In the midst of my research for Garden of Her Heart (Hearts of the War Book 1), I happened upon an old map that showed airfields around the state of Oregon during World War II. One of them happened to be in Pendleton, where I’d already based my Pendleton Petticoats series that takes place at the turn of the century and continues into the early 1900s.
Further digging into the past revealed the airfield was established months before Pearl Harbor was bombed. With war looming on the horizon, the U.S. Army Air Force was already gearing up for it with extensive training. It took the Corps of Engineers six months to expand Pendleton’s municipal airport and to construct new runways, hangars, and other buildings to serve the 2,500 personnel that would be stationed at the base.
In June 1941, the 17th Bombardment Group, were stationed at Pendleton Airfield. This move played a key factor in their involvement in a mission that changed the course of the war.
After Pearl Harbor was bombed, the nation’s morale fell to all-time lows. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was determined to show the enemy America would not roll over and give up. Through a series of discussions, secret plans were implemented to take the war back to Japan. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle was tapped to make it happen. He ended up choosing seventy-nine men from the 17th Bombardment Group because they had the new B-25 Mitchell Bombers and a little training in flying them.
For Doolittle’s daring plan to succeeds, the pilots of the planes would have to fly off a carrier in the Pacific ocean (something that had never been done with a medium bomber).
In early February, Doolittle transferred group to Columbia, South Carolina. The conditions there were less than ideal. The men slept in tents and reported freezing in the cold rain that fell and turned the ground to a muddy mire. Despite Pendleton having below zero temperatures that winter, many of the men longed to return there where at least they had warm bunks to sleep in.
Doolittle asked his team leaders to choose the men they’d like see go on the mission (although those leaders didn’t have full details of the mission either). So they tapped the men they’d like to see go and asked for volunteers. Every single man who went volunteered to go although what they knew of the mission was limited to the facts it would be dangerous and some of them would not make it home.
Yet, they still volunteered.
In March, the men were transferred to Eglin Field in Florida where they were required to put in more than fifty hours of training. They practiced take offs in short distances at high speed. The flew over open water, dropped fake bombs and got in as much practical experience as possible before Doolittle ordered them to fly across the country to California where sixteen crews of five men each along with sixteen planes would board the U.S.S. Hornet and head out to sea.
Because Doolittle had trained additional crews in case something happened, all of them made the trip to California. Fearful one of the crews left behind might leak information (although the men still knew nothing at this point, although many had guesses of where they were heading), Doolittle brought them all along.
It wasn’t until they were in the middle of the Pacific Ocean before Doolittle called the crews together and finally told them the mission plans – to bomb Tokyo and a handful of other cities.
The plan was for the crews to fly to Japan (one plane would be piloted by Doolittle – an aeronautic acrobat, test-pilot, and all-around amazing flier), drop the bombs, then make their way to China to refuel.
However, an enemy boat spied them the day before they were ready to embark on the mission and they immediately prepared to take off. On April 18, 1942, they dropped bombs on Tokyo and a handful of other cities. The devastation to Japan came not in the bombs that were dropped, but in the psychological damage done to a country that assured it’s people they were untouchable.
The other benefit of the bombing was the boost in morale it made to America. When radio reports and newspaper articles began flooding the nation, people pulled themselves up out of their despair and renewed their commitment to win the war – together.
If you’ve never heard of the Doolittle Raid or the eighty incredibly brave men who flew on this mission, I highly recommend looking it up. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (available as a book or movie) offers an amazingly insightful look into the mission.
Of the eighty men who flew on the mission, seventy-nine of them were based at Pendleton (Doolittle was the only one who wasn’t).
Fifteen of the planes crashed near or in China, none of them reaching the friendly airfields they had hoped to make it to before their fuel supplies ran out. One plane made an emergency landing in Russia (and the crew was interned for fourteen months before escaping).
Although the number of men who died on the mission wasn’t as many as Doolittle anticipated, there were deaths and life-altering injuries, not to mention the men who were captured by the Japanese as prisoners of war.
Some families didn’t know until after the end of the war what had happened to their loved ones who served on this top-secret mission.
The men who flew in the raid knew they might never come home again. The families they left behind knew it, too. Yet they did what they could for a country that needed their service and sacrifice.
And that is why I think the men and women who helped win World War II are more than worthy of the title of the Greatest Generation. They shaped a nation where future generations of children don’t have to face the hardships or sacrifices they so willingly made.
In Home of Her Heart, Klayne Campbell is a loner with nothing to lose. Then he volunteers for a secret, dangerous mission he’s convinced will get him killed. Unable to bear the thought of dying without leaving something behind, someone behind, he asks Delaney Danvers to marry him. He’d fallen in love with Delaney the first time he set eyes on her, but he had no intention of letting emotions get involved. He promised her a marriage in name only, and she agrees. But the feisty, fiery woman has something far different in mind than a marriage on paper in…