I just finished reading and studying “ The First Heroes” by Craig Nelson. On the surface, this seems like an excellent book on the Doolittle Raid; however, at this point, I have my doubts and regret the time spent in committing so much of this book to memory. I may add that this was not an easy task for me!
Several times during my read, I wondered about the accuracy regarding what Craig Nelson was claiming but decided that I am such a neophyte of World War II history that I just let it pass. However, subsequent to reading this book, I read “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” by Captain Ted Lawson who was one of the Doolittle raiders. Considering the credibility of the author and the fact that this book was written circa 1943 and continues to be printed to this day, I am judging this book to be a definitive and very reliable source regarding Captain Lawson’s experiences.
I am going to discuss an event which has lead me to this conclusion about “The First Heroes”. This event is not something insignificant but is one that Craig Nelsen gave quite a bit of coverage to.
Apparently, the compasses of the B-25’s were effected by the Hornet and the part of the world in which the Doolittle Raid occurred. The pilots needed to align their magnetic compasses immediately after takeoff and the method chosen was for each plane to immediately make a run parallel to the Hornet and have a crewmember of the Hornet flash a poster to the pilot stating what the ships current course was. The pilot would then adjust his compass accordingly.
Craig Nelson made quite an issue of the fact that, probably due to the excitement of the whole enterprise, none of the pilots made this parallel run but simply headed off to Japan without the compasses being reset.
According to Captain Lawson, this was not the case and the pilots made the parallel run in order to set their compasses. I also noted that this was done in the movie version of this book starring Van Johnson which is supposed to be a rather good rendition of the raid.
OK. So perhaps Craig Nelson somehow received erroneous information on this incident. I do not buy this as a reason for this mistake because the book “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” is so readily available and such a quick and easy read that it was incumbent upon Craig Nelson to read this book as a source for “The First Heroes”. Apparently he didn’t and this, in and of itself, is troubling!
It also troubles me in that, in my opinion, Craig Nelson's portrayal of this issue reflects negatively on the flyers. If these brave men made mistakes, I have no problems with revealing these mistakes but when negative revelations regarding their professionalism are not true, I have big problems.
I am new to history and I am somewhat shocked by the contradictions regarding facts that are in the literature. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive to this, but this is something that I am not used to in my everyday life and in my profession: please note that this does occur now and then but not to the same degree as in history books.
Thanks for listening to my bellyaching.
Edited by Bob Guercio, 17 July 2009 - 07:07 PM.