This year marks the 71′st anniversary of the flight of Doolittle’s Raiders, sixteen B-25 Mitchell medium bombers that, four months after the “day of infamy” that brought the United States into the Second World War, buoyed American morale with proof that Japan was vulnerable to air attack from the sea.
The mission was, ultimately, of minor military value. But, historians agree that the raid reversed the mood of the country, creating the necesssary support for an effective and, utimately successful, war effort in the Pacific. For that alone, Doolittle’s “thirty seconds over Tokyo” has claimed a permanent place on the list of commemorated combat actions.
Being a military brat, I sometimes got to hear about meetings and events my father attended that, in one way or another, related to matters that were, at the time, still only recent significant history. In 1967, we lived on the Alameda Naval Air Station (later renamed “Alameda Point,” and since decommissioned and turned into a non-military commercial development project). One night, the old man came home from a social affair that, as it turned out, was the 25′th reunion of the surviving Raiders from April 18, 1942. James Doolittle was among them and, though I didn’t know (at the age of eight) how special it was, my dad gave me a name-tag from the event that Doolittle himself had signed.
The raid was in 1942. I was born in 1958. The 25′th reunion was in 1967. News reports suggest that, most likely, 2013′s 71′st reunion will be the last. But it’s still too soon to send all memories of the Raiders off into the pages of the history books. Not when I have the tag that Doolittle signed himself, at my dad’s request, so he could bring it home to me.
The whole business of the raid, responding, as it did, to the attack on Pearl Harbor, is part of a past we must always remember and respect. But I cannot help but add that, on that list of years above, a footnote ought to go with the second one, with 1958. Not because of who was born that year, but where. Not two decades after the exchanges of fire that largely started the war in the Pacific, the son of a United States naval officer was born in the islands of Japan. The absurdity and pointlessness of fighting with each other had already been replaced by the logic and superiority of peace. Today, as things always should have been, the Japanese are our friends.
When I look at that badge in the picture above, it brings back a lot of memories. But it also shows me a bridge that connects a conflict in the past to a defined harmony in the present. Considering that this year likely marks the last of the days of the surviving Raiders, perhaps now is as good a time as any, to think about the bridges we’ll build next.