On April 19, 1942, less than four months after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor that marked the United States’ entry into World War II, 16 B-25 bombers took off from the pitching deck of the aircraft carrier Hornet and bombed Tokyo and three other Japanese cities.
It was the first time bombers had ever launched from an aircraft carrier, and the Doolittle Raid, named after its charismatic commander Jimmy Doolittle, stunned the Japanese war machine and lifted American spirits.
Many considered the raid a suicide mission. The 80 crew members volunteered and began training for it at the old Columbia Army Air Base, now Columbia Metropolitan Airport.
Because the Hornet was spotted early by a Japanese fishing boat, the raid had to start sooner than planned, ensuring the planes couldn’t reach their landing strips in China, then an American ally. But the crews launched anyway.
Fifteen of the crew bailed out over the coast of China after completing their bombing runs. One crew diverted to Russia, also then an American ally, after its run.
Three men were killed when they bailed out. Eight were taken captive. Of the captives, three were executed by the Japanese Army, including Lt. Bill Farrow of Darlington. One died in captivity of malnutrition.
Two Raiders, Nolan Herndon and Horace “Sally” Crouch, settled in South Carolina after the war, in Edgefield and Columbia respectively.
The Raiders hold a reunion in a different city each year to toast their fallen comrades with special silver goblets held and protected at the U.S. Air Force Academy. They returned to Columbia for the toast in 1992, 2002 and 2009 for their 50tth, 60th and 67th reunions.
Today, only two Raiders remain – Doolittle’s co-pilot, Dick Cole, 100, of Texas, and David Thatcher, 94, of Montana.
About this series: The inaugural edition of The State newspaper was published Feb. 18, 1891. In anticipation of the 125th anniversary, the Palmetto section and this section at thestate.com are recounting each day how The State covered newsmakers and events vital to South Carolina’s history.