His auto license began with the letters PW because he was a former prisoner of war. During the Second World War, this unassuming man, Thomas C. Griffin of Cincinnati, Ohio, took part in the Doolittle Mission of April 18, 1942, which is said to have changed the course of history. Equally important to Americans everywhere, and. in every time, it exemplifies the meaning of genuine patriotism and true heroes' mettle.
It was a rare privilege to hear from a participant's lips the detailed and personal account of the Doolittle Raid, sometimes referred to as "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo." Tom Griffin graduated from the University of Alabama, where he gained his first military training in the Reserve Officers Training Corps, ROTC. After further training, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps.
A few weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, Tom's unit, the 17th Bomb Group, was sent to South Carolina. It was there that the Army asked for secret-mission volunteers. Tom said, "Twenty crews from our group were sent to Eglin Field in the Florida Panhandle; there we learned that Jimmy Doolittle would lead us on this mission."
Tom Griffin smiled as he said, "He was known as Jimmy to the public, but we soldiers called him 'sir' and 'colonel.' I still call him general to his face, but here at my kitchen table, I call him Jimmy."
Tom Griffin continued his account of preparations for carrying out the still-secret mission. "Doolittle trained us to take B-25 bombers off an aircraft carrier's deck. This had never been done before. To take a fully loaded B-25 off at 400 feet instead of 1,200 - that was the trick.
"President Roosevelt wanted to retaliate immediately for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The only way at that time to get at the Japanese main islands was by long-range Billy Mitchell bombers taking off from a carrier deck. That's what we trained for, and that's what we did."
Tom moved on to California. "On the last day of March, 1942," he remembered, "we flew over to the Naval Air Station in San Francisco Bay. Our planes were loaded on the deck of the USS Hornet; the next morning we sailed with our cruisers and destroyers, headed west toward Japan. That was really the only offensive task force the Navy had in the Pacific. If it had been intercepted and sunk, the whole history of the Second World War would have been different.
"Eighty men volunteered. Sixteen planes were on the deck of the carrier, with five men in each crew. Jimmy Doolittle was with us all the time at Fort Eglin, and he was with us on the Hornet. He took the first plane off the carrier. I was a navigator on the ninth plane off the deck. All planes took off quite well.
"Twelve of our 16 bombers had targets in Tokyo, and all but one bombed their targets. One was set upon by so many Japanese planes that they had to jettison their bombs and get out of there."
The plan was to fly to Nationalist China after bombing Japan, and turn the U.s. planes over to Chiang Kai-Shek for use, but it wasn't to be. Tom Griffin explained: "The weather was disintegrating up ahead. Four of our planes ditched along the China coast, and 11 of us pulled up into the storm. Some of those who bailed out had a hard time getting through the Japanese lines; most made it, but eight were captured by the Japanese.
“Our plane had been in the air for 15 and one-half hours; we ran out of gas and had to bailout. None of our crew had ever bailed out before, and we had to parachute out at night in a raging storm."
Tom put it mildly when he said, "That was an unusual experience.
"After a week, our crew finally got together in a village and were taken prisoner by what turned out to be friendly forces of the Chinese army. Survivors of the Doolittle Raid got through to Chungking, headquarters of the Nationalist Chinese."
After his harrowing experiences in Asia, Tom Griffin went on leave, and was reunited with a young lady named Esther. They were married in 1945 and had two sons.
What did Tom Griffin think of things today? He said, "It is my hope that the challenge the Japanese have given us regarding the economy will spur us on to make U.S. products the greatest and best in the world."
Spoken as a true patriot.
Pogue Cincinnati, Ohio
NOTE: A news item from The Christian Science Monitor read:
"Retired General James Doolittle, whose daring daylight bombing raid on Japan during World War II stunned the Japanese and lifted American morale, died on September 27, 1993. (Age 96 or 97.) General Doolittle was a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1989, the Medal of Honor and many other awards. "
Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.