It was a sight straight out of a history book.
Nearly a dozen World War Two era B-25 bombers soared over the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio Tuesday. The handful of still flyable B-25’s, including one from Ventura County, were commemorating the 75th anniversary of the historic Doolittle Raid on Japan.
Marc Russell, who is a commercial airline pilot, is part of the crew which took what is literally a flying museum from Camarillo to Ohio to participate in the special events at the national museum. He says it was an amazing to be a part of honoring those who stepped up to do the seemingly impossible.
April 18th marked the 75th anniversary of the raid, prompting the commemorative event in Ohio. About a dozen of the restored planes, including the one from Ventura County, took part in a ceremonial flyover.
1942 was a dark time for the U.S., and its allies. America was still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. had been in the war for less than four months, and it was going badly, with Japanese forces advancing throughout the Pacific. President Roosevelt felt the nation needed something to give the nation hope, and the idea was to launch a strike against the Japanese mainland. U.S. planes didn’t have the range, or nearby bases to strike back at Japan.
So, in a daring effort, 16 land based B-25’s with specially trained crews led by Jimmy Doolittle took off from an aircraft carrier which was able to secretly get to within a few hundred miles of the Japanese coastline. The strikes on military and industrial facilities in Tokyo, and other areas didn’t cause a lot of damage, but stunned the Japanese military and raised morale in the U.S. Most of the 80 crew members were able to fly on to China, but some were captured and a handful executed.
The Doolittle Raiders, as they became known, were national heroes. The twin engine B-25’s were one of the U.S. military’s workhorses during the war. After the war, the military scrapped virtually all of the planes, which are commonly known as B-25’s, with the Navy version called PBJ’s.
Dan Newcomb is with the Camarillo based Southern California wing of the Commemorative Air Force, a nationwide non-profit organization dedicated to preserving, and restoring World War II aircraft. In the late 1990’s, they got the pieces of a PBJ. Newcomb says the story behind their plane is amazing. It took volunteers more than two decades to restore the plane, and get it into flying condition. The project took so long that some of the dozens of people who worked on the plane, many of them retirees, never got to see it fly. He admits it was emotional to see the plane fly for the first time last year.
Russell spent more than two decades working on the restoration project, and says a lot of people poured a lot of sweat into the effort. The Simi Valley man says for some, the B-25 is a flying history lesson. For others, an ever decreasing number, it’s part of their memories from World War Two.
The historic PBJ is part of the Commemorative Air Force’s collection of a dozen planes at Camarillo Airport. The museum is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays.