Lt. Nolan A. Herndon, United States Army Air Corps
It was April of 1942 and America was still licking its wounds from Pearl Harbor and several other battles in the early days of what would come to be called World War II. The Japanese were expanding their influence in the Pacific and there was a real question as to whether or not their expansionist goals could be countered on any level. Japan was half a world away – too far for any real American armed response to hit them the way they hit us.
It was then that an Army Air Corps pilot named Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle came up with the hair brained idea of launching a squadron of B-25s from a carrier with the mission of bombing downtown Tokyo. This was in the very early dawn of carrier based naval operations and pilots were having a hard time launching and landing fighter planes from carriers to say absolutely nothing about big bombers.
Doolittle's idea became reality on April 18, 1942 when he led 16 B-25s on a raid over Tokyo. They struck at the heart of the Japanese mainland – inflicting little damage but giving an enormous boost of confidence to the American people that they could, in fact, prevail in that conflict. Dooittle's Raiders met various fates after they dropped their bombs. Most made it to mainland China where they crash landed. Lt. Herdnon himself was interned in Russia for a year after the raid before returning to active duty in the United States. For his actions on that day he, along with all 80 of the Raiders, received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Along with Doolittle flew Lieutenant Nolan A. Herndon. He was a navigator and bombardier on that special mission. All the men flying those bombers knew there was a very real possibility their trip might well be one way. Herndon knew this – and he went anyway.
Lt. Herndon died Sunday, October 7, 2007 at the age of 88. Truly this man represented all that was great about his generation. May we carry a part of his courage with us.
Godspeed, Lieutenant. Welcome home.