A little over a week ago, Lt. Col. Richard Cole died at age 103.
He was the last of the 80 Doolittle Raiders that bombed Tokyo on April 18, 1942, four months after Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941—a day that "will live in infamy," as President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it in his December 8, 1941 address to a joint session of congress, which declared war on Japan.
He promised that "No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people will in their righteous might win through to absolute victory."
This announced objective became more problematic three days later when Germany declared war on the United States. So, World War II began in earnest on two fronts. And we were unprepared for war on either front — let alone for both fronts — and things did not go well in the war’s early days. President Roosevelt sought an early way to back up his words.
Colonel Jimmy Doolittle’s mission, initially proposed by the Army Air Corps Commanding General Hap Arnold (an acolyte of the legendary Billy Mitchell in advocating airpower) became an unforgettable way to strike back at Japan’s capitol, Tokyo.
With Richard Cole as his co-pilot, Doolittle led 16 B-25 bombers from the deck of the USS Hornet aircraft carrier on a “one-way” mission to deliver their bombs on Tokyo and then bail out at sea, over China or crash land. Most made it with the help of Chinese allies, but some were captured and became prisoners of war, and others were executed.
Imperial Japan thought it was not vulnerable to air attack, and Americans had something to cheer about. They had been experiencing a very trying time as Japan and Germany both advanced after we were rudely awakened from our unprepared stupor.
President Roosevelt gave Doolittle the Medal of Honor, and all 80 Raiders received Distinguished Flying Crosses.
Years later, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I served with Jimmy Doolittle on several Air Force Scientific Advisory Board Task Forces that examined the vulnerabilities of our strategic forces and how best to modernize them. He retained that same vigor and creative initiative he demonstrated in leading the highly secret training and almost flawless execution of that potentially suicide mission.
Everything was rationed through World War II, to support the war effort.
We took the means to patch the synthetic rubber inner tubes that often had blowouts if we traveled very far from home. And of course, we had a hand pump to pump-up our tires for further travel.
Those were the days of "Rosie the Riveter," who manned the factories that produced the tanks, planes, guns, ammunition, explosives, and most all of the required logistics support for their husbands, sons, brothers and even wives, daughters and sisters who supported those who carried the battle to our enemies. They all were "The Greatest Generation."
Thankfully, because of our island nation status, far from the war zones of Europe and the Pacific, we had time to recover.
An irony is that Doolittle’s B-25s were named "Mitchells," after Billy Mitchell.
He is revered by many, including yours truly, as the father of the U.S. Air Force (USAF) because of his unbridled air power advocacy — which included many warnings, including a formal 1924 report to General of the Army John Pershing that included a prediction of a Pearl Harbor attack.
His often unwelcome and sometimes rude "strategic warnings" were ignored by the "powers that be of that era, who instead court marshalled then Air Service Brig. Gen. Mitchell and later reduced his rank to Colonel and cut his pay in half. (President Harry S. Truman posthumously awarded him the rank of major general and restored his back pay to his family.)
It took World War II to demonstrate the importance of air power even to the dumbest of the then powers that be and, in 1947, a needed separate U.S. Air Force was established, rather than continuing it under the mantle of the Army.
Today, we don’t have the time for a "World War II-like" demonstration to convince today’s "powers that be" that we need a separate U.S. Space Force, separate from the other services.
We no longer have the benefits of an isolated environment like in 1941, which permitted our unprepared but able industrial might to prepare for and engage in war, and indeed to win in only four-and-a-half years—just as Roosevelt promised—and in all theaters of World War II.
Time and space are now limited by technology that permits mortal attacks in microseconds via stylized cyber and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects.
And we are playing catch-up in preparing to counter threats from space, as stated by Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin — and echoed by a few Air Force leaders.
Meanwhile, some USAF leaders seem to have forgotten trials of their heritage—and instead now insist that President Trump’s Space Force remain under their wings rather than as the separate military service that is warranted.
As a former Air Force officer, I regret that my favorite service has been a major obstacle for years, and arrangements preferred by some Air Force leaders do not yet seem to show an interest in moving from their wayward ways, except to say we must be prepared to strike back if attacked.
Today, we need a separate service focused on the future missions to, in, through and from space. Not just as an adjunct to how things have so far evolved since the late 1950s.
Today, Secretary Heather Wilson is to posthumously honor the Doolittle Raiders for their raid 78 years ago, which changed the dynamics in the early days of World War II. She no doubt will appropriately celebrate naming our B-21 new bomber "The Raider" after the Doolittle Raiders.
She should also remember they flew B-25 Mitchells on that historic raid, named after the Father of the Air Force she now leads. In contemplating future Space Force needs, she and other USAF leaders should not make mistakes like those who opposed Mitchell’s correct view of airpower.
We don’t have time to construct the Space Force after another major war, this time beginning with an all too real possible Pearl Harbor in Space.
Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Previously, he served as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Deputy Assistant USAF Secretary and Science Advisor to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory. In the private sector he was Chairman of Applied Research Associates, a high technology company; member of the technical staff of Jaycor, R&D Associates and Bell Telephone Laboratories; a Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy; and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson and a PhD from New York University, all in Mechanical Engineering. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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