Seventy-five years ago last week, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced the Japanese had executed some of the eight America airmen captured after they bombed Tokyo in 1942. Those included Sgt. Harold A. "Skinny" Spatz, 21, of Lebo in Coffey County.
Tim Hrenchir, the "History Guy" for CJOnline, returns Thursday with a short video about Spatz, who entered the Army Air Corps after graduating in 1939 from Lebo High School.
Spatz was among 80 airmen who volunteered to take part in an April 1942 raid in which the U.S. bombed cities on the Japanese mainland that included that nation's capital, Tokyo. Spatz was the only Kansan in the group, which was led by Lt. Col. James "Jimmy" Doolittle. The raid provided a great boost for morale in the U.S.
Sixteen bombers carrying crews of five men each were launched from the deck of the USS Hornet, an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean. Spatz was the gunner on "Bat out of Hell," the last plane to take off.
After dropping their bombs, 15 planes crash landed in or near China, or saw their crews bail out there after running out of fuel. The other bomber landed in Russia.
Sixty-nine raid participants avoided capture or death. Two drowned while one was killed in his bail-out attempt. Eight were captured by the Japanese, including all five crew members from Bat out of Hell.
Spatz and two other airmen, both of them pilots, were shot by firing squad in October 1942. The Japanese initially kept the executions secret.
Roosevelt announced in late April 1943 that the Japanese had killed some of the captured raiders. At the time, it wasn’t clear whether Spatz was alive.
Confirmation of Spatz's death came in 1945. Of the other captured airmen, one died in captivity and four were freed at the end of the war.
One airman who took part in the raid remains alive today. That's 102-year-old Richard E. "Dick" Cole, who was Doolittle's co-pilot.