Follow Footsteps of ‘Jimmy’ Doolittle

National Archives

The USS Nashville stands watch in the distance as Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s B-25 bombers sit at the ready aboard USS Hornet on the way to Japan. Doolittle and his Tokyo Raiders bombed Japan in 1942

Wednesday, April 18, 1942, lives in the hearts of American World War II historians. That’s the day — 142 days after Pearl Harbor — that Lt. Col. James "Jimmy" Doolittle’s 16 modified B-25 bombers took off from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet to bomb Japan.

Lt. Gen. Henry "Hap" Arnold, commanding general of the U.S. Army Air Forces, assigned Doolittle the task of organizing the mission and coordinating it with the Navy. Doolittle insisted on piloting one of the bombers. Arnold reluctantly agreed.

The Alameda Naval Air Station, under the command of Captain Frank McCrary, played a critical role in this mission. On March 31, 1942, the Hornet with her complete air group of 80 planes stored below on the hanger deck, arrived at Pier 2 with a bare flight deck. On April 1, 1942, Doolittle selected 16 B-25s for the mission and had them loaded aboard the Hornet. She put out to sea the next day.

On Sunday, March 29, the Alameda Naval Air Museum (ANAM), 2151 Ferry Point, Building 77, will commemorate the loading of the bombers onto the USS Hornet with the "Doolittle Walk." Bring your questions, cameras, and be enthralled as you walk the streets where the Doolittle Raiders took that big step 73 years ago.

The walk begins at 11 a.m. at ANAM. Tickets will be available starting at 10 a.m., when the museum opens. They cost $20 each for both adults and children. Tickets include the walk and admission to ANAM and the Hornet. The walk is limited to the first 50 people on tour day.

Historian Marshall Davis will lead the walk. Davis, a Korean War veteran, works with the History Connection, a local group that provides the community with presentations of historical and military interest. His interest in the Alameda Naval Air Station began as an 11-year-old boy during World War II. When he returned to the Bay Area in 2011, he became a member and volunteer at ANAM.

ANAM has made efforts to contact families of Doolittle Raiders and other notables and invited them to the walk.

Davis will lead participants to the runway where Doolittle’s pilots landed their bombers. The group will retrace the route as the planes followed jeeps onto West Tower Avenue and down Ferry Point where the USS Hornet lay docked. There, a Navy team prepared the planes for loading, towing the planes onto Pier 2, where a crane lifted them aboard.

Davis will share details and photos along the walk, which will include a visit to the USS Hornet Museum. The group will visit the hangar deck to visualize the 80 navy planes stacked two deep in 1942.

Davis will then lead the group to the flight deck where the B-25 bombers sat. He will pace off the 400 feet of remaining deck space the pilots used for takeoffs and describe their specialized training and expertise.

The group will then be free to explore the USS Hornet Museum and depart at their leisure. ANAM will remain open until 4 p.m. for those wishing to return there for a visit. The museum contains model airplanes, uniforms and Jimmy Doolittle memorabilia and is open Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Find out more by calling 522-4262 or at www.navalairmuseum.org.