When I returned to China for a second visit on Oct. 20-30, 30, a little more than three years had passed. Much had changed.
In September 2015, during my first visit, Barack Obama was U.S. president and Chinese President Xi Yinping was holding his coming-out party in Beijing as part of the "70th Anniversary of Victory in the Chinese People's War Against Japanese Aggression."
In October 2018, Xi was still Chinese president. But Donald Trump had replaced Obama as U.S. president, and relations between the two countries had worsened. Xi had embarked upon an aggressive program of placing military installations on reefs in the South China Sea. Trump had instigated a trade dispute involving hundreds of millions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese goods, reciprocated in part by China on U.S. goods.
Against this backdrop of escalating U.S.-China tensions, I led a contingent of 22 Americans, a Brit and a local Chinese historian on a mission of good will.
Our trip began in Beijing. We then traveled by high-speed train to Quzhou, where we added two members of our party, an American and the Chinese historian. We then traveled by bus to Jiangshi and other sites in Zhejiang Province. After taking another high-speed train to Shanghai, our trip ended.
Among our delegation were 12 descendants of Doolittle Raiders--sons, daughters and grandchildren--from the famous mission led by Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle that bombed Japan on April 18, 1942, in retaliation for Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, bringing the U.S. into WWII.
Running low on fuel after bombing Japan, the 80 members of the mission onboard 16 B-25 planes made a beeline for friendlier confines. One crew of five diverted to Russia and was interned for a year before escaping to Iran. The 75 men on the other 15 planes bailed out over China or crash-landed at various locations.
After landing in China, 64 of the Raiders, including my father and the fathers and grandfathers of our group's members, were rescued by Chinese guerrillas, farmers and fishermen, taken to safety, and eventually flown back to the U.S. where they later returned to the war effort.
Among the 11 others, three died--one after bailing out and the other two from drowning--and eight were captured by the Japanese. Three of those were later executed, one died from disease and starvation, and four were held captive in a Japanese prison for 40 months until the end of the war.
The 64 survivors of the Raid rescued by the Chinese never forgot their generosity, actions that later resulted in retaliatory wholesale slaughter by the Japanese of an estimated 250,000 Chinese including germ warfare, drowning, immolations and beheadings.
Our fathers and grandfathers owed their lives to the Chinese. By extension we did too. As part of our goodwill mission, we were determined to thank the descendants of the Chinese who had saved the Raiders and learn more about the roles played by their ancestors in the rescues.
In September 2015, my epiphany occurred while standing on the beach of Nandien Island in the South China Sea where my father's plane had crash-landed and his rescued crew was taken to safety further inland in China. At the time, my father was still living. I called him that evening and shared thoughts on my experience. Although separated physically half a world away, I could feel his emotion.
On Oct. 25, fellow Raider family member Mark Fitzhugh, son of Raider William Fitzhugh, had his epiphany, weeping openly outside the cave/air raid shelter at Wang Cun near Quzhou while reaching up to feel the surnames of his father and fellow Raider Douglas Radney carved into the outside wall more than 76 years earlier.
Jim Bower, son of Raider William Bower; John Pound, son of Raider William Pound; Ross Kantenberger, grandson of Raider Rodney Wilder; and Tom Macia, son of Raider Herb Macia Jr., shared an emotional moment when they recreated their fathers' and grandfathers' positions in a famous photo of many of the Raiders taken outside the cave/air raid shelter at Wang Cun.
Later that afternoon, our group traveled to downtown Quzhou for the opening of the Doolittle Raid Memorial Hall adjacent to the Municipal Germ Warfare Museum, which documented the slaughter of Chinese by the Japanese in retaliation for assisting the Raiders. Along with the U.S. vice counsel from Shanghai and local Chinese officials, I provided remarks. Members of our contingent also signed a Signature Wall adjacent to the new Memorial Hall.
In September 2015, four of us had visited the Municipal Germ Warfare Museum. We later brainstormed regarding an idea for a memorial hall nearby to honor the Raiders. I subsequently wrote letters to Quzhou municipal officials asking that they consider acquiring and renovating a structure in downtown Quzhou for that purpose, and they agreed to do so. Raider family members and local Chinese later donated Raider artifacts and provided guidance in setting up displays in the new building.
On Oct. 26, our group traveled by bus to the Jiangshan Archives Bureau where Director Xu Quing provided a presentation on his research related to the Doolittle Raid. He had begun his quest in 1994 after learning about the Japanese atrocities. Later that afternoon, we drove to the Jiangshan Doolittle Raider Memorial Hall at Baoan, which had been established under Xu's direction in April 2015.
On Oct. 27, we traveled in two smaller buses with Jiangshan Archives Bureau representatives to Raider sites far up in the nearby mountains near the town of Changtai. At one site, Susann Ozuk, daughter of Raider Charles Ozuk, had her epiphany when she met the son and grandsons of the Chinese national who had rescued and saved her father after he had bailed out of his plane and seriously injured his leg. She and the rescuer's son embraced emotionally.
Later that afternoon, we visited several sites in a small city where some of the Raiders had been. At one of the sites, an elderly Chinese man recounted firsthand his recollections of seeing the Raiders.
Everywhere we went in the small city, we were followed by curious Chinese children. Our guide told us it was a once-in-a-10-year moment for the townspeople. Many of the residents had never seen Americans. As a gesture of good will, I gave some of the children Raider tokens and dollar bills.
On Oct. 28, we visited the Enze Clinic in Linhai Township where members of my father's crew had been treated for injuries caused by their plane's crash landing. I had previously visited the clinic in September 2015. When we reached the room in the clinic dedicated to my father, we saw photos on the wall from my earlier visit.
Our final visit to a Raider site occurred Oct. 29 in downtown Shanghai when we went to the Bridge House apartments, formerly Japan's WWII secret police headquarters where Raider POWs were incarcerated. Even though the structure's purpose was now completely different, we were touched by its history.
We also visited No. 2 Quzhou Middle School, which I had visited in 2015. After my first visit, the Children of the Doolittle Raiders, the group I lead, had established a modest scholarship program for students participating in a yearly essay contest in English on the Doolittle Raid and its impact upon China.
For 2018, 12 students had submitted essays for the contest. The quality of the essays was much better than in previous years, so we decided to award each contestant a prize, including first prize, two second prizes and nine third prizes, which would be handed out during our visit to the school.
A passage in the winning essay titled "Doolittle: From Past to Future" perfectly summarized my thoughts on our trip to China and my hopes for the future.
"We'll remember the Doolittle Raid because of love. The bond of ever-lasting friendship forged across the Pacific Ocean is as stable as the earth beneath our feet. It confirms that in the years full of the smell of dynamite and the noise of gunfire, love still lives strongly and touchingly like picturesque scenery that can take one's breath away. It sends out the call that resounds in the dome of our hearts--'You are not alone.' It gives us the conviction that no matter how miserable things seem to be, life will bloom brilliantly. It is a friendship worth cherishing and inheriting."
Jeff Thatcher is a professional communicator and longtime resident of Little Rock. His late father, Doolittle Raider David J. Thatcher, was the engineer/gunner on Crew No. 7, "The Ruptured Duck."
Editorial on 11/11/2018
Print Headline: China, the second time around