By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
Retired Lt. Col. Ed Saylor, one of only four remaining survivors of the 80 men who flew the first bombing raid on Japan following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, is scheduled to visit Paine Field on Saturday.
The visit by Saylor, 94, of Enumclaw, is part of a commemoration by the Historic Flight Foundation of the 72nd anniversary of the Doolittle Raid of April 18, 1942.
The daylong event includes flights by the B-25D Mitchell bomber in the foundation’s collection, a chance to win a ride on the plane, a talk by Saylor and a showing of the 1944 film about the raid, “30 Seconds Over Tokyo.” Admission is $12 for daytime events and $50 for the evening program.
A lot of things had to go Saylor’s way for him to make it out of the raid alive, he said.
The 16 bombers, with five crew members each, took off from two aircraft carriers in the Pacific. They bombed five cities, including Tokyo and the city targeted by Saylor’s plane, Kobe.
The raid was named for Lt. Col. James Doolittle, the mission commander.
Saylor, 22 at the time, had enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1939. After growing up on a ranch in eastern Montana during the Great Depression, “there were no jobs except on someone else’s ranch,” he said.
He was a buck sergeant for the Army and the flight engineer on the B-25. Coming so early in World War II, it was the crew’s first combat mission, and most were untrained, Saylor said.
While the bombers were able to take off from an aircraft carrier, landing them on a ship was another matter, so the plan was to land in China and eventually rendezvous in Chongqing.
The crew faced little opposition from Japanese planes during the raid, Saylor said, because the crew took off earlier than planned after a Japanese patrol ship was spotted, shelled and sunk.
“That’s why I’m here,” Saylor said. “We were sitting ducks, we had no defense. It was a bright, sunshiny afternoon.”
The early takeoff, however, lengthened the trip from the planned 400 miles to nearly 700, and some of the bombers didn’t have enough gas even to make it to the Chinese mainland.
“I wound up in the China Sea,” Saylor said.
The crew had a rubber raft, but it was punctured by part of the plane after they ditched into the sea. The crew was about a half-mile from an island. Saylor couldn’t swim, so he hung on to a rope attached to the raft as it was pulled by swimming crew members.
By then it was dark and the Japanese were on their tail. Gunboats were nearby.
On the island, the crew came across a pagoda. Inside they encountered an older man, a minister of some type. He spoke no English and the crew spoke no Chinese.
“He was trying to figure out what to do with us,” Saylor said.
The man then picked up a tin can full of sticks and dumped a couple of them on the floor.
The minister apparently was using the ancient Chinese divination art of I Ching to decide whether to help the Americans.
“We were glad the reading was encouraging for us,” Saylor said.
The minister hid the crew in an underground cave on the property. They could peek out.
“I saw Japanese soldiers’ feet going by,” he said.
The soldiers had seen the American crew’s footprints. They grilled the minister but he eventually was able to send them away.
The crew waited, sneaked out and persuaded a Chinese fisherman into stowing them away on his small boat. They were huddled in the bottom, covered with a tarp, when the fisherman was intercepted by bandits on the way to the mainland.
“They were arguing back and forth in Chinese,” he said.
On the mainland, the crew had no clue where to go. They eventually encountered a homeless teenage boy, about 15, who spoke some English. His name was Yufuan.
“He became our interpreter, our navigator, our food scrounger,” Saylor said.
With the boy’s help the crew made it several hundred miles inland via train and bus, and got a ride part way from a British missionary who had an old Ford station wagon.
They made it to a remote airstrip, where the Army sent a plane to pick them up. The crew wanted to take the boy with them but were told they couldn’t.
“So we left him standing on the runway,” Saylor said. The crew was unable to find out what happened to the boy afterward, he said.
Most of the other planes in the Doolittle raid made it to the east coast of China. Three of the 80 crew members were killed, one on bailout and two after crash landing in the sea, according to doolittleraider.com, the mission’s website.
Eight men were captured by the Japanese. Three of them were executed by firing squad, one died from malnutrition and four survived confinement to be freed at the end of the war.
The 2001 movie “Pearl Harbor,” starring Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett, depicted the Doolittle Raid near the end of the film.
The takeoff scene was accurate, Saylor said. “The rest was Hollywood.”
After the raid, Saylor spent the rest of the war in Europe. He would fly only one more mission, spending most of the war in aircraft maintenance.
Altogether, he spent 28 years in the military. After the war, the Army Air Corps became the Air Force, and Saylor eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel before retiring in 1967 at age 47.
He lived in Puyallup for many years and he and his wife raised three children. One of his sons served in Vietnam and later died of cancer, he said. He lost his wife three years ago.
Saylor dabbled in real estate and home construction, but mostly, he said, “I’ve just been enjoying my retirement.”
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Historic Flight Foundation is hosting a commemoration of the 1942 Doolittle Raid beginning at 11 a.m. Saturday at the museum, 10719 Bernie Webber Drive, off the Mukilteo Speedway.
Daytime events include rides for museum members in the collection’s B-25D Mitchell bomber and an appearance by Jonna Doolittle Hoppes (granddaughter of mission commander Lt. Col. James Doolittle). The cost is $12.
The public may also enter online at tinyurl.com/olkpsfn by noon Friday for a chance to ride in the B-25. Winners will be announced at 3:30 p.m. with the flight scheduled for 4:30.
The evening program includes dinner at 5:30 and talks by Hoppes and retired Lt. Col. Ed Saylor, one of the four remaining survivors of the mission. The evening will be capped by a showing of the 1944 movie “30 Seconds over Tokyo,” based on a book by Ted Lawson, one of the pilots.
The cost for the evening event is $50. Proceeds will benefit the Edward J. Saylor Aviation Scholarship Fund. Tickets are available online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/578946 or by calling 425-348-3200.