Doolittle Raid: The First Heroes
April 19, 2019 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Craig Nelson presents the story of the Doolittle Raid, America's first great WWII victory.
There was a time when heroes walked the earth, and stories of their adventures have been told again and again. There is one story of astounding bravery and sacrifice from that time, however, that has all but vanished from our national memory.
The tale begins with the dream of a President; Franklin D. Roosevelt’s dream of vengeance against the Japanese for their attack on Pearl Harbor. His military chiefs know all too well, however, that what the Commander-in-Chief wants – a direct assault on Tokyo itself – is an impossible fantasy. American forces are too meager to attack the capital of the world’s greatest military power.
The captain of a submarine has an idea; a radical breakthrough. He believes that two separate branches of the service – the Army and the Navy – could join together for the first time to launch bombers from the decks of a carrier. As more and more in both services believe this can actually be done, a secret mission takes form. Its leader will be Jimmy Doolittle, a middle-aged family man who, decades earlier, had won front-page headlines around the world. A pilot once as famous as Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, Doolittle’s glory days are long gone. For this mission, he’ll use technical expertise and daredevil bravery to achieve a stunning victory – and again find himself in front-page headlines around the world.
One hundred and forty men volunteer to crew the planes; of these, eighty will ultimately be chosen. Kept entirely in the dark about the mission and its target, these boys (most just a few years out of high school) are trained to launch sixteen-ton bombers from within a mere 500-
The attack plan will, again and again, go astray. Detected by Japanese spies before their launch site is reached, most of the squadron will be forced to crash-land, parachuting into occupied China. One crew, trying to refuel out of Vladivostok, will instead find themselves interned and treated as prisoners of war for many years behind the Iron Curtain.
Some of these young Americans, landing in a war zone, will be captured by the Japanese, who will confine them to years of solitary, torture them, force them to sign false confessions, judge them war criminals, and ultimately have them executed by firing squad. One young man will be starved to death in Tojo’s military prisons; the others of his crew, rescued at war’s end, will have been reduced to living skeletons. One of those tortured to the limits of human endurance will find
The mission will become, however, America’s first great World War II victory. It will deliver a crushing blow to Japan, a shock that will directly lead to the extraordinary triumph of Midway. It will be a major turning point for Britain and the U.S., the start of our winning the War, and in
The First Heroes is the story of thousands, risking everything, for a mere thirty seconds . . . a half-minute that reversed the course of time. A half-minute that’s been all but forgotten.
Nelson is the author of the "New York Times" bestseller, "Rocket Men," as well as several previous books. Before turning to
As a historian, he is known for epic moments in the American experience — Pearl Harbor; the race to the Moon; the nation’s founding; and the nuclear era — that are both engrossingly page-turning and distinguished for their scholarship. Massively researched from scratch, his books are eye-opening and definitive accounts of the profound moments that made us who we are today.
Craig lives in an 1867 department store in Greenwich Village.
Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and half-off for members. Call 394-6923 to reserve seats.