This is what I think of on Memorial Day.

I remember a brave group of American aviators who embarked on an impossible mission during World War II and were unlikely to survive. But they still volunteered.

It was later called the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, in which racing pilot and stuntman James Doolittle led a strike force of 16 US Army B-25 bombers, improbably taking off from an aircraft carrier at hundreds of kilometers from Japan, to bomb the city. It was a mission to avenge the Japanese attack of December 7, 1941 on Pearl Harbor.

Although the damage to Tokyo and several other cities on April 18, 1942 was negligible in terms of war, it had a major psychological effect on Japanese warlords. They had convinced the Japanese people that Japan was so strong that it was invulnerable to attack.

In addition, they did not know where the planes were coming from since the United States did not have bases in the area and it was unknown for bombers to fly on aircraft carriers.

More importantly, the attack, which was inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt, was a significant moral boost for the American people during those dark days when the United States, having lost most of its fleet at Pearl Harbor, were on the defensive.

As Japanese forces invaded China and Southeast Asia, claiming victory after victory, the bombing of Tokyo was a sign that the United States, caught off guard, would soon go on the offensive and win the war. , what they did.

But first, Doolittle had to assemble a group of American aviators, all volunteers, for the secret mission and train them to take off from the short track of an aircraft carrier aboard B-52 bombers, which did not never been done.

After that, 80 aviators in 16 bombers would take off from the aircraft carrier Hornet in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, cover 800 miles with limited amounts of fuel, and bomb Tokyo.

If they weren’t shot down by anti-aircraft fire or destroyed by Japanese fighter jets, the Americans would land somewhere in China – hopefully not in Japanese-controlled areas – at prepared landing sites. The landing sites never materialized.

As a result, all but one of the planes ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea off the coast of China or crashed inland. The airmen fled or landed with the planes.

Only one B-52, contrary to orders, landed in Russia, which at the time was not at war with Japan.

Most of the airmen, some of whom were injured, reached safety with the help of the Chinese people. Three died from injuries. The Chinese people who helped American airmen then paid a heavy price when Japanese troops killed thousands and razed their villages.

Eight of the American airmen were captured. They were regularly beaten and tortured. Three of them were executed, one starved to death in prison and four were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Several Japanese military officers were subsequently found guilty of war crimes by a post-war tribunal, but the sentences handed down were pale in their crimes.

All of this and more is told in “Target Tokyo, Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid that Avenged Pearl Harbor,” a remarkably studied book by James M. Scott, fresh out of paperback.

It’s a fascinating story about a group of young men of the greatest generation who, on a historic and extremely dangerous mission, were ready to fight and die for each other and for their country.

While the successful raid boosted the morale of the American people, it also led to the Japanese decision to retaliate and attack what remained of the US naval fleet at Midway Island.

This battle of June 1942, however, cost the Japanese four aircraft carriers. It was a most decisive American victory and changed the balance of power in the Pacific.

These airmen trusted their cause and the charismatic Jimmy Doolittle even when they knew they would be lucky to survive the bombing let alone make it to China. It is good to remember them and what they did.

Peter Lucas is a veteran Massachusetts political reporter and columnist.

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