It was January 18, 1943 and their mission was to bomb the harbor of Kiska Island. Earlier in the day, a weather reconnaissance plane had spotted two Japanese ships in the harbor. The bombing mission consisted of six B-24 bombers, four B-26 bombers, and six P-38 Lightning fighters.

Alaska’s Aleutian Islands had become a hot spot in World War II, when the Japanese invaded two islands at the far end of the island chain; Kiska and Attu. While not known at the time, the invasion was a diversionary attack by the Japanese to take attention off their main attack planned for Midway Island.

Four months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the Americans had launched a daring raid to bomb Tokyo using a dozen or more two-engine B-25 bombers flown from an aircraft carrier. This famous bombing mission was known as the “Doolittle Raid,” named after the commander of the raid, Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. When the Japanese encountered the normally land-based B-25 bombers flying over their capital city just four months after Pearl Harbor, they were convinced that the Americans had launched them from bases on either Midway Island or the Aleutians. Therefore, to protect their homeland, they decided to invade both to create a buffer zone.

For the Americans, even though Alaska was officially still a territory and not a state, the invasion of Kiska and Attu in the Aleutians was considered an invasion of North America and the American homeland. Thus, a vigorous defense was devised that involved stationing the 11th Air Force in the Aleutians and training an amphibious invasion force to retake the islands.

The flight from Adak to Kiska was approximately 250 miles and took over 2 hours. About an hour into Doc’s last mission, a report came in from a weather reconnaissance plane telling everyone that the weather was getting bad. Visibility around Kiska had been reduced to zero.

Already, one B-24 and two B-26 bombers had left the formation due to mechanical problems and had flown back to Adak. The remaining B-26’s and P-38 escort fighters also made a decision to turn around and fly back to Adak. Captain Moore, the mission leader for the remaining B-24’s suggested that the B-24’s continue, since they could still bomb through the clouds.

About an hour later, the B-24’s got some terrible news. The weather at their home base of Adak had worsened, and the first B-24 that had returned due to mechanical problems had crashed into two P-38’s that were still on the runway when the big bomber landed. There were three crashed aircraft on fire and blocking the runway and the weather was so bad, landing operations were not possible. The remaining B-24’s would not be able to land at their home base of Adak. Instead, they would have to fly another two hours up the island chain to Cold Bay or crash land somewhere else if they didn’t have enough fuel.

Captain Moore immediately turned his B-24 around and headed back. He flew all the way back to Cold Bay to land. Doc’s plane, flown by Lt. Bloomfield and two more planes flown by Lt Hamilton and Lt. Pruett did not get the message and continued on towards Kiska.

Lt. Pruett’s plane was separated from the other two bombers, but arrived over Kiska to find the weather too bad to bomb. Not having enough fuel to make to Dutch Harbor and the landing strip at Adak out of commission, Pruett was forced to crash land his plane on the beach on a nearby island. The crew was picked up by a ship later the same day and returned to Adak. Their B-24 lay on the beach where it crashed for the next 50 years. The planes flown by Lt. Bloomfield and Lt. Hamilton were never heard from again. And that was the last my father ever knew about Doc.