What a great Saturday morning here in Michigan! It is the first Saturday in a long time that I have nothing planned or scheduled. I decided to start the day off like I start most days off with some reading and thinking. I am two-thirds of the way through a LIFE Leadership Essential Series book titled Mentoring Matters….a great read! Reading Chapter 56 – Mentoring Tenacity, Resilience, and Endurance reminded me of an email from my father, that I just had read, about the famous Doolittle Raiders from World War II. If ever there was a group of men who personified Tenacity, Resilience, and Endurance, it was this amazing unit of 80 men. I am going to attempt to weave together this heroic story of the Doolittle Raiders and these 3 foundational leadership characteristics.
Mentoring Matters states, ‘The three traits of of Tenacity, Resilience, and Endurance build on one another. Tenacity is the hard work that gets you on the path to greatness. Once you’re on the path, you make enemies and face obstacles, and these can bring you down. That’s why you need resilience: to get back up, brush off the dust, and keep walking. Every bout of resilience has the capacity to completely drain you and therefore endurance is needed. Endurance is the thing inside that says, “It’s all worth it, and no matter what, I will not give up…not ever.” Endurance is the thing that says that, and it’s the only thing that does it.’ This insiteful books goes on to say that the best way a mentor can teach Tenacity, Resilience, and Endurance is through Example, Principle, and Experience. The Doolittle Raiders mentor by action and not by word, but their action is rich in example, principle and experience that we can all appreciate and learn from by knowing their unbelievable story.
December 7th, 1941, Japan surprised the United States with a ruthless attack on the parked Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. The United States was shocked, set back on their heels and enraged. President Roosevelt and the US powers that be, came up with a way to get back at the island giant and give the American people a morale boost with a secret bombing raid on the heart of Japan. Lt. Col James Doolittle was chosen to lead this daring raid. He helped select 16 of America’s best and brightest B-25 bombing crews to attempt a mission that had never been tried before. The mission was to sail across the length of the Pacific Ocean into enemy waters with a few aircraft carriers, 16 B-25 bombers, 200 men, and a lot of faith and courage. You see, there were no friendly airstrips close enough to the islands of Japan for the Raiders to take off from. Therefore, they had to innovate and figure out how to have these big, heavy bombers take off from these small, floating runways! This type of mission had never been attempted before. It would be the only time in history that bombers were launched from aircraft carriers.
On April 18th, 1942, the Doolittle Raiders were forced to begin their bombing raid on Japan 10 hours early because they were sighted by a Japanese ship and the element of surprise was gone. Doolittle and his men already new that there was a good chance that they would not have enough fuel to make it back to the carriers, but now having to take off 10 hours early and hundreds of miles further out than planned, they were told that there would not be enough fuel to make it to safety at all. The Raiders were convinced, to the last man, that this was going to be their last and hopefully their finest hour. They had planned and worked hard in preparation for this moment in time. They were tenacity on fire!
The 80 courageous men, in 16 over-loaded planes, were now in the air, headed into the unknown. They all made it to Japan, dropped their payloads on the assigned targets and headed west with hopes of somehow making it to China. 4 planes crash-landed in China, 11 crews ran out of fuel and bailed out, and 1 crew landed in Russia. They had just completed the longest combat mission ever for a B-25 bomber with an average flying distance of 2,250 miles. Of the 80 Raiders, 69 were miraculously able to avoid capture or death. The other 11 members either died upon crash landing, were executed in a Japanese prison camp, starved to death or were held prisoners till the war was over. Many of the Raiders were back in the air within weeks. 12 of the survivors died on subsequent missions within months of the Doolittle Raid. The Doolittle Raiders personified resilience…the ability to avoid being broken and to bounce back after being bent.
Lt. Col Doolittle and the rest of his men sent a message for the United States to it’s enemies and to the rest of the world that, ‘We will fight! And, no matter what it takes, we will win!!’
The courage, valor and patriotism of these 80 Raiders set the tone for millions of Americans to hang tough and fight the good fight over the next 3 years till the end of World War II.
Starting in April, 1946, the surviving Raiders started the tradition of a yearly reunion to celebrate the victory and to honor their fallen comrades. The city of Tucson, Arizona donated 80 silver goblets to the raiders. Each goblet had a Raider’s name etched into the silver. Every year, for the last 71 years, a wooden display, bearing all 80 goblets is transported to the reunion city. Each time a Raider dies, his goblet is turned upside down in the case. The highpoint of the reunion is a solemn, private ceremony in which the surviving men perform a roll call, then toast their fellow, fallen Raiders who have died over the years.
At the beginning of 2013, there were only 5 Raiders still alive, all in their nineties. In February, 2013 another Doolittle Raider succumbed to old age. Mr. Thomas Griffin’s life is a testament to Tenacity, Resilience, and especially Endurance. Thomas Griffin’s obituary in the Cincinnatti Enquirer reads as follows:
“Thomas Griffin, one of the Doolittle’s Raiders in World War II bailed out over the mountains of China and almost died from malaria. When he recovered, Tom Griffin was sent to the war in Europe, destined to fly many more combat missions before being shot down over Germany. He was captured and spent 22 months in a German prisoner of war camp.
Later in life, Mr. Griffin’s wife of many decades became ill and was put into a nursing home. He visited his sick wife every day. In his late 80s he walked to and from the nursing home every day, fed his wife and at the end of the day brought home her clothes. At night, Mr. Griffin washed and ironed her clothes and walked them back to her the next morning. He did this for 3 years until her death in 2005”
Thomas Griffin and the rest of the Doolittle Raiders were men of character who’s example of tenacity, resilience and endurance will live in our hearts and minds for many generations to come. The final toast to the fallen Raiders will take place between the 4 survivors on November 9th, 2013 at a museum in Ohio.
To the Doolittle Raiders and to all the other service men and women who fought, bled and/or died for our freedom….we salute you! God bless, kb