Within days of the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt began pressuring his military advisors to quickly strike against Japan. Several creative naval officers in Washington proposed launching 16 USAAF B-25 “Mitchell” medium bombers from an aircraft carrier 450 miles east of Japan. Their idea was presented to Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle. He accepted the plan and requested to lead the mission.
There are 10 or more support persons for every pilot. Enter Jack Wolfe working at North American Aviation’s B-25 assembly line. In early February 1942 a supervisor informed an Aircraft and Engine Mechanic and Jack, “I have a Top Secret job for you two. Install these tanks and not a word to anyone!”
Jack installed two 55 gallon fuel tanks in 16 B-25 aircraft. Next he connected a fuel line to the two tanks, a time consuming process. While Jack was working on the two 55 gallon tanks, several men were installing a 550 gallon fuel tank in the bomb bay between the two bomb racks. The three tanks would extend the plane’s range from 1,000 miles to 2,500.
Two B-25s were lifted by a crane onto the flight deck of the Navy’s newest carrier, USS Hornet, CV-8. The planes were successfully launched in practice flights from the Hornet off Virginia’s coast. In late March 1942 the Hornet arrived at Alameda NAS, in San Francisco Bay. Sixteen B-25s were loaded and secured on the flight deck of the Hornet. Under a veil of secrecy, the Hornet and escort ships departed on April 2, 1942. The sixteen B-25s were launched on April 18, 1942 after being spotted by a Japanese fishing boat. The Doolittle raiders bombed Tokyo and other cities on the island of Honshu surprising the Japanese. Words cannot describe the boost in every American’s morale. Captain Ted Lawson wrote the book Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo edited by Robert Considine in 1943. The movie was released November 15, 1944.
Jack was born April 10, 1918 and enlisted in the United States Army on January 12, 1937 experiencing his first boot camp. He was assigned to a 75 mm artillery unit at Schofield Barracks on Oahu, Hawaii. His commanding officer wanted a championship boxing team. As a welterweight boxer, Jack won his share of fights. Honorably discharged from the Army in 1939, he returned to the Los Angeles area eventually working at North American to work with an Aircraft and Engine mechanic assembling B-25 “Mitchell” medium bombers. After the top secret project was finished, so was his job at North American. Jack signed up and received six weeks of intense, government-paid lathe and drill press training at National Supply in Torrance, Calif. Douglas Aircraft hired Jack to build SBD Dauntless dive bomber for the Navy’s carriers. The Navy wanted the dive bombers built yesterday.
Jack had served in the Army so he was exempt from being drafted in 1942. Anxious to serve again, Jack joined the United States Coast Guard in 1943 attending his second boot camp. After several months as a Coastie, Jack was given a choice: be a coxswain on a LCVP landing Marines on Tarawa; a rock occupied by thousands of Japanese in the Pacific. Jack’s commanding officer recommended he select discharge.
After being honorably discharged, Jack sold his watch to ride with a woman driving her car from Houston to Los Angeles. In LA he decided to join the Navy and was told he had to wait until June 1944. At the local Selective Service Office he was told to see a Navy chief. The chief asked, “Why do you want to join the Navy?” Jack responded, “I like the salt!” He was ordered to his third boot camp in Farragut, Idaho.
After nine weeks he traveled by train to Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay and hitched a ride on the USS Saratoga, CV-3, to Pearl Harbor. He was assigned to the “splinter Navy,” a wooden mine sweeper, YMS-386 (Yard Mine Sweeper).
When Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945, YMS-386 was in an Okinawa harbor. Immediately, YMS-386 was assigned to clear mines from the Japanese harbors of Kobe, Nagoya and Yokohama. Minesweepers have an expression, “Where the fleet goes, we’ve been.”
Gunners Mate 1st Class Clifford M. Medley served on YMS-386 from June 1945 to December 1945. In his journal he wrote about YMS-386 sailing on 10/4/1945 from Buckner Bay, Okinawa around the south of Okinawa to the Sea of China to Unton Ko on northern Okinawa. Jack was at the helm heading into Typhoon Louise’s mountainous waves. YMS-386 and three other ships survived Louise; nine ships were lost at sea, no survivors.
On July 13, 1947 Jack and Flora Estelle Mote drove to Yuma, Ariz., and exchanged their wedding vows. Flora gave birth to their only child, Julie, in 1953. Prior to her birth, Jack was called up from the Naval Reserve in 1950. He served during the Korean War on an APA, Attack Transport, as a landing craft coxswain. Flora passed away in 2014. At 98 years young, Jack lives with Julie, and her husband, Jim.
We salute you and all our Vets.
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.