“This gentleman had white hair and a blue suit and was driving an early ’50’s model Chevrolet Bel-Air,” remembers Otis.
The man told Otis he had a soft spot for veterans. He too was a veteran, he said, and during the four-hour drive to Nashville, the man told Otis his story. And it was quite a story.
Before World War II, he had been on the barnstorming circuit with Jimmy Doolittle, working as a wing walker on stunt planes. He signed up for military duty and was assigned to Lt. Col. Doolittle’s unit. He had been one of Doolittle’s Raiders, the 80 airmen who were the first to bomb Japan’s homeland, an event later made famous by the book and movie “30 Seconds Over Toyko.”
Otis recalls, “He said he was a government prospector in San Francisco and had been to Roanoke to visit his daughter. He was fascinated by the simple blowing of the wind through the trees here in the East, saying he never saw that in the big fir trees out west. I heard his great story, read his great scrapbook along with photos. I thought I would never forget his name, but I have.”
Otis asked for my help. He thought if he could see the name, perhaps it might jog his memory. “I would love to see that he is still alive, contact him, remind him.”
I gave Otis a list of the 80 Raiders but none of the names rang a bell. Then I had an idea. Maybe the list was too long. So I dug deeper.
I eliminated one-fourth of the names immediately: 19 had been killed in the war, then add in Doolittle himself. That takes the possibilities down to 60.
Another five died before 1960, three of those oddly enough in aircraft accidents. And another 21 were still in service in ’60. That took the list down to 34.
I was able to eliminate another 14 from information in their obituaries.
For instance, Lt. J. Royden Stork had no children and spent his post-war career as a Hollywood makeup artist. Lt. Clayton J. Campbell moved back to his native Boise after the war and spent his career building houses. And Cpl. Jacob D. DeShazer, who had been a prisoner of war in Japan, returned to the states, completed missionary training and went back to Japan in 1948 to fulfill the vision he had while a prisoner, to build churches. He spent the next 30 years in Japan and started numerous churches. One of his converts to Christianity was Japanese Capt. Mitsuo Fuchida, the pilot who led the first wave in the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
I had managed to whittle the list down to 20 possible candidates.
One name in particular intrigued me, Lt. James H. Macia Jr., who, according to his obituary, had left the service in February 1946 and returned to Arizona to pursue opportunities in mining. He was the only Raider I could find with mining experience.
I gave the names, including a picture of Lt. Macia, to Otis to see if anything jogged his memory this time. He studied the names, looked at the picture, but still nothing.
I haven’t given up but I’m turning to a little crowd-sourcing, hoping that one of my readers remembers reading about a Doolittle Raider who had been a wing walker before the war and a prospector afterward.
MORE RAIDER TIDBITS
Among the other interesting tidbits I discovered about former Raiders:
Sgt. Edwin W. Horton Jr. had served with field artillery at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, from 1935 to 1938.
Lt. Ross R. Wilder was co-pilot on the B-25 that sighted and sank a Japanese submarine on Dec. 24, 1941, at the mouth of the Columbia River off the coast of Washington state.
After the war, Lt. James Macia had worked on deciphering intelligence from the U-2 spy plane flights over the Soviet Union.
Contact Vince Staten at email@example.com or via mail in care of this newspaper. Voicemail may be left at 723-1483. His blog can be found at vincestaten.blogspot.com.