Sixty years after the Doolittle raid, the veterans gather in Salem, Oregon to tell the story of the 1942 bombing raid on Japan.
Surviving World War II Soldier Remembers the Doolittle Raid
ANN CURRY, co-host: Eighteen old soldiers will gather this morning in Columbia, South Carolina, for a poignant reunion. Sixty years ago today, they volunteered to follow Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle on a bombing raid over Japan knowing they would have to ditch behind enemy lines with no hope of rescue. NBC's Bob Dotson tells their remarkable story.
BOB DOTSON reporting: Memory is too fragile a thread from which to hang history. Most of us no longer recall or have ever heard of the Doolittle raid, but it changed our world as surely as 9/11 or Pearl Harbor.
Unidentified Reporter: (From file footage) The raid commanded by Jimmy
DOTSON: On this morning 60 years ago, 80 volunteers were about to do the unthinkable.
Mr. JAKE DESHAZER (Doolittle Raider): Everybody had said they would go, and I guess I was too big a coward to back out.
DOTSON: Nearing 90, Jake Deshazer is one of the few who can still tell the story firsthand. On April 18th, 1942, Deshazer was an army corporal standing on the deck of the aircraft carrier Hornet, desperately trying to keep his bomber from sliding into the sea.
Mr. DESHAZER: And a big wave came up and the front end of that airplane went way up in the air, and the tail end went down. There was nothing to stop it.
DOTSON: Sailors came running with ropes. One of them, next to Deshazer, backed into a spinning propeller and lost his arm.
Mr. DESHAZER: He looked up at me and he said, `Give 'em hell for me.'
DOTSON: The men were setting out on a secret mission to bomb Japan and give America its first victory of World War II.
Mr. DESHAZER: They said over the interphone, `If you can't get your motors started, we'll shove them off in the ocean.'
DOTSON: No one had ever launched a bomber in so short a distance, 450 feet.
Mr. DESHAZER: My pilot, Bill Farrell, said, `Jake, can you row a boat?'
DOTSON: The planes soared over Japan 500 feet above the ground. Deshazer, a bombardier, dropped his load near Nagoya, then headed toward the coast of Asia. The bomber flew till it ran out of fuel, and then, one by one, the crew bailed out. Deshazer landed on a Chinese graveyard in Japanese-held territory. He and seven other flyers were captured, called "war criminals" and sentenced to die. Three prisoners were killed, but Deshazer was spared. For TODAY, Bob Dotson, NBC News, Salem, Oregon.