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The rest of the Doolittle raid

Below is part 2 of the story of Lt. Col. (USAF Ret) Edgar (Mac) McElroy, an Ennis, Texas native, and his crew. When you have read both parts of this story, please remember the adage “Freedom Isn’t Free” and thank God for dedicated soldiers like Mac and his crew who helped ensure the freedom we enjoy today. This story was written by Waxahachie’s Perry Giles.

Edgar McElroy’s tale, part two

On Sunday, April 14, we met up with Admiral Bull Halsey’s task force just out of Hawaii and joined into one big force. The carrier Enterprise was now with us, another two heavy cruisers, four more destroyers and another oiler. We were designated as Task Force 16. It was quite an impressive sight to see, and represented the bulk of what was left of the U.S. Navy after the devastation of Pearl Harbor. There were over 10,000 Navy personnel sailing into harm’s way, just to deliver us sixteen Army planes to the Japs, orders of the President.

Colonel Doolittle called us together on the flight deck. We all gathered round, as well as many Navy personnel. He pulled out some medals and told us how these friendship medals from the Japanese government had been given to some of our Navy officers several years back. And now the Secretary of the Navy had requested us to return them. Doolittle wired them to a bomb while we all posed for pictures. Something to cheer up the folks back home!

Colonel Doolittle let each crew pick our own target. We chose the Yokosuka Naval Base about twenty miles from Tokyo. We loaded 1450 rounds of ammo and four 500-pound bombs. A little payback, direct from Ellis County, Texas!

The weather was crummy, the seas were running heavy, and the ship was pitching up and down like I had never seen before. Great waves were crashing against the bow and washing over the front of the deck. This wasn’t going to be easy! Last minute instructions were given. We were reminded to avoid non-military targets, especially the Emperor’s Palace. Do not fly to Russia but fly as far west as possible, land on the water and launch our rubber raft. This was going to be a one-way trip! We were still much too far out and we all knew that our chances of making land were somewhere between slim and none. Then at the last minute, each plane loaded an extra ten 5-gallon gas cans to give us a fighting chance of reaching China.

One by one, the planes in front of us took off. The deck pitched wildly, 60 feet or more, it looked like. One plane seemed to drop down into the drink and disappeared for a moment, then pulled back up into sight. There was a sense of relief with each one that made it. We gunned our engines and started to roll forward. We continued inching forward, and I taxied up to the starting line, put on the brakes, applied more power to the engines, and I turned my complete attention to the deck officer on my left, who was circling his paddles. Now my adrenaline was really pumping! We went to full power, and the noise and vibration inside the plane went way up. He circled the paddles furiously while watching forward for the pitch of the deck. Then he dropped them, and I said, “Here we go!” I released the brakes and we started rolling forward, and as I looked down the flight-deck, you could see straight down into the angry churning water. As we slowly gained speed, the deck gradually began to pitch back up. I pulled up and our plane slowly strained up and away from the ship. There was a big cheer and whoops from the crew, but I just felt relieved and muttered to myself, “Boy, that was short!” Now we settled in for the five-hour flight. Tokyo, here we come!

When I thought we had gone far enough, I climbed up to 2,000 feet to find out where we were. We started getting fire from anti-aircraft guns. Then we spotted Tokyo Bay, turned west and put our nose down diving toward the water. Once over the bay, I could see our target, Yokosuka Naval Base. Off to the right there was already smoke visible over Tokyo. Coming in low over the water, I increased speed to 200 mph and told everyone, “Get ready!”

When we were close enough, I pulled up to 1,300 feet and opened the bomb doors. There were furious black bursts of anti-aircraft fire all around us but I flew straight on through them, spotting our target, the torpedo works and the dry-docks. I saw a big ship in the dry-dock just as we flew over it. Those flak bursts were really getting close and bouncing us around, when I heard Bourgeois shouting, “Bombs away!” I couldn’t see it but Williams had a bird’s eye view from the back and he shouted jubilantly, “We got an aircraft carrier! The whole dock is burning!” I started turning to the south and strained my neck to look back and at that moment saw a large crane blow up and start falling over! Take that! There was loud yelling and clapping each other on the back. We were all just ecstatic, and still alive! But there wasn’t much time to celebrate. We had to get out of here and fast!

When we were some 30 miles out to sea, we took one last look back at our target, and could still see huge billows of black smoke. Up until now, we had been flying for Uncle Sam but now we were flying for ourselves.

We flew south over open ocean, parallel to the Japanese coast all afternoon. Across the East China Sea, the weather out ahead of us looked bad and overcast. Up until now we had not had time to think much about our gasoline supply but the math did not look good. We just didn’t have enough fuel to make it!

In total darkness at 2100 hours, we figured that we must be crossing the coastline, so I began a slow, slow climb to be sure of not hitting any high ground or anything. I conserved as much fuel as I could, getting real low on gas now.

The guys were still cranking on the radio, but after five hours of hand cranking with aching hands and backs, there was utter silence. No radio beacon! Then the red light started blinking, indicating 20 minutes of fuel left. We started getting ready to bail out.

There was no other choice. I had to get us as far west as possible, and then we had to jump.

At 2230 we were up to 6,500 feet. We were over land but still above the Japanese Army in China. We were flying on fumes now and I didn’t want to run out of gas before we were ready to go. Each man filled his canteen, put on his Mae West life jacket and parachute, and filled his bag with rations. I put her on auto-pilot and we all gathered in the navigator’s compartment around the hatch in the floor. We checked each other’s parachute harness. Everyone was scared, without a doubt. None of us had ever done this before! We kicked open the hatch and gathered around the hole looking down into the blackness. It did not look very inviting! Then I gave the order, “JUMP!!!” Within seconds they were all gone. I turned and reached back for the auto-pilot, but could not reach it, so I pulled the throttles back, then turned and jumped. I relaxed my legs a little, thinking I was about to splash into water and would have to swim out, and then bang. I jolted suddenly and crashed over onto my side. Lying there in just a few inches of water, I raised my head and put my hands down into thick mud. It was a rice paddy! There was a burning pain, as if someone had stuck a knife in my stomach. I must have torn a muscle or broke something.

I laid there dazed for a few minutes, and after a while struggled up to my feet. I dug a hole and buried my parachute in the mud. Then started trying to walk, holding my stomach but every direction I moved the water got deeper. Then I saw some lights off in the distance. I fished around for my flashlight and signaled one time. Sensing something wrong, I got out my compass and to my horror saw that those lights were off to my west. That must be a Jap patrol! I sat still and quiet and did not move.

It was a cold dark lonely night. At 0100 hours I saw a single light off to the east. I flashed my light in that direction, one time. It had to be one of my crew. Thank goodness, what a relief!  We started walking east toward the rest of the crew and away from that Japanese patrol.

We walked together toward a small village and several Chinese came out to meet us, they seemed friendly enough. I said, “Luchu hoo megwa fugi! Luchu hoo megwa fugi!” meaning, “I am an American! I am an American!” Later that morning we found the others. I have never been so happy to see four guys in all my life!

Well, the five of us eventually made it out of China with the help of the local Chinese people and the Catholic missions along the way. They were all very good to us, and later they were made to pay terribly for it, so we found out afterwards. For a couple of weeks we traveled across country. Strafed a couple of times by enemy planes, we kept on moving, by foot, by pony, by car, by train, and by airplane. But we finally made it to India.

I did not make it home for the baby’s birth. I stayed on there flying a DC-3 “Gooney Bird” in the China-Burma-India Theatre for the next several months. I flew supplies over the Himalaya Mountains, or as we called it, over “The Hump” into China. When B-25s finally arrived in India, I flew combat missions over Burma, and then later in the war, flew a B-29 out of the Marianna Islands to bomb Japan again and again.

After the war, I remained in the Air Force until 1962, when I retired from the service as a Lt. Colonel, and then came back to Texas, my beautiful Texas. First moving to Abilene and then we settled in Lubbock, where Aggie taught school at MacKenzie Junior High. I worked at the S & R Auto Supply, once again in an atmosphere of machinery, oil and grease.

I lived a good life and raised two wonderful sons that I am very proud of. I feel blessed in many ways. We have a great country, better than most folks know. It is worth fighting for. Some people call me a hero, but I have never thought of myself that way, no. But I did serve in the company of heroes. What we did will never leave me. It will always be there in my fondest memories. I will always think of the fine and brave men that I was privileged to serve with. Remember us, for we were soldiers once and young. With the loss of all aircraft, Doolittle believed that the raid had been a failure, and that he would be court-martialed upon returning to the states. Quite to the contrary, the raid proved to be a tremendous boost to American morale, which had plunged following the Pearl Harbor attack. It also caused serious doubts in the minds of Japanese war planners.  They in turn recalled many seasoned fighter plane units back to defend the home islands, which resulted in Japan’s weakened air capabilities at the upcoming Battle of Midway and other South Pacific campaigns.

Edgar “Mac” McElroy, Lt. Col., U.S.A.F. (Ret.) passed away at his residence in Lubbock, Texas early on the morning of Friday, April 4, 2003.

This story was brought to the readers of the Ennis Daily News by Ennis resident and community figure Jane Mize.

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