CINCINNATI – The 70th anniversary reunion of the 1942 Doolittle Tokyo Raid this week also commemorates the role of the Chinese people who not only welcomed the American Raiders as heroes but helped save their lives — often at great peril.
"They were very important to us," said David Thatcher, 90, of Missoula, Mont. "If not for them, the Japanese surely would have captured us."
Eight Raiders were taken prisoner after the raid. Three were executed and another died in captivity. Historians have recorded that tens of thousands of Chinese people were killed by Japanese soldiers for enabling the other survivors to get away.
All the Raiders are in their 90s now, and say they believe the villagers who helped them directly are either dead or too old to travel. But a Chinese delegation coming to their Dayton, Ohio, reunion this week will include at least two children of key benefactors, as well as officials of Zhejiang Province in the southeast China region where the Raiders crash-landed or parachuted from ditched planes. A television crew will join them to do a documentary about their rescue and Chinese-U.S. friendship.
According to delegation spokeswoman Liang Yonghong, among the items they are bringing with them is the journal of the late He Yangling, a leader of the province at the time. His daughter He Shaoying, a retired professor who was then 7 years old, has translated the journal into English and plans to give it to Lt. Col. Richard Cole, lone survivor today of Doolittle's lead plane.
His journal recounts that she asked her father who the strange people were. "They are coming from the sky," he told her. He wrote that later, a smiling Doolittle lifted his daughter up into the air.
Also coming is Liao Mingfa, who was also 7, the son of village leader Liao Shiyuan, who helped carry injured Raiders to safety. The father hid one Raider, the late Charles Ozuk, in his home to feed and nurse him to health.
Surviving Raiders recall communicating with villagers through drawings, pointing and other sign language, sometimes not sure whether they were friendly or would turn them over to the Japanese. An account by a Chinese Air Force commander of the time, Zheng Zixiang, in Jiangxi province, reports with some amusement that the Raiders told Chinese air force members they had been found by "weird people" who smeared their wounds with muddy herbs and fed them porridge.
"These 'weird people' were villagers dressed in traditional Chinese clothes, who lived in remote areas, and the herbs they used were Chinese medicine," states his account.
Associated Press researcher Zhao Liang in Beijing contributed.