Bill Bower, last surviving bomber pilot of WWII Doolittle Raid, dies at 93
Saturday, January 15, 2011; 10:30 PM
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.