, Doolittle was sure he’d be court martialed due to the plans all crashing. Instead, he returned home a hero and was awarded the Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt. He went on to serve in North Africa and then England where he commanded the Eighth Air Force as a Lieutenant General. If you’d like to know more about the man who not only organized but flew on the Doolittle Raid, I highly recommend reading I Could Never Be So Lucky Again, written in Doolittle’s own engaging words.
Among the many things that impressed me about Jimmy Doolittle was how much he cared about the men he commanded, in particular, the Doolittle Raiders. He wrote in later years how close he felt to those brave men.
Brigadier General Evverett W. “Brick” Holstrom was the pilot of plane #4. Brick was born and raised in Oregon and began his military career at Fort Lewis, WA, in 1939. The reason I mention Brick is because in Home of Her Heart, I have Klayne flying on patrol with a crew off the West Coast. There really were crews flying patrol right after Pearl Harbor, and with good reason. Although it is either lost to history or was never really shared, but on Christmas Eve, 1941, Brick (along with fellow raider Ted Lawson) was flying a submarine patrol and spotted a Japanese sub where the Columbia Rivers opens into the ocean. Brick and his crew dropped bombs and sunk the sub.
Major General David M. Jones, (Captain Davy Jones at the time of the Doolittle Raid) was born in Oregon and graduated from high school in Arizona. Doolittle referred to him as the “top pilot” on the raid. Davy had the closest thing to an ideal landing of those who made their way to China. He flew his plane as close as he could to a friendly Chinese city then ordered his men to bail out. None of them were injured or captured. Davy remained in the area and flew in to pick up the injured men Doc White was attending. He went on to command the 319th bomb group in North Africa where he flew B-26 Marauders against Rommel’s forces. In December 1942, the Germans shot down his plane and he was taken a prisoner of war. Davy developed a reputation of defiance and harassment of his captors in his prison camp, Stalag Luft III. He served on the camp’s escape committee and inspired the character of Virgil Hilts played by Steve McQueen in the movie “The Great Escape.” Davy remained in the military after serving with distinction during the war. He retired from the Air Force after 37 years of distinguished service. During his career, he was awarded the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross with 1 Oak Leaf Cluster, Air Medal, Purple Heart, Commendation Ribbon, and the Chinese Breast Order of Yung Hui.
The crew of plane #7 (humorously titled The Ruptured Duck), was piloted by Ted Lawson. Ted had only been married a few months to Ellen. I think she must have been a great sport, because when they decided to get married they rousted a Justice of Peace out of bed in Couer d’Alene, Idaho, and two of Ted’s comrades served as attendants. Later, they joked about Pilot Bob Gray(also a Doolittle Raider) being her bridesmaid.
The crew of the Ruptured Duck included Co-Pilot Lt. Dean Davenport, Pilot Lt. Ted Lawson, Navigator Charles L. McClure, Bombardier Lt. Robert Stevenson Clever, and Gunner Cpl. David J. Thatcher.
These five men were the inspiration behind the crew on Klayne’s plane. In reality, their plane did flip over and crash before they could safely land. Davenport, Lawson and Clever were all shot out of the plane. McClure, he had been leaning against the backs of the two pilot seats had both shoulders broken. Thatcher was knocked out but only sustained a bleeding bump to the head.
Lawson was in bad shape, although he didn’t immediately realize how bad. Numbed and in shock, the first thing he discovered when he made his way to the beach was that his voice sounded strange. He reached up to his mouth and found his bottom lip had been cut through and torn down to the cleft of his chin. His upper teeth were bent in. When he pushed on them to straighten them, they broke off in his hand. The same thing happened with his bottom teeth, bringing along pieces of his gums. The biceps of his left arm had been ripped down to where it rested in the crook of his arm. But the worst injury was to his left leg. Sliced open from upper thigh to his knee, the wound was so deep, it exposed the bone. Ted would endure a grueling trip to a crude hospital where Lt. Thomas White (who really did qualify as a gunner to be able to fly with Crew #15) amputated the leg. Lawson was so distraught over his injuries and appearance, he refused to write to his wife once he finally made it back to the states. Jimmy Doolittle found out about it and arranged for Ellen (eight months pregnant at the time) to fly from California to Washington D.C. where Ted was in the hospital.
Ted’s reluctance to see Ellen is what inspired the idea for Klayne to refuse to contact Delaney in the story.
Clever’s injuries are similar to Klayne’s in the story, although I don’t believe Clever sustained any injury to his eye. Lawson said in his retelling of events that he thought Clever had been shot out of the front of the plane like a ball out of a cannon. The man’s scalp had been ripped back, his back injured to the point he couldn’t walk, and he sustained so many cuts, they feared he would bleed to death.
Davenport injured his leg and couldn’t walk and McClure suffered to move with two broken shoulders. Thatcher was the one who took care of the men as they made the arduous journey to the hospital.
I very much enjoyed reading Ted’s account of the raid in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo. You can also watch a movie by the same name starring Spencer Tracy as Doolittle. It closely follows Ted’s story.
This is a great clip from the movie (you get a real feel for the compact quarters, the noise, what these men experienced).
When Doolittle first asked for volunteers for a “secret, dangerous mission,” he knew some of the men would not make it home. That was a fact.
Of the 80 men who flew on the mission, three died in the crash landings. Only one of those was for certain until after the war. Two of the men died when the plane crashed in Japanese-occupied China. Their crew-mates hastily buried them on the beach before they were taken captive by the Japanese. One other crew was taken captive, for a total of eight men who were prisoners of war. Three were executed in October 1942, leaving five in some of the most horrific conditions you could imagine. One of those died (some say of starvation) in prison. At the end of the war, the Japanese did not readily release the remaining four prisoners. A crew was sent in to find them. It was then the deaths of the crew members were shared. Until then, no one had a firm knowledge of who had lived or died (although they were fairly certain on the three who had been executed). One of the men suffered from delusions that the rescue was just another trick by the Japanese. He attempted suicide and was left penniless in an institution until Doolittle found out what had happened to him and set the matter aright.
Of the other three prisoners of war, Jacob DeShazer went on to become a missionary in Japan. It was during those dark days in prison when found help and solace in a Bible. Born and raised in a small farming community in Central Oregon, DeShazer joined the Air Corps when he was 27, eager to be a pilot. He didn’t qualify, but did become a bombardier. He survived 40 months of torture before returning home. He enrolled at a college in Seattle and received a bacherlor’s degree in biblical literature. In December 1948, he returned to Japan where he preached his first sermon to a congregation of Methodists in a church in a Tokyo suburb.
In 1950, his missionary work paid great dividends. Mitsuo Fuchida, the Japanese naval flier who had led the Pearl Harbor attack and had become a rice farmer after the war, came upon the DeShazer tract. Fuchinda became an evangelist and made several trips to the United States to meet with Japanese-speaking immigrants about Christianity.
The stories of these eighty men (all of them braver than I can fathom), so touched my heart and gave me such a deep appreciation for all they sacrificed, of all their families sacrificed, to give us a better world today.