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Doolittle raider visits Hanscom Air Force Base, shares stories

Sgt. Ed Horton (Courtesy photo)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFMCNS) - Retired Master Sgt. Ed Horton (Courtesy photo)

HANSCOM AIR FORCE BASE, Mass. (AFMCNS) -- Veterans of World War II are products of the often-called 'Greatest Generation,' in reference to their sacrifices for freedom. Recently, one such veteran visited Hanscom's Airman Leadership School.

Retired Master Sgt. Ed Horton graduated high school in 1934 and entered the Army in 1935, serving in the Army Air Corps, and later the Air Force, until 1960. But Sergeant Horton isn't just "one of the boys" as he refers to himself. He volunteered, when he was stationed in Oregon, and was hand-selected for a top secret mission; a mission about which he knew no details until he was out to sea onboard a naval aircraft carrier.

His mission was to serve as a turret gunner on Crew 10 during the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo.

The raid, which occurred on April 18, 1942, approximately four months after Japan's attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, was the brainchild of then Lt. Col. Jimmie Doolittle. Sixteen crews took off the USS Hornet to strike the Japanese homeland's military and industrial targets. This was the first time in history that a plane as large as a B-25 was able to successfully take-off from an aircraft carrier.

Much of the training and modifications to the aircraft, Sergeant Horton said, were done at Eglin Field, Fla. However, it is not known which airfield was the actual training site.

The raiders were forced to launch early, due to a Japanese fishing trawler spotting the carrier. Instead of hitting Japan under the cover of darkness, the targets were lit by daylight and there was not enough fuel on board for the aircraft to make it to their rally point in China.

"I don't remember that much about the take-off," Sergeant Horton said. "We took off one-by-one and each plane circled once to get their bearings and compass headings. After that, I never saw another plane in the group." Crew 10's primary target was the Japan Special Steel Company where the crew dropped two 500-pound bombs with direct hits.

When asked if he expected to die on this mission, Sergeant Horton took a moment and said, "No."

"This wasn't a suicide mission at first," he said. The aircraft were designed to carry enough fuel to make it to the target and back to the rally point. In order to carry that large amount of fuel, the bottom gun turret was converted into a fuel tank in which the crew emptied numerous five-gallon cans of fuel along the way, he said.

What wasn't anticipated was the carrier being detected early, forcing the group to launch immediately, he said.

Due to the early take-off of the group, this fuel was not enough to get back to a prearranged rendezvous point in China. "We had to bail out over China's costal mountain range," Sergeant Horton said.

Faced with a controlled crash landing on China's coast or bailing out over the mountain range, Lieutenant Richard Joyce, Sergeant Horton's pilot and crew commander, chose to have the crew bail out.

Due to a tail wind, Crew 10's plane made it over the range and the crew bailed out with Engineer Gunner with Sergeant Horton going first out the rear hatch of the plane. He recalled when the lieutenant gave the order to jump, he said, "Ok lieutenant, here I go and thanks for a swell ride."

Sergeant Horton was able to land on a ridge and the next morning, walked to a small town where local friendly Chinese assisted him. "I met a school teacher who took me to the local schoolhouse and we began to try to communicate using a Chinese-English dictionary," he said. "From there I was able to go to an English missionary."

Sergeant Horton virtually hitchhiked to his original destination in China where he left for India. He stayed in the China-India theatre until 1943, serving as an armament chief. There he worked with the famous Flying Tigers. He later returned to the area serving in Libya during his career.

Students wondered if he knew the impact, and importance, of his mission to which he humbly answered, no. "I didn't know the impact of this mission, but as it turned out, it was a huge morale boast for our forces.

"I don't think that I did anything more than my job," he said.

"All of us were volunteers," Sergeant Horton said. "We were given every opportunity to back out, right up until the planes took off, and none of us did. We had a job to do."

Looking back on the rest of his career, Sergeant Horton said that he never experienced any special treatment for being one of Doolittle's Tokyo Raiders.

From the experience, he has made lasting friendships both in the U.S., through other raiders, and with the Chinese nationals who helped him. He renews these friendships and honors those who have passed on at yearly reunions filled with ceremony and tradition. The reunions are held every April 18 and recently were opened to the public.

Special goblets are raised to toast those who have passed on and the highest ranking person from each crew, states "here" during a role call. The goblets are then packed away to be stored at the United States Air Force Academy until next year's event.

Sixty years after the end of WWII, Sergeant Horton still fills with pride in today's Air Force.

He left the Hanscom ALS class with one piece of advice - "You must have a lot of courage, maintain respect for your superiors and above all, work hard."