Last sur­viv­ing bomber pi­lot of WWII Doolit­tle Raid

The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES - BY T. REES SHAPIRO shapirot@wash­post.com

Bill Bower, 93, the last sur­viv­ing bomber pi­lot of the au­da­cious Doolit­tle Raid, a morale-boost­ing strike against the Ja­panese months af­ter the at­tack on Pearl Har­bor, died Jan. 10 at his home in Boul­der, Colo.

He died of com­pli­ca­tions from a fall that oc­curred in July 2009, said his son Jim.

As a 25-year-old first lieu­tenant, Col. Bower com­manded one of the 16 Army Air Forces’ B-25s in the top-se­cret mis­sion un­der the di­rec­tion of then-Lt. Col. James H. Doolit­tle. Col. Bower and the 79 other men who par­tic­i­pated in the bomb­ing run came to be known as the Doolit­tle Raiders.

Their story be­gan April 18, 1942. That morn­ing, Col. Bower’s twin en­gine B-25 took off from the USS Hornet air­craft car­rier loaded with four 500-pound bombs, three ex­tra fuel tanks and five para­chutes.

Leav­ing the Hornet cul­mi­nated months of plan­ning on be­half of the mil­i­tary, which had sought to re­tal­i­ate against the Ja­panese for the Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Har­bor at­tack.

But re­turn­ing to the ship was not an op­tion; the deck was too small for the mas­sive bombers to land on. The mis­sion was planned as a one-way trip, and there was no turn­ing back.

Af­ter skim­ming the waves dur­ing the 600-mile flight to Ja­pan, Col. Bower di­rected his plane to­ward Yoko­hama and was stunned by the is­land’s nat­u­ral beauty.

“I had the im­pres­sion that, my gosh, what peace­ful, pretty coun­try­side that was,” Col. Bower later said. “What do they want war with us for?”

When Col. Bower ar­rived over his tar­get in Yoko­hama, about 25 miles south of Tokyo, he en­coun­tered heavy anti-air­craft fire. His crew dropped the plane’s 2,000 pounds of ord­nance on Yoko­hama’s dock­yards and an oil re­fin­ery.

Col. Bower then throt­tled on to­ward China, where the Amer­i­cans had ten­ta­tively planned to land and re­group in Chu­chow, 200 miles south of Shang­hai.

But plans changed. The planes en­coun­tered strong head­winds and stormy weather that burned fuel.

By 11 that night, one of Col. Bower’s en­gines died be­fore his plane had reached Chu­chow.

Col. Bower pulled the air­craft to 10,000 feet and or­dered each of his men to jump out in in­ter­vals.

When ev­ery­one else had parachuted into the dark air be­low, Col. Bower ap­proached the plane’s es­cape hatch. The sec­ond en­gine died.

As he pre­pared to jump, he checked his pock­ets for his com­pass, his fa­ther’s World War I-is­sue .45-cal­iber sidearm and, most im­por­tant, two packs of Lucky Strikes and matches. Then he said good­bye to his bomber, which Col. Bower had dubbed the Were­wolf, his son said.

“I pat­ted the old boat, and out the hatch,” Col. Bower wrote in a war jour­nal. “Whish, bang, and gen­tly down to Earth I came.”

When he touched down, he wrapped him­self in his parachute and slept till day­light. The next morn­ing, he hiked for sev­eral hours un­til Chi­nese vil­lagers took him in and fed him.

He later met up with more Doolit­tle Raiders who had parachuted to safety and be­gan to make his way home, fly­ing mainly on com­mer­cial air­lin­ers.

Al­though the bomb­ing run had re­sulted in min­i­mal dam­age, the Doolit­tle Raiders re­turned to the United States as he­roes, hailed as hav­ing de­liv­ered a sym­bolic blow to the Axis pow­ers early in the war.

For his in­te­gral role, Col. Bower re­ceived the Dis­tin­guished Fly­ing Cross.

“It was our mis­sion to do it,” he later said of the raid. “We were to show the world it could be done. And we did.”

Wil­liam Marsh Bower was born Feb. 13, 1917, in Ravenna, Ohio. His in­ter­est in flight was sparked af­ter his first trip in an air­plane at age 10 with a barn­stormer.

He at­tended Hi­ram Col­lege andKent StateUniver­sity, both in Ohio, and served in the Ohio Na­tional Guard from 1934 to 1938. He re­ceived his pi­lot’s wings in 1940. In 1942, he mar­ried the for­mer Lor­raine Am­man. She died in 2004.

Af­ter the Doolit­tle Raid, Col. Bower flew mis­sions in Eng­land, North Africa and Italy. He be­came an of­fi­cer in the Air Force when it was formed in 1947. He served as the com­man­der for an Air Force Arc­tic sup­ply unit and later com­manded Dob­bins Air Force Base in Ma­ri­etta, Ga. He re­tired from the mil­i­tary in 1966.

In Boul­der, Col. Bower be­came an ex­pert fly fish­er­man and elk hunter, his fam­ily said. He at­tended many Doolit­tle Raider re­unions that hon­ored the sur­viv­ing mem­bers and saluted those who had died.

Thir­teen of the 16 Amer­i­can planes had been aban­doned in midair, and three crash-landed.

One man died bail­ing out of his plane, and two drowned. Three were ex­e­cuted by the Ja­panese. One man died of dis­ease as a pris­oner. Twelve raiders later were killed in com­bat dur­ing WorldWar II.

With Col. Bower’s death, his son said, only five Doolit­tle Raiders re­main.

In ad­di­tion to the Dis­tin­guished Fly­ing Cross, Col. Bower also re­ceived the Bronze Star Medal and two Air Medals.

On one oc­ca­sion, Col. Bower re­turned home and saw that his chil­dren had found his medals. They were play­ing with them and had slightly dam­aged some of the awards.

“At first I was an­gry with them, but then I re­al­ized some­thing: That’s all the medals are — just things for lit­tle kids to play with,” Col. Bower told the Rocky Moun­tain News in 2004.

“Why be known for the medals,” he con­tin­ued, “when you can be known for the kids?”

Sur­vivors in­clude four chil­dren, JimBower of Ar­vada, Colo., Bill Bower of Chap­man, Kan., Mary Bran­na­man of Sheri­dan, Wyo., andMindy Bower of Kiowa, Colo.; six grand­chil­dren; and a great-grand­daugh­ter.

FAM­ILY PHOTO

Some mem­bers of the 1942 Doolit­tle Raid, from left, Wil­liam Pound, Bill Bower, Waldo Bither, Thadd Blan­ton andWomer Du­quette.

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