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Yesterday two of the surviving Doolittle Raiders, Army Air Corp Lt. Col (Ret.) Richard Cole and SSgt. (Ret.) David Thatcher, were celebrated at the National Naval Aviation Museum on Pensacola Naval Air Station. Earlier in the week Eglin Air Force Base named a hangar for a third surviving Raider, Edward Saylor. This year was the 71st and final reunion of the Doolittle Raiders.

Doolittle 1

Doolittle 3

The Raiders’ story we know is a powerful one: They were 80 men flying in B-25 Mitchell Bombers and their mission was a surprise attack on Tokyo in April 1942, only months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in World War II. The Raid boosted American morale. While many folks enjoyed an opportunity of a lifetime when they were able to meet these heroes yesterday and exchange stories and thank you’s, many more are able to celebrate the event and the Raid’s history through others’ experience:

Doolittle Raiders: Surviving WWII aviators greet fans at Naval Aviation Museum (Pensacola News Journal, 04.21.2013).

Training the Doolittle Raiders (National Naval Aviation Museum: History Up Close)

Doolittle Raid on Japan, 18 April 1942 (Naval History & Heritage Command)

The Doolittle Raid (Hornet CV-8) (USS Hornet Museum)

This is the power of personal histories – one individual sharing his/her experience with or recollection of an event with another – to provide additional meaning to the event. Consider the opportunities personal histories can bring to your students. Here is one example from yesterday:

Vincille 3

While I was waiting in line on Sunday with a few friends, two whom currently serve as a Commander and Lt. Commander in the Navy, we were discussing learned history of the Doolittle Raid. After a short time a woman in front of us, Mrs. Anna Jo Vincill, greeted us by saying, “It’s hard to imagine what this really meant unless you were living during that time… and I was. I was 14… I can remember how proud we were that our people got to bomb Tokyo.” Mrs. Vincill was gracious to share her memories and stories with us—parts of her personal history—and answer questions we had. Below is a bit of our conversation:

(26-33) LT: You know, we can read about the morale change, the morale boost, but I can’t imagine living during that time period and actually experiencing that.

(34-51) Mrs. Vincill: I can still remember [Pearl Harbor]. I’m 86 years old and I can remember like it was yesterday. It was on a Sunday and I had gone to the roller-skating rink. That’s what I was doing so I’ll always remember.

(54-1:04) AH: How did hearing the news of Pearl Harbor contrast with what you heard about September 11?

(1:05-1:59) Mrs. Vincill: 9-11 was just… you know… Pearl Harbor, a lot of us in that era didn’t know “what is Pearl Harbor” or where Pearl Harbor is. We didn’t know. Sure, we were teenagers and took geography… It struck [us], but 9-11 struck our soul right here (pointing at her heart). [Pearl Harbor] was our territory… It was a horrible time. Horrible.

(2:00-2:05) AH: It really brought the country down to its knees, then [the Doolittle Raid] brought it back.

(2:06-2:09) Mrs. Vincill: We stayed on our knees to pray, but we got up to fight!

With today’s technology I was able to record much of our conversation with Mrs. Vincill using Voice Memo on my cell phone. She also shared with us about how the events of this time impacted the lives of women:

(2:11-3:46) Mrs. Vincill: That was when women, I’m for women, got to get jobs in factories and help build planes, and Rosie the Riveter. And, here was Rosie the Riveter – she had done nothing but stir cakes with an electric mixer, maybe, if she was lucky enough to have one. [Rosie’s] did marvelous things. [The men supervisors in the factories] came to see that [Rosie’s] were better workers than a lot of the men! Absolutely! … The thing is, though, what was good for us besides working for the war effort was that when it was all over… we (women) got careers. We went to work. Not to say that marriage and children are not important because it is… We found we were more than just one dimension; we could do more things.

Not surprising that all of Mrs. Vincill’s children, two of whom are girls (now women), have enjoyed personal and professional successes in their lives. My short visit with their Mom—by chance, while I was waiting in line with friends to express my thanks to two WWII and national heroes—enriched my knowledge of the WWII era far more than I could have imagined walking into the museum yesterday. Our conversation is a simple example of the power of personal histories and how easily they can be shared to enrich the knowledge and lives of others. Again, consider the opportunities personal histories can bring to your students.

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Photograph by Bruce Graner. (04.21.2013). Doolittle Raiders: Surviving WWII aviators greet fans at Naval Aviation Museum, Pensacola News Journal. Available online here.

U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph. Photo # NH 64472: Doolittle Raid on Japan, 18 April 1942. Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle (left front), leader of the attacking force, and Captain Marc A. Mitscher, Commanding Officer of USS Hornet (CV-8), pose with a 500-pound bomb and USAAF aircrew members during ceremonies on Hornet‘s flight deck, while the raid task force was en route to the launching point. Available online here.

Personal conversation included after acknowledgment of taped conversation.

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