Whether by plane, train or automobile, folks from all over came out in droves for Saturday’s sixth annual Wings and Wheels Fall Festival in Georgetown.
Karen Duffield, executive director of the Greater Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, said around 7,000 festival-goers flocked to the Sussex County Airport this year. However, she added, it’s difficult to gauge an exact number, as the Chamber does not charge admission to the festival. Still, she suspected actual attendance was much higher than in previous years.
“By most everyone’s visual account or based on their experience at past festivals, myself included, it just felt like we had record numbers in attendance,” Duffield said, adding more than 40 vintage planes flew in for the festival and the car show saw 376 registrants.
Linda Price, chairperson of the festival, said Friday night’s dinner and camp show, held in an airplane hangar at the airport, saw about 275 attendees.
This year’s featured guest was 98-year-old Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole, the co-pilot for Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle in the April 18, 1942 retaliatory bombing of the Japanese mainland following the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
Then 26 years old, Cole was one of the 80 Doolittle Raiders who volunteered for the mission without knowing exactly where they were going.
Tom Casey, manager for the Doolittle Raiders, told festival-goers the men were trained in Florida on how to launch a U.S. Air Force B-25B Mitchell medium bomber at just 500 feet. At the time, Casey said, the Raiders did not know they were being trained to fly off an aircraft carrier. Following their training, the Raiders flew to California where they boarded the USS Hornet.
“It wasn’t until two days later that they got the message from Doolittle that they were headed to Japan to bomb five major cities,” Casey said.
Casey said the plan was to have the U.S. Navy take the Raiders 400 miles off the coast of Japan where they would launch 16 bombers. They would have enough fuel to make their targets, round the southern end of Japan and land in Chuchow, China, which was a safe area.
“The raid was supposed to happen the night of April 19,” Casey said. “One thing our intelligence didn’t know or realize was the Japanese had put out a wide perimeter of commercial fishing boats and patrollers whose job was to broadcast back to Tokyo any kind of traffic. On the morning of April 18, one of those patrollers spotted our fleet.”
Casey said the men on the USS Hornet and USS Enterprise picked up the warning message sent back to Tokyo. They knew their mission had been compromised. Doolittle made the decision to strike early, even though the fleet was 700 miles from Japan. The bombers were equipped with extra fuel tins and they took off around 8 a.m. on April 18.
Page 2 of 2 - Casey said one aircraft that was low on fuel had to land in the Soviet Union; but the 15 others bombed their intended targets and headed for the China Sea. The bombers flew into a storm. All were low on fuel and none landed in Chuchow. The crews of 11 bombers bailed out over China, three bombers bailed out in the waters off the China coast and one bomber crashed. Of the 80 Raiders, 69 survived.
“[After the raid], this country got off its knees, put a new spirit of fight in them and everything changed,” Casey said. “It was exactly what [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt was praying for and what everyone was praying for.”
At Wings and Wheels, Cole shared several stories regarding his experience.
Before the Raiders knew they were going to Tokyo, Cole said they thought they were headed to an island in the Pacific where they would start fighting the war. Members of the Navy, he said, had not been happy about the Air Force “carpetbaggers” being on their carrier and disrupting their routine.
“After the announcement was made, there was a lot of jubilation and the Navy people couldn’t do enough for us,” Cole said with a smile.
Following the attacks, Cole said Doolittle was the last to bail out of their bomber, which they’d kept flying until it completely ran out of fuel.
“My parachute drifted over a pine tree and left me hanging about 12 feet off the ground, so I spent the night in a tree,” Cole said. “I was too scared to sleep, but I know I dozed off. The next morning, the storm had passed, so I repacked my chute into my backpack and started walking.”
Cole said he found Doolittle and the two ran into some friendly Chinese guerillas.
“They picked us up and took us to a headquarters where there were Chinese nationals and a phone,” he said.
The men spent a week at the headquarters, Cole said, until they caught wind that the Japanese were on their trail. For the next two weeks, they traveled via bus, car and donkey until they reached Hengyang. From there, they flew to Chungking, China’s provisional capital at the time, before flying to Calcutta, India, which was the proverbial end of the road.