Feature

Thomas C. Griffin, 1916–2013

The WWII navigator who helped steer the Doolittle Raid

To exact revenge for the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Maj. Thomas C. Griffin signed on as a navigator for then Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s daring raid on Japan. Griffin and 80 other volunteers figured it was a suicide mission, he later said, but believed “we needed to hit back.” 

As Doolittle’s Raiders began training, they were told only that the mission would be “extremely hazardous,” said The Washington Post. When the 16 B-25 bombers took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet on April 18, 1942, they “lacked fuel to reach safe bases after dropping their bombs.” The plan was to escape toward China, a U.S. ally, once they’d dropped their payloads on 15 military and industrial targets, mostly in Tokyo. 

The attack was more of a “pinprick” than a “tit-for-tat answer to Pearl Harbor,” said The Washington Times, but it dealt a “stunning psychological blow” to the Japanese. “It gave the initial warning that we were coming,” Griffin said last year, “and that we had more than they could handle.”

Many of Griffin’s comrades were captured by Japanese troops and either shot or imprisoned as POWs, said USA Today, but he parachuted into China and escaped to safety. “By his own count, he cheated death eight times during World War II.” He was shot down over Sicily in 1943 and imprisoned by the Germans until the war’s end. 

Griffin’s death leaves four surviving Raiders, who expect to meet next month for the last time and finally open a bottle of 1896 cognac that Doolittle bought before his death, in 1993, for the final survivors to toast their fallen comrades.

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