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Iowa History Daily: April 18 - Leland Faktor & the Doolittle Raid

Iowa History Daily: On April 18, 1942, Corporal Leland D. Faktor, Flight Engineer and Gunner from Plymouth, Iowa, bailed out of his B-25 bomber following the Doolittle Raid on Japan. The only of Doolittle’s Raiders killed in the raid, Faktor was one of three Iowans to either bail out or crash land over the Chinese coast following the famous 13-hour flight and raid.

Born May 17, 1921, in Plymouth, Fakor grew up on a farm about one and half miles west of town. “He was a quiet boy and some said shy; but he was not quiet or shy when it came to airplanes,” recalled his sister LaVerne in the 1995 book “A Potpourri of Plymouth’s Past. After graduating from Plymouth High School, Faktor enlisted at Fort Des Moines on August 9, 1940, in the hopes of becoming a pilot. Sent to Chanute Field in Rantoul, Illinois, by the Army Air Corps to complete Airplane Mechanic’s School. By April 1941, Faktor volunteered when commanders of the 17th Bombardment Group and 89th Reconnaissance Squadron came looking for men willing to serve on “an extremely hazardous mission…of great value to the war effort.” In all, 24 crews consisting of 70 officers and 130 enlisted airmen mustered at Eglin Air Field on March 3, 1942, where Faktor and others first met the charismatic commander Jimmy Doolittle before embarking on a hectic training regimen.

By April 2, 1942, the crews flew to the west coast and loaded the planes on to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet. After sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge and out into the Pacific, Doolittle announced over the ship’s semiphone “This force is bound for Japan!” Each of the sixteen B-25 Bombers aboard carried four specially constructed 500-pound bombs, five of which airmen wired with the ‘friendships’ medals previously presented to the United States by the Japanese government. On April 18, 1942, the USS Hornet encountered the Japanese picket boat No. 23 Nittō Maru. After the small boat radioed an attack warning back to Japan, the order came across the Hornet’s loudspeakers: “Army pilots man your planes!” Despite being ten hours earlier than planned and an additional 170 nautical miles from Japan, the B-25s rumbled off the Hornet and into the skies.

As Doolittle led the way, the bombers arrived over Japan six hours later and started unleashing furious payloads over military and industrial targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe, and Osaka. Running low on fuel, fifteen of the sixteen planes continued southwest over the East China Sea (the other headed for the USSR), hoping to ride a brisk tailwind to previously determined bases in China. None arrived as planned. The “Whiskey Pete,” carrying Faktor and his crewmates, made the Chinese coast before the crew decided to bail out at roughly 6,000 feet. Faktor’s parachute did not fully open, and he perished. The only initial casualty of the raid, American servicemen stationed in the region gave Faktor a full military funeral at Wang Tsun roughly a month after his death.

After the war, the last of Doolittle’s Raiders in China returned home for internment at Plymouth’s Bohemian Cemetery on April 27, 1949, seven years and nine days following his death. For his bravery, the government awarded Faktor the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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