By Bob Merriman
On April 18, 1942, 1LT Dean Hallmark sat in the left hand seat of a B-25 bomber, brakes locked, throttles pushed farther and farther forward, running engine speed far past normal RPMs for takeoff. At a signal from a sailor on the flight deck, Hallmark released the brakes and sent his twin-engined aircraft down the flight deck of the USS Hornet.
Hallmark was pilot of the sixth B-25 to leave the Hornet that day. The flight would be his last.
Five planes ahead was a B-25 flown by then-Lt. Col. James H. Doolitle, commander of 80 aircrew and 16 medium bombers that would drop high explosive and incendiary bombs on military targets in five Japanese cities.
Tokyo, Yokohama, Kagoya, Kobe and Osaka received American bombs that day. The bombs caused little physical damage, but leaders of the country that bombed Pearl Harbor four months before and brought the United States into war, were horrified that enemy air and naval forces could come so close to the home islands.
Dean Hallmark moved to Paris, Texas, from Greenville in 1935. He played football two years at Paris Junior College.
“He was a big guy, about six-four,” retired Lt. Col. (USAF-R) Henry Lee Somerville said almost 20 years ago. Somerville knew Hallmark from classes at PJC.
“He went on to play football at the University of Alabama,” Somerville added.
Somerville was in the Army Air Force in World War II and in the Air Force for the Korean War after recall to active duty.
Legend has it the Doolittle raid was sketched out on a white table cloth in a Washington, D.C., restaurant in early 1942. To Navy and Army Air Force tacticians and planners in the know, the idea was insane – loading 16 bombers on an aircraft carrier. Even more insane was that the bombers, loaded with bombs and fuel, could somehow stagger into the air after lumbering less than 500 feet down a wooden flight deck. Aircraft carriers were made to carry Navy airplanes, and those had only one engine, and wings that folded to save space in hangar decks and on the flight deck.
The United States, though, had suffered the ignominy of losing almost all its Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur’s air strength had been destroyed on the ground at Clark Army Airfield in the Philippines several hours after the attack on Hawaii. To strike back at the Japanese was of political and military importance.
Crews for the attack practiced at Eglin Army Airfield in Florida until each B-25 could lift off from a runway marked the length of an aircraft carrier flight deck. Because of the long flight involved, bombers were stripped of bottom machine gun turret, tail guns and waist guns. Removal of almost all defensive armament meant each B-25 would fly with a crew of five. Since the bombers would operate at an unusually low altitude, the normal bomb sight was useless. An expedient bomb sight was developed, made of a block of wood with nails and string.
The original plan called for the B-25s to leave the Hornet well within Japanese waters, bomb their targets, then fly to an area in China not occupied by the Japanese army. When in the safe area, crews were to look for lights marking a landing strip, land and refuel, and then fly out of China.
On the morning of April 18, all those plans changed when the Navy task force sighted Japanese fishing boats and patrol boats. Naval gunfire sank the boats, but no one knew if radio warnings had been sent to Tokyo. Doolittle and the task force commander, Adm. William F. Halsey, decided to launch the B-25s from 750 miles out. Earlier launch time meant increased flight time and increased fuel consumption.
What had been a risky raid became, in Somerville’s words, “a suicide mission.”
Of the 16 B-25s in the raid, 15 crashed in China, some with crews aboard, others after crewmembers jumped. The pilot of the 16th plane flew his B-25 to the Soviet Union after deciding he did not have enough fuel to fly to China.
Hallmark’s crew was one of two captured by the Japanese – 10 Americans foreigners, who had attacked the homeland. The remaining Americans were rescued by the Chinese and later flown back to the United States.
In 1951, Somerville was billeted at the former Tokyo Athletic Club. There, he said, “a respected Japanese acquaintance … told me about Dean’s head being cut off by Japanese captors across the street. … Taigi said he watched the beheading.”
“But,” Somerville said, “those people were not Dean and his crew.” Injured in the crash of their B-25, Hallmark and his crew were deemed unlikely to survive a trip to Tokyo, where the Japanese military would try the Americans for war crimes.
“So the Japanese captors just shot them,” Somerville said. He was told by Gen George C. Kenney, “The Japs found tall, healthy-looking Caucasians, dressed them up in Army uniforms, (and) staged public beheadings in five different cities to assure the Japanese citizens they would never be bombed again.”
Japanese military record show three captured Doolittle raiders were executed. Dean Hallmark was one of the three.
On Jan. 18, 1946, United Press International correspondent Walter Rundle filed a story from Shanghai, telling of the executions of Hallmark, 1LT William G. Farrow and Sgt. Harold Spatz. Rundle interviewed Japanese army CPT Sotohiro Tatsuta, who was chief jailer of the Japanese military prison in Shanghai when Hallmark, Farrow and Spatz were shot on Oct. 16, 1942.
The day before the killings, Tatsuta said, his “seniors told me three of them had been sentenced to death and would be executed tomorrow, so I removed the three from their original room in order to avoid confusion. … At dawn this next morning, Oct. 16, the 15 men of the firing squad were ready. The previous afternoon I had prepared crosses and boxes for their ashes and bones.
“The very moment I marched them out on the execution ground, I told them the execution was ready and that they had been sentenced to death by a court-martial.
“The flyers told me: ‘Okay we expected that all the time.’
“Just before they died, I called out to them: ‘You are dying a heroic death for your country. Your names will be outstanding in American history.’”
After Hallmark, Farrow and Spatz were killed, Tatsuta said he “burned all three bodies and put their charred bones and ashes in the boxes previously prepared and forwarded them to my seniors for delivery to their respective homes in America.”
(Originally published in The Paris News, August 1999. Minor editing done.)