Yesterday marked the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid and, as it has done since 1943, the City of Killeen proclaimed the day “Bob Gray Day.”
Whoop-de-doo, you might say. Who cares?
For those of us who served in the military, regardless of the branch or length of service, remembering those heroes who came before us is a way to honor all veterans. Those great men and women who went above and beyond not only set the standards we strive to live by today, but they showed us that we each have it in us to become something greater on behalf of our fellows.
So who was Bob Gray and why should we care about him?
Robert “Bob” Manning Gray, the man Fort Hood’s Robert Gray Army Airfield is named for, was a favored son of Killeen at a time the city was so small that everyone actually knew everyone else living here. He graduated from Killeen High School in 1937, started college at Texas A&M and then transferred to John Tarleton College, where he joined the ROTC program.
Gray wanted to fly, so — according to his cousin, Fred Page — by 1940, he was taking advanced flying lessons in Dallas and was commissioned as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
At the beginning of World War II, Gray was flying anti-submarine patrols off the coasts of Washington and Oregon. Things were not going well for the U.S. after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, so the best and brightest were gathered for a daring mission against the Japanese home islands.
Gray was one of those top pilots hand picked by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle to do something unheard of: Fly B-25 Mitchell bombers off a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier to conduct raids on the enemy’s major cities.
The modern Nimitz class aircraft carriers have a flight deck length of 332.9 meters, or about 1,092 feet. The Essex class aircraft carries of World War II had a flight deck length of 262.7 meters, which is about 862 feet. The B-25 normally needed at least 1,000 feet to get up in the air:
When all 16 of the aircraft participating in the Doolittle Raid were loaded on board the USS Hornet, they had less than half of that.
Gray was the third pilot to take off, headed for Tokyo. The guns the aircraft normally would have carried for attack and defense were removed because of weight, leaving nothing on the plane but the crew, bombs and fuel.
That took guts, if you ask me. And it is well worth remembering.
David A. BRYANT is an Army retiree and the military editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 254-501-7554.