Cover image for The first heroes : the extraordinary story of the Doolittle Raid-- America's first World War II victory
The first heroes : the extraordinary story of the Doolittle Raid-- America's first World War II victory
Nelson, Craig, 1955-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, 2002.
Physical Description:
xviii, 430 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D767.25.T6 N45 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
D767.25.T6 N45 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
D767.25.T6 N45 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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The Doolittle Raiders, as they became known, were a squadron of eighty scarcely trained young men led by the famous daredevil aviator Jimmy Doolittle. Their mission-the daring World War II bombing raid of Tokyo and other cities in April 1942-was successful until Japanese spies forced most of the squadron to crash-land in enemy-occupied China, where pilots were ferried underground across the country to safety. One plane landed in the Soviet port of Vladivostok, where the crew was eventually smuggled out of the country through Persia. Others were captured by the Japanese, confined to years of imprisonment and torture. The fact that 90 percent of the men involved came home alive was little short of a miracle. Extensively researched, including interviews with twenty of the twenty-seven remaining survivors, The First Heroesvividly recreates America's first great victory of World War II. Craig Nelson follows the Doolittle Raiders from their secret training on a Florida airfield to their tense days in transit across the Pacific to the bombing itself and finally to their courageous accounts of survival against astonishing odds. This story of America's striking back at its enemies after a vicious surprise attack will resonate widely with the general public today and is sure to appeal to all readers of Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation.

Author Notes

Craig Nelson was an editor at HarperCollins, Hyperion, and Random House for almost twenty years. He lives in New York City.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In April 1942, 16 American bombers under the overall command of James Doolittle attacked Tokyo and other Japanese cities. The military effects of the Doolittle raid were negligible, but the psychological effects were enormous. For the Americans, still reeling from the shock of Pearl Harbor, it provided a great emotional lift. The Japanese, supposedly impregnable in their home islands, now felt vulnerable, which probably led their high command to blunder into defeat at Midway. Nelson is the son and nephew of World War II veterans, and this work is clearly a labor of love. With unstinting admiration, he describes the heroism of the various crew members; in Nelson's view, they illustrated how ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things when properly led and motivated. The most interesting part of the book is the harrowing story of survival as crew members are forced to ditch their planes on the Asian mainland. This is a thrilling real-life saga that both informs and inspires. --Jay Freeman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Planned in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor at the behest of President Roosevelt, the U.S. bombing raids on Japan in spring 1942 were the first U.S. strikes of the war. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle of the Army Air Force, in consultation with the U.S. Navy, planned for B-25 medium bombers to take off from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet, hit targets including Tokyo and land at airfields in unoccupied China. The project was innovative and risky, as no medium bomber had ever taken off from an aircraft carrier, and at the time, Allied forces were being constantly beaten by the Japanese. Nelson (Let's Get Lost), whose father was a WWII Air Force pilot in New Guinea and whose mother served as a wartime air traffic controller in Atlanta, digs deeply into the planning, training and carrying out of the mission, sometimes awkwardly employing military slang, but infusing the account with infectious enthusiasm and numerous engaging first-person accounts. All the planes successfully took off and bombed their targets, but a last-minute hitch left them without enough fuel; most reached Allied lines, but eight crew members were captured by the Japanese and tried as war criminals: three were executed. The fates and subsequent careers of all the veterans quoted in the book are warmly detailed, making this an involving account of a lesser known period of the war. (Sept. 30) Forecast: Nelson, who will make an eight-city author tour, has been an editor at HarperCollins, Hyperion and Random House, and his magazine work appears regularly. Expect some national reviews, with the possible news hook comparing the U.S. entry into WWII with the early stages of the "War on Terror." (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Editor-turned-author Nelson draws on interviews with survivors to reconstruct the Doolittle Raid. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

History Runs Away ...p. xi
Liftoff: April 18, 1942p. xv
Part 1

p. 1

Volunteersp. 3
"The Man Who Can Never Stand Still"p. 32
Shipp. 50
Dai Nippon Teikokup. 71
The Dreamer, Paralyzedp. 96
Liftoffp. 113
Bombp. 131
Crashp. 161
Part 2

p. 189

Escapep. 191
Seizedp. 235
Deathp. 268
Metamorphosisp. 298
Peacep. 326
Codap. 354
Acknowledgmentsp. 373
Notesp. 375
Sourcesp. 403
Indexp. 417