Friday, September 22, 2023

Insight: A lesson in patriotism

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

I recently read some social media posts online from someone who self-described himself as a patriot because he supported one political candidate over several others.

Ed Pierce meets Medal of Honor
recipient General James H.
Doolittle at a luncheon at The
Pentagon in Washington, D.C. in
January 1981.
As a military veteran, it made me chuckle because I’ve had the great privilege to meet and serve with some of the most unselfish and unassuming individuals who shied away from political pronouncements but were willing to put their lives on the line to protect our nation and their friends, no matter what political beliefs they held. During my time in the U.S. Air Force, I got to know many people who served in Vietnam or Korea and continued to serve in the military without ever mentioning the terrible things they witnessed during those wars.

In January 1981, I got to meet Medal of Honor recipient General Jimmy Doolittle, who had been portrayed in the Hollywood film “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” by actor Spencer Tracy. The movie was an account of Doolittle leading the first American bombing raid of Japan during World War II.

Doolittle’s daring mission took place on April 18, 1942, a little more than four months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As a Lieutenant Colonel, he volunteered to command 16 B-25 air crews taking off from the U.S.S. Hornet on a 650-mile perilous flight to bomb the Japanese mainland, continue flying over the Sea of Japan and land in China when done. The air range for the bombers was about 200 miles further than first calculated and after taking off, many of the U.S. pilots realized they wouldn’t have enough fuel to make it to China.

All were successful in dropping their payloads and all but one of the B-25 flight crews were forced to ditch their planes at sea, bail out, or crash-land in Japanese-occupied China. Three crew members died trying to land, eight were captured by the Japanese and only four survived their brutal imprisonment by the war’s end. Five different crew members were held captive in Russia for 13 months before being released.

As for Doolittle himself, he bailed out of his B-25 and landed in a rice paddy in China and was rescued by friendly forces. His bombing raid didn't inflict serious damage to the Japanese war effort, but it struck a blow for America and lifted the spirits of U.S. military forces at a time when it was needed the most.

Some 39 years later, I was Doolittle’s guest for lunch in Washington, D.C.

I found him to be a humble and genuine man, who preferred to remain out of the spotlight. He told me that he was just a pilot who loved to fly and remained at heart a kid from California who loved his country and didn’t consider himself to be a hero. He said that he lived his life with a simple philosophy which was, “only worry about those things you can fix, and if you can't fix it, don't worry about it, accept it, and do the best you can.”

It was also my great privilege to meet and interview General Robert Scott at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona in 1982. Scott had retired from active duty by then but frequently visited the base as its former commander and he was the author of the book “God Is My Co-Pilot” about his service as a fighter pilot in Burma and China during World War II.

He flew 388 combat missions and racked up 925 flight hours from July 1942 to October 1943, and is credited with shooting down 13 Japanese aircraft, making him one of the first U.S. aces of World War II. After being reassigned as a flight instructor for about a year in Florida, Scott volunteered to return to China in 1944 to fly fighter aircraft equipped with experimental rockets. He led 37 missions to destroy Japanese supply trains in eastern China and before the war ended, Scott was transferred to Okinawa to lead similar strikes against Japanese shipping and resupply lines.

During my interview with General Scott, I came to realize that he seemed to be cut from the same cloth as Jimmy Doolittle. He told me about how much he enjoyed walking the entire length of the Great Wall of China several years prior to our meeting and he came away from that experience with a renewed love for America and how much he was willing to give up personally and professionally to preserve our nation’s freedom.

When I asked if he considered himself to be exceptionally patriotic or a hero, he answered me this way:

“Real patriots don’t talk about their exploits in combat, they are embarrassed to be singled out for doing what anyone else who loves our country would, and that is, doing unselfishly what needs to be done to help their countrymen when a foreign enemy threatens our brothers and our sisters,” Scott said. “Some politicians try to exploit their patriotism, but many veterans know when your life is on the line, politics goes out the window.”

Both Jimmy Doolittle and Robert Scott exemplify for me the real meaning of patriotism, a willingness to humbly serve our nation, and love for their fellow man. <

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