Bataan and Doolittle
For the first time in over 50 years of remembering Bataan in rituals at Mount Samat, the highest national official in attendance, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, representing President Duterte, paid tribute to the 350-400 officers and men of the 91st Philippine Army Division who were executed by their Japanese captors after they surrendered. Año was accompanied by Japanese Ambassador Koji Haneda and US Deputy Chief of Mission John Law. For so many years, this terrible tragedy that took place just two days after US Gen. Edward King gave up his Filipino-American force to Gen. Masaharu Homma, was ignored as attention focused on the Death March. The massacre saw Japanese officers using sabers to behead their captives, while enlisted men disposed of the others with their bayonets. For the prisoners, tied up with telephone wires, the Geneva Convention was just a sheet of paper.
In his remarks at Mount Samat last Tuesday, Año recalled the sad fate of the officers and men of the 91st Philippine Army Division and asked for prayers in special remembrance of the unfortunate victims.
Just as the Pantingan River execution and the Death March were taking place, a top secret project designed to boost American morale after the disaster at Pearl Harbor and the loss of American air power in the Philippines, was in its final stage of implementation. In his best-selling book “Target Tokyo,” author James M. Scott who recently gave us “Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila,” narrates how 16 army bombers flown by 80 volunteers specially trained in aircraft carrier takeoffs, carried out an almost impossible, daring raid that sought to avenge the disaster in Hawaii.
Just two weeks after Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt convened his military advisers in his study. He understood that the continued defeats suffered by both the United States and the United Kingdom were demoralizing the American public. He was resolute in finding a way of carrying the war to the Japanese homeland in the form of a bombing mission.
The man chosen to oversee the whole project was a former boxer turned aviator, Jimmy Doolittle. After a quick study of aircraft available for the mission, he chose the B-25 Mitchell bomber named after aviation pioneer Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell. It was chosen for one reason—its 67-foot wingspan could clear the superstructure of an aircraft carrier. It also required only five crew members: a pilot, co-pilot, navigator, bombardier and gunner. The next problem was the issue of air crew. Doolittle wanted only volunteers for the mission. With about 150 officers and men selected, intensive training in carrier takeoffs using mockups of the B-25 bomber began. By April 2, 16
B-25 bombers with 80 crew members were onboard the aircraft carrier Hornet, sailing out of San Francisco Bay, along with escort vessels. Except for Doolittle, none of the crew members knew their final destination. A day later, on April 3, Homma launched his final Good Friday offensive against Fil-Am forces.
On April 9, Bataan surrendered. The Hornet was a week out of San Francisco as the Death March began. Two days later the Pantingan River massacre took place. On April 13, an announcement was broadcast to the men of Task Force Mike accompanying the Hornet: “This force is bound for Tokyo. For the first time in the history of Japan, the home territory is about to be attacked.” In the early hours of April 18, 1942, Col. Jimmy Doolittle with his copilot Richard Cole led the flight of 16 B-25 bombers headed for Tokyo. The raiders hit targets mainly in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. While the damage done was minimal, the United States had struck its first blow against Japan causing tremendous loss of face for the Japanese Imperial General Staff.
Of the 80 men who participated in the attack, 61 survived the war. Doolittle himself would live until age 96, a Medal of Honor winner for his leadership and courage in the planning and successful execution of the mission. The first reunion of the survivors was held on Dec. 15, 1945, a tradition that would continue for several decades. In 2013, with only four raiders remaining, they decided to hold their last and final toast. The sole survivor of the group, Lt. Col. Richard Cole, the copilot of Doolittle in the Tokyo raid, died last week, on Tuesday, April 9 (Bataan Day), at the age of 103. Even in death, Bataan was part of their story. Next Thursday, April 18, marks the 77th anniversary of what was once considered as “Mission Impossible.”
While there is no correlation between the events that took place in Bataan and the attack on Tokyo by Doolittle’s raiders, it is interesting to note what actions were being undertaken by the United States to further the war effort, just as Filipino and American prisoners of war were being marched off to concentration camps after surrender. It is also possible that one of the consequences of the Tokyo raid was added harshness and cruelty by Japanese troops on their prisoners upon receipt of news that the homeland had been attacked.
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