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Midlands to Commemorate 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Columbia Army Air Base and Doolittle Raid

In a series of patriotic and cultural observances, the Midlands is commemorating the three-pronged 75th anniversary of related historic events: Pearl Harbor, the opening of Columbia Army Air Base, and the Doolittle Raid.

This calendar year the world recalls that 75 years ago Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. That Dec. 7, 1941, called a Day of Infamy by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, pushed laborers, engineers and inspectors to speed up completion of what, during its hurried development, had been called Lexington County Airfield.

The civilian airfield was part of a federal initiative to establish a network of strategically-placed airfields around the nation. It opened several days earlier than scheduled and was quickly militarized.

An observation group that had been flying out of (then) Owens Field, patrolling the South Carolina coast for German submarines, became the base’s first personnel. In April 1942 the named changed to Columbia Army Air Base (CAAB,) and was designated as a B-25 bomber training center.

Early in 1942, airmen from Pendleton AFB were ordered to fly their B-25s from Oregon to CAAB. Soon they were greeted by Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle who had arrived in the Midlands to recruit volunteers for a top-secret mission.

Training for those selected crews only continued at CAAB for a few weeks, then they transferred to Eglin AFB, FLA, and, ultimately on to California where, in early April, they – along with the B-25s – were loaded onto the aircraft carrier, USS Hornet.

On April 18, 1942, 16 planes launched from the deck of that carrier, and carried fiery retribution to the industrial areas of Tokyo. Loss of men and airplanes were deeply-felt casualties; however, the audacious Doolittle Raid positively altered American morale.

The commemorative series has begun.

Among the first events was a presentation held at Hamilton-Owens Airport recently when the South Carolina Historic Aviation Foundation (SCHAF) hosted Martin Crouch, son of Horace “Sally” Crouch, the only Columbian to fly on the fabled mission. Martin Crouch spoke to a rapt audience about his father and the Doolittle Raiders.

The Lexington Chronicle is running a series of articles about various aspects of the opening of CAAB, the involvement of Lake Murray in the training of crews stationed at CAAB, and the locals reactions to the overall operation.

The first of a series of historic Lake Murray cruises ran Saturday, Feb. 25. According to Ken Colton, “the Lake Murray Chamber of Commerce is partnering with Lake Murray Cruises to provide 15 history cruises to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the aviation training over Lake Murray and the Doolittle Raid.”

Colton said the 2 1/2 hour cruises departing from Hollow Creek Marina, Leesville, SC, also are focusing on Shull Island, the air base in Lexington County (CAAB,) and the B-25 removed from Lake Murray in 2005. That Mitchell bomber, whose crew was attached to CAAB, ditched into the lake on a routine training mission April 4, 1943.

To date, cruises announced are: Sunday, March 12, 5:30 pm; Sunday, March 26, 12:30 pm; Saturday, April 8, 11:30 am.; and Saturday, April 29, 5:30 pm. Colton said other cruises will be scheduled through the summer.

To reserve passage, go to lakemurraycruises.com. Click “Public” in the header menu.

Thursday, April 6, additional emphasis of Lake Murray’s significance in the commemoration will take place at Crooked Creek Park, Irmo Chapin Recreation Commission, 1098 Old Lexington Highway, Chapin, SC 29036.

At 7:30 am, the Chapin Sunrise Rotary Club will hear Richard Peterson whose family was involved in multiple aspects of this history. Programming for students will be presented throughout the day. At 10:30 am the Senior Lunch Bunch will have a presentation by Rachel Haynie, author of: “Stalled,” a novel that opens with a B-25 ditching into Lake Murray, as well as “Cornfield to Airfield: A History of Columbia Army Air Base.” Randall Shealy, revered local historian, will have tables of artifacts set up in the lobby and will discuss Lake Murray history.

Saturday, April 8 SCHAF will dedicate its Second Saturday Open House, 10 am and noon, to programming on the Doolittle Raid between 10 am and noon at the hangar closest to the Hamilton Owens Airport Terminal.

Saturday, April 8 is also History Day at the South Carolina State Museum (SCSM.) Ron Shelton, SCHAF education vice president and SCSM science curator emeritus will greet visitors at 1 pm on the museum’s third level at the model of the USS Hornet. Shelton will talk about the 16 B-25s and crews that trained at CAAB and launched from the deck of the Hornet that fateful April day to make their audacious run to Japan. Normal Museum admission rates apply.

Tuesday, April 18, the date on which the raid took place in 1942, will be highlighted by a Lourie Center dance and concert with music by the Capital City Big Band, directed by Dick Goodwin. Tickets are $10; for more information go to www.louriecentersc.com.

Monday, April 24, during a 6 pm meeting of the Dutch Fork Historical Society, Chapin Library, 212 S. Lake Drive, Lexington (803-785-2600,) Kay Gordon will recount her recollections and engagement with the rescue of the Lake Murray Bomber and her story published in Air & Space Magazine Free, open to public.

Friday, June 2, noon, James Scott, the author of “Target Tokyo,” will speak as part of the SC Confederate Relic Room and History Museum’s Lunch and Learn series. Scott also will sign copies of his critically-acclaimed book. Free, open to public.

Other cultural organizations are encouraged to include any related events to this open commemoration by listing their events in local calendars.

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