Survivors of Doolittle Raid To Reunite With Rescuers After 50 Years
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Fifty years after Col. James Doolittle’s bombers made their historic raid on Japan, eight of the surviving airmen will be reunited with the Chinese who rescued them.
Five of the rescuers - including two from villages with no running water or electricity - will be flown to Minnesota on Friday for the reunion, to be followed by a White House reception.
″It’s just something that needs to be done, and it’s now or never,″ said Bryan Moon of Frontenac, an artist and history buff who organized the event.
″I don’t think America has ever said, ‘Thank you,’ to the people of China, bearing in mind that thousands of Chinese people were killed in World War II. I think we need to thank the people who are left,″ Moon said.
Doolittle’s desperate raid on Tokyo came four months after Pearl Harbor, when American morale badly needed a boost.
His 16 B-25B bombers took off April 18, 1942, from the USS Hornet, the first fully-loaded bombers ever to take off from an aircraft carrier.
The crew members planned to unload their bombs over Japan, then land in Chinese territory that was in friendly hands. But most of the planes crash- landed in China after running out of fuel, some in Japanese-held areas. At least one ended up in the Soviet Union.
Five of the 80 airmen drowned or were killed when they parachuted. Eight were captured by the Japanese; of those, three were executed, one died in prison and four were released when the war ended. Doolittle and 66 others made their way back to U.S. forces from free China or the Soviet Far East.
The reunion grew out of a 1990 expedition to China led by Moon to search for parts of the bombers. The expedition recovered parts from three of the bombers, including Doolittle’s.
While searching, Moon met the peasants and workers who had rescued the airmen, setting the wheels in motion for the reunion.
Forty-two of the 80 are still alive, and like the Chinese are mostly in their 70s and 80s. Doolittle, 95, lives in Carmel, Calif., and has sent a message to be read to the Chinese.
The rescuers coming to the United States include fisherman’s wife Zhao Xiaobao; postal inspector Zeng Jianpei; physician Chen Shenyan; farmer Liu Frangchiao; and school teacher Zhu Xuesan. They will be accompanied by a Chinese official and an interpreter.
Zhao will meet two of the five crew members she fed and hid when they reached Tan Toushan Island off the China coast after they ditched their bomber.
Retired Lt. Col. Frank Kappeler will see Zeng, who arranged for Kappeler’s crew to escape in a postal truck after they parachuted about 200 miles inland from the air base of Chuchow, where the Raiders had planned to land.
″He arranged for the truck to take us around Japanese-occupied areas. He was quite a godsend to us,″ Kappeler said.
After the reunion at a Red Wing hotel, not far from Moon’s home, the Chinese will be honored Sunday at the White House reception with U.S. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney. Only Chen has traveled outside China.
Moon said the trip is paid for by private and corporate donations, including contributions from Northwest Airlines, Red Wing Shoe Co. and businesses in Red Wing. He declined to say what it will cost.
″We’re thrilled to be getting together with some of these Chinese people we haven’t seen in 50 years,″ Kappeler said.