WHEELING - Seventy years ago today, on April 18, 1942, the United States launched an air attack on Japan known as the Doolittle Tokyo Raid - and two Wheeling men had a hand in making it happen.
According to information provided by Wheeling resident Lee Kelvington, Howard ''Dutch'' Kindleberger, who was born and raised in North Wheeling, designed the B-25 bomber used in the raid.
And fellow Wheeling resident and friend of Kelvington's, George Prostinak, served on the cruiser USS Nashville. It escorted the carrier USS Hornet, protecting the raiders by destroying a Japanese fishing boat that spotted the task force and forced the men to take off early.
Photo by Shelley Hanson
Browsing World War II artifacts, from left, are Wheeling-Ohio County Airport Manager Tom Tominack and Wheeling residents Lee Kelvington and Baird Kloss.
''He said the first shells went right through it, they didn't explode. It was a wooden boat,'' Kelvington said, recounting a conversation he had with Prostinak, who died in 1997.
Prostinak's daughter, Tori Jo Calvert of St. Clairsville, said her father grew up in Moundsville but moved to the Mozart section of Wheeling after his military service.
Kelvington noted what made the World War II raid significant was that it was successfully launched from an aircraft carrier, a feat thought impossible until this time.
''They trained on land on how to take off short distances,'' he said.
With the 70th anniversary of the raid here, Kelvington, a Korean War veteran, said he wanted people to know about Kindleberger and Prostinak's contributions to World War II.
Tom Tominack, Wheeling-Ohio County Airport manager, also is well versed on the history of the Doolittle Raid. A small section of the airport's terminal museum is dedicated to Kindleberger. Tominack said he also would like to erect a statue of Kindleberger at the terminal.
''He's an American icon. ... He is definitely one of the top guys ever,'' Tominack said of Kindleberger. ''The raid probably wouldn't have happened without that airplane.''
Kelvington said Kindleberger's company, North American Aviation, built the B-25s. He also was lead designer of several other planes including the Douglas D-1, D-2 and DC-3, which Kelvington described as the first airliner and ''probably one of the greatest planes ever built.''
While the raid did not inflict much damage, it let the Japanese know their homeland could be penetrated by bombers despite the United States not having a land mass nearby from which to launch.
The raid also was a morale booster for the U.S., much needed following the Dec. 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by Japan.
Sixteen bombers, each with a crew of five men, were used in the raid, but the planes could only carry enough fuel for the mission to Japan. They could not return to the carrier.
Tominack said most of the planes' guns were stripped off to make room for the weight of extra gas tanks. To make it appear as though they still had their guns, broom sticks painted black were installed on the planes.
After hitting their targets, the raiders were expected to fly on to friendly territory in China. However, not everyone made it. Some were forced to land in the sea; others crashed and were captured in Japanese-occupied sections of China, where they were killed.
''Some of them ran out of gas - they had to bail out. Two crews were captured. Three were executed - they beheaded them,'' Kelvington said of the Japanese.
The raid was named after Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, who later commanded the 8th Air Force, which Kelvington noted had a large Wheeling contingent. Each year, the surviving Doolittle Raid members meet in a different location somewhere in the U.S.