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Doolittle receiving the  Medal of Honor
Doolittle receiving the Medal of Honor
Photograph from Bettman/Corbis


Lt. Col. James Doolittle, who had been a U.S. Army flight instructor in World War I, was already famous as a racing pilot when he was recalled to active duty in 1940. Early in 1942 he was given a secret mission: Train volunteer Army Air Forces flight crews to take off from an aircraft carrier to bomb Japan.

Doolittle “didn’t say much, but what he said was the truth, and you believed it,” remembers Royden Stork, one of the volunteers for the secret mission. “There was an old slogan: ‘There was never an airplane built that Doolittle couldn’t or wouldn’t fly.’”

After a while Stork and the other volunteers guessed that their secret mission probably involved an aircraft carrier. They were taking off their B-25B Mitchell bombers on runways of only 450 feet (137 meters), compared to the normal B-25 runway takeoff of 1,200 to 1,500 feet (360 to 450 meters).

The training “got us to thinking about short takeoffs,” he remembers. “Carrier? No, that couldn’t be.”

Yes, it could.


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