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Saturday, Apr. 19, 2014

The Answer Man

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Q: What is a B-25?

A: Maybe the most renown airplane of World War II.

There were some old timers who got a big thrill the other day as they watched an antiquated WWII bomber come into the Kennett Airport - its twin-engines making a terrible sound.

There was some conjecture, but those who remembered identified it as a B-25.

A call to the airport confirmed that it was a Mitchell B-25. It is owned by the Commemorative Air Force. (CAF) formerly known as the Confederate Air Force, based in Midland, Texas.

The Commemorative Air Force is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and showing historical aircraft primarily throughout the U.S. and Canada.

The B-25 that landed in Kennett was on its way to a reunion of the Doolittle Raiders in Dayton, Ohio.

The Doolittle Raiders!!!

It would be difficult to explain to young people just what that name meant to Americans during the dismal days of early 1942.

We had suffered devastating losses in the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese were kicking our tails all through the Pacific, taking island bases one after the other. These were dark and gloomy times.

On April 18, 1942, sixteen Mitchell B-25 bombers lined up on the USS Aircraft Carrier Hornet. Their destination was to bomb along Honshu in Japan, and eventually to lay some eggs on Tokyo itself. The raid was led by Lt. Colonel James (Jimmy) Doolittle - a highly decorated airman.

Doolittle's crew had been hand picked; and he had trained them for weeks how to take off a bomber from the limited decks of an aircraft carrier. Some improvising had to be done to the B-25s themselves.

Engines were revved to maximum, and the the bombers took off one by one to make formation.

Little known to the public at that time was that even Doolittle himself knew there was little chance of all planes returning. The distance there and returning to safety was problematic.

As it turned out, the raid was successful, but all sixteen B-25s were lost. Eleven crewmen were either killed or captured.

The plan had been to land on the China coast where they would be assisted by the Chinese military and civilians. All of the planes either had to crash land, or crewmen parachuting out with planes abandoned.

One B-25 landed forty miles beyond Vladivostock in Russia, where the crew was interned for over a year until they finally made an escape through Iran.

The Chinese did manage to save most of the crewmen. It is estimated that as many as 250,000 Chinese were killed by the Japanese in retribution for that assistance.

The Doolittle Raid did little actual damage to the Japanese war machine. But they did call back some forces to protect their fortress. It also proved to them that their homeland was not invulnerable.

The morale factor back home was beyond scope. It was our first air strike against Japan itself, and the catalyst to Midway, and a major turning point.

As that B-25 left Kennett Airport with its engine roaring, all the old timers got a good look at the rear gunner bubble at the tail of the plane. The gunners were mostly small in size. You had to wonder what that lonely little guy's thoughts were as he soared across the Pacific, wondering if he would ever see home again.

Q: Who was John Brooke England

A: An Ace Fighter Pilot of World War II

It was near the middle of the nineteen forties, and the people of Caruthersville, Missouri were baking under an August sun.

There was a preternatural silence in the town because the people who could were inside their homes, staying close to the sweep of their electric fans.

Our of nowhere came the distant din of an airplane engine. Before anyone had time to swallow the din had turned into a roaring crescendo of power and sound.

The airplane swept in treetop high at about four hundred miles and hour, over the Mississippi River, and then did a turn for another pass. This time it seemed at housetop high, shaking bird's nests, and rattling windows.

The people who knew identified the plane as a P-47 Thunderbolt, one of the work-horse fighter planes of WWII. Everyone in town knew the pilot had to be Lt. John England.

John Brooke England was born in Caruthersville. During the war he was in one hundred eight combat missions. During the process he shot down nineteen enemy planes, most of them coming with the P-5l Mustang, the creme de la creme U.S. fighter plane of the war.

Lt. John England was making his first trip home after the war.

England won the Silver Star, and fighting in Korea he won many other decorations. He was killed in 1954 at Toul-Rosieres in France, flying a F-86 Jet, when he banked in a dense fog to avoid some barracks. He had been on a rotation tour from Alexandria, Louisiana with the 389 Fighter Bomber Squadron of which he was the commander.

After his death what had been the Alexandria Force Base was changed to England Air Force base in honor to then Lt. Colonel England. England Air Force Base closed in 1992, along with several other air bases.

Colorful and handsome, John England was the consummate air hero.

Those familiar with Caruthersville know that the main street, Ward Ave, starts at the seawall and goes south. At that time it terminated at Steven's Corner where you either continued on a dirt road south, or turned southwest toward Steele.

It was said that if John England had possessed a Greyhound Bus - and had he been so inclined - he could have started at the seawall, and by the time he reached Steven's Corner the bus would have been loaded with the prettiest girls in town, eager to establish a friendship.

When John England was in C'ville the other young men in town were reduced to the equivalent of one of the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz.

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