Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What Happened to the Doolittle Raiders after China? Part 2

by Cindy K. Stewart

The Doolittle Emblem -
Courtesy of The Official Web Site
 of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders
Eighty Army Airmen bombed the Japanese homeland in a surprise attack on April 18, 1942. Many consider this operation a turning point in WWII because it boosted the morale of the Allies and humbled the Japanese when they thought they were invincible. The Airmen, known as the Doolittle Raiders, launched their sixteen B-25 Bombers off the aircraft carrier USS Hornet even though the bombers weren't built to take off from ships. After dropping their bombs, all the crews made it safely out of Japan but encountered numerous difficulties later. 
  • 3 Raiders died in crash landings and bailouts over China
  • 8 Raiders were captured by the Japanese - 3 went before a firing squad and 1 starved to death
  • 5 Raiders landed in the Soviet Union and were interned - they escaped through the Middle East one year later
  • 64 Raiders were assisted to safety in Free China by Chinese soldiers and civilians
So what happened to the Raiders after they escaped from China?

Plane #1 - Piloted by Jimmy Doolittle

Doolittle Before WWII
Public Domain
After spending the summer of 1942 traveling the U.S. on war bond drives, Jimmy Doolittle was appointed commanding general over the 12th Air Force in North Africa under General Eisenhower. In March 1943, Doolittle became commanding general of the North African Strategic Air Forces. On the one-year anniversary of the Tokyo Raid, Doolittle and the other Raiders also serving in North Africa held the first Doolittle Raider reunion.

First Doolittle Raider Reunion - North Africa - 1943

The Japanese notified the U.S. that the eight captured Raiders had been sentenced to death, but some lives had been spared. They refused give names. When the American military released this information, Jimmy Doolittle replied from North Africa that he and his Raiders were ready to go back to Japan and finish the job they had started. The Japanese responded in a radio address from Tokyo. They stated that "Doolittle, commander of the raid on Japan one year ago, failed to do anything, so we have the pleasure of offering him the title of "Did-little'" (The First Heroes). 

After pushing the Germans out of Africa, Doolittle went on to command the 15th Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater and the 8th Air Force in Europe and the Pacific. He ended the war as a lieutenant general and reverted to inactive reserve status in May of 1946. He returned to Shell Oil and served as vice president and later director. In 1985, the U.S. Congress promoted Doolittle to full general on the Air Force retired list, and he became the first four-star general in Air Force Reserve history.

Doolittle was married to Josephine, "Joe," for seventy years, and he lived to the age of 96.

Plane #1 on a Mountain in China - Courtesy of the Smithsonian

After Doolittle's crew members bailed out over China and located each other on the ground, Doolittle and his gunner, Paul Leonard, visited their destroyed plane at its crash site on a mountainside. Doolittle sat beside his plane and wondered about the fate of the other 75 men and their aircraft. He "felt lower than a frog's posterior." This was his first combat mission, and he was sure it would be his last. He told Leonard he expected to be court-martialed and imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth. At the very least, he "would sit out the war flying a desk." Leonard disagreed and predicted that Doolittle would be promoted to general, be given a new plane, and receive the Medal of Honor. Leonard was correct on all counts (The First Heroes).

Doolittle & His Plane #1 Crew - Potter, Doolittle, Braemer, Cole, Leonard
Courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

Leonard was so impressed with Doolittle that he asked to fly as Doolittle's crew chief on his next mission. Doolittle agreed, and Leonard went with him to North Africa. When Doolittle was called away from the airfield for a meeting with the ground commanders at Youks-les-Bains, Algeria, he left Leonard to look after their airplane. The Germans bombed the airfield that night, and Leonard manned the top turret machine gun until the batteries ran out. He then took refuge in a nearby bomb crater, but a bomb meant for the plane landed in the bomb crater. When Doolittle returned to the field, he only found Leonard's left hand with his wristwatch still in place. Doolittle stated that losing Leonard was his greatest personal tragedy of the war.

Dick Cole, Doolittle's co-pilot, served in the China-Burma-India Theater and then became a test pilot with the Douglas Aircraft Plant for the remainder of the war. He served in the military for twenty-six years, rated as a command pilot, and retired as a colonel. Cole was the last living Doolittle Raider. He died on April 9, 2019, at 103 years of age.

Colonel Dick Cole - Courtesy of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force

Hank Potter, Doolittle's navigator, served stateside after the Tokyo Raid and later in Germany in the 1950's. He earned the rank of colonel and lived to be 83.

Fred Braemer, Doolittle's bombardier, served in the China-Burma-India Theater and then attended bombardier, radar, and observer training schools and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant. He served in Korea, retired in 1969 and died at the age of 71.


The First heroes: The Extraordinary Story of the Doolittle Raid--America's First World War II Victory by Craig Nelson (Viking, 2002)

"General James Harold Doolittle," The Official United States Air Force Website.


Cindy Stewart, a high school social studies and language arts teacher, church pianist, and Christian historical fiction author, semi-finaled in the American Christian Fiction Writer's 2017 Genesis contest, and won ACFW's 2014 First Impressions contest in the historical category. Cindy is passionate about revealing God's handiwork in history. She resides in North Georgia with her college sweetheart and husband of thirty-seven years and near her married daughter, son-in-law, and three adorable grandchildren. Cindy is currently writing a fiction series set in WWII Europe.


  1. Thanks for the post. May God bless Mr. Cole!

    1. Hi, Connie. Mr. Cole is surprised to be the last living Doolittle Raider because he was older than many of the other men on the mission!

  2. Thank you for sharing this fascinating post!

  3. So very interesting! I love to hear about these Doolittle's.

    1. Thanks for dropping by today, Melanie. More Doolittle stories to come.

  4. These Doolittle posts are great! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Connie. I'm glad you're enjoying the posts!