Expedition Seeks Remains of Doolittle Raid Planes in China
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) _ Forty-eight years after Doolittle’s Raiders first pierced the skies of Japan, the squadron’s navigator is joining the search for planes that crashed after the successful bombing mission.
Retired Col. Henry A. Potter said Friday he will join five others in a search in Zhejiang Province, China, where Potter’s and four other B-25B bombers went down after the April 18, 1942, mission. It was the first successful air raid against Japan during World War II.
The 16-plane squadron from the USS Hornet boosted the morale of the American public following the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The plane flown by Col. James H. Doolittle was the first fully loaded bomber ever to take off from an aircraft carrier.
The mission was so secret that even President Franklin Roosevelt was not informed, said Potter, 71, of Austin, Texas.
Doolittle trained the crews for the short takeoffs at a landing strip in Florida. Potter was the navigator of Doolittle’s lead bomber.
″I don’t think we exhibited any more courage than anyone else,″ Potter said, recalling the 467-foot takeoff. ″I don’t think any of us thought about anything other than that we were doing our jobs.″
The skies cleared before the planes reached their targets, and the bombs were dropped successfully on key industrial sites.
The bombers tried to flee Japanese air space and land on mainland China, but stormy weather made it impossible for them to reach safe haven.
One of the planes landed in Russia. The other 15 landed in the water near the China coast or crashed after the crews bailed out, according to an official War Department report of the mission.
All 80 crew members made it to the ground safely, but eight were captured by the Japanese. Of those, three were executed by their captors, one died in prison and four were released when the war ended, the government report says.
Forty-four of the original Doolittle Raiders, including Doolittle, are still alive and meet annually, Potter said. Doolittle is 93 and lives in Carmel, Calif.
Potter said there has been talk about searching for the planes over the years, but said the expedition near the mountain villages of Linan and Quzhou, in an area to the south of Shanghai, will be the first.
Bryan Moon, an artist and history buff, is leading the expedition.
″This was one of the most important events in American aviation history. It needs to have the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed,″ Moon said.
Aside from Potter, none of the expedition members have links to the bombing mission. The expedition will leave Minneapolis on Sept. 6, with a planned three-week stay in China.
Moon, 62, a former Northwest Airlines vice president who lives in Frontenac, Minn., has led expeditions around the world. In 1986, he discovered the lost grave of Joy Adamson, the lion-lover of ″Born Free″ fame in Kenya. He served as an artist for the North and South Pole expeditions of Ely, Minn.- based explorer Will Steger.
The Doolittle expedition is being paid for by the participants. It has the full cooperation of officials of the provincial government, said Xiangling Zhao, the Chinese counsul.
″I am very happy that this group can go to China on this historical mission,″ he told a news conference. ″I wish them good luck.″
The expedition also includes photographer Arthur Gibson, 64, of Middlesex, England; Dr. George Weir, 58, a St. Paul anesthesiologist; Joyce Olson, 44, of Wayzata, vice president of The Hadley Companies, a fine arts publisher; and Olson’s daughter Heidi Olson, 28, of Stillwater, a personal fitness trainer.