Doolittle’s Raiders

On April 18, 1942, an avenging thunder hit Japan and rolled mightily on to China, leaving in its wake jubilation and desolation. That thunderous shock was delivered by the eighty legendary Doolittle Raiders.C.E.Wheeler

Engine bolt from B-25 Mitchell – Plane 3 – 1942 Doolittle Raid. Recovered in China by C.E. Wheeler

I bought a metal detector for our field expeditions to crash sites for Plane 3 and Plane 14.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese had struck at Pearl Harbor dealing America a stunning blow, but within a month a daring counterstrike was coalescing. By mid-January, Lt. Colonel James H. Doolittle was selected to execute the plan for psychological payback. Doolittle, who came out of retirement in 1940 to help America prepare for the possibility of war, was an accomplished aviator and highly qualified military pilot. With the ingenuity and determination that exemplified America’s war effort, just 132 days since Pearl Harbor, the intrepid Doolittle Raiders successfully hit targets across Japan.

Penny given by Captain Charles Ozuk (Plane 3) to his rescuer Mr. Liao. Mr. Liao sheltered Captain Ozuk in his home deep in the mountains of southwestern Zhejiang Province.

The Liao family still live in the family home. I got to meet the brothers who helped Captain Ozuk recover. They said he liked to sit in the sunshine in the family courtyard and invited me to sit in the same chair. The older Mr. Liao said Ozuk was taller than me and liked the special egg fried rice his mother made for the Raider. Everywhere they went the Chinese civilians gave the best they had to the gallant Americans. The injured Capt. Ozuk was carried down the mountain by a local man, whose sons I met.

They were little boys when Captain Ozuk parachuted into their lives. These old gentlemen were incredibly friendly to me. It was funny that we had to have a sort of daisy-chain of translations for me to interview them. Local dialect (nearby villager) translated to regional dialect (my local friend), regional to standard Chinese (my wife) to English (me). Chinese has a wide variety of local dialects, some of which are very difficult to understand for Chinese from other regions.

These two wonderful people (husband and wife) were the first to give medical care to the horrifically injured Major Ted Lawson whose B-25 crashed off the coast of Zhejiang Province. As far as I know their photos had never been published until I published my book. They arranged for Lawson and the other injured men to be taken to a larger hospital. The doctor told the locals to use their front doors as stretchers. Nurse Hong Qi was pregnant at the time and she lost her baby when they had to evacuate days later. The Japanese Army was hellbent on finding the Raiders. My wife and I translated a letter she wrote documenting her experiences with the Doolittle Raiders.

Mr. Wang was an eye witness to the burial of Lt. Faktor, Plane Three. The teacher let all the children out of school for the ceremony which included a 21 gun salute. The services were officiated by the famous John Birch who was a missionary in China. Birch helped the Raiders reach their rallying point in Quzhou. Doolittle arranged for him to work for the Americans. Birch was murdered at the end of the war when he refused to surrender his gun.

This is the cave shelter at the Quzhou Air Base. It was the rally point where the Raiders were safeguarded as they prepared to be evacuated. According to the local historians, I was the first American to visit there since 1942. The shelter was well hidden from the air. I was humbled to have been a part of this incredible history. I have a brick from one of the dormitory buildings at the base, which the Raiders used.

These wonderful elders were children during the War when the Japanese attacked Quzhou. They gather each Qing Ming (a day to honor the ancestors) and remember the family they lost in the war. The taller gentleman in blue (third from right) Mr. Chen had been an English teacher in the past. He was an incredibly kindly man.

Every April 18 I think of these mountains in Eastern China, and my minuscule connection to the legend of the Doolittle Raid. Fragments of many of the Doolittle Raiders’ B-25 bomber are scattered across their steep peaks and valleys. Even in the modern world these areas are difficult to access. With the proper introduction, Chinese people are warmhearted and welcoming to strangers. The wonderful people I met, who were children when the Raiders temporarily entered their lives, will live on in my memories forever.

I wanted to share some of these photos of my research.

You can read more of the story in my book on Amazon: When Thunder Comes

And see more photographs on my Pinterest board dedicated to the Doolittle Raiders

Published by cewheeler

Writer/Artist:12 years in China – univ. lecturer: writing,poetry,culture; editor – magazine/newspaper & actor. 40 years students of the Tao. Traveler. Father. Read my books at:

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