Off Beat: Doolittle Raiders honor touches home

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Commemorative events during Memorial Day weekend included a White House nod to a World War II airman from Vancouver.

President Barack Obama signed a bill on May 23 awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Doolittle Raiders.

Vancouver’s Wayne Bissell was one of 80 Doolittle Raiders who bombed Japan on April 18, 1942; only four are still alive.

Bissell, who died in 1997, was a bombardier on the B-25 bomber “Whirling Dervish.”

Like all the Raiders, the 1937 graduate of Vancouver High School volunteered without knowing anything about the mission — other than it was very dangerous.

Led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, 16 bombers took off from an aircraft carrier in the Pacific and bombed Tokyo less than five months after Pearl Harbor.

Bissell once told The Columbian that he could see the Imperial Palace, but Doolittle had given specific orders not to bomb the emperor’s home. Instead, Bissell dropped three 500-pound demolition bombs and a 500-pound incendiary cluster on the Tokyo Gas & Electric complex.

After flying 300 miles into China, the crew bailed out as their B-25 ran out of fuel in the middle of the night, in a storm. The terrain was so mountainous they walked two days to get to a road.

Chinese villagers helped them reach Allied lines.

The mission boosted American morale and punctured the myth of an invulnerable Japanese homeland. All the Raiders received the Distinguished Flying Cross, and Doolittle received the Medal of Honor.

Bissell went to flight school and piloted B-25 bombers in the southwest Pacific until his discharge in July 1945.

The Congressional Gold Medal will be presented to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.


Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.