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"We were more organized than a military encampment in the United States." (2003 Video Interview, 48:30)

   Thomas Carson Griffin
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Thomas Griffin [2006]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Army Air Forces/Corps
Unit: 17th Bomb Group, 12th Air Force
Service Location: China; Asia; Europe; North Africa
Rank: Major
POW: Yes
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A graduate of the University of Alabama's Army ROTC program in 1939, when war broke out in Europe, Thomas Griffin determined to switch his branch of service to what was then called the Army Air Corps. After the U.S. entered the war, Griffin saw action in both the Pacific and European theaters. At the war's outset, his 17th Bomb Group, equipped with the new B-25 Mitchells, became part of the team that flew with Jimmy Doolittle on the April 1942 bombing mission over Tokyo. Griffin bailed out over China and made his way back to the States. He then flew with Doolittle into North Africa against the Germans. He was shot down on July 4, 1943 over Sicily and spent the rest of the war in the famed Stalag Luft III POW camp.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (8 clips)
»Interview with Thomas Griffin [2003] 
Download: video (62 min.)
»Interview with Thomas Griffin [11/24/2006] (41 min.)
Multimedia Recordings
»Speech given by Thomas Griffin [9/15/2007] (39 min.)
»Interview with Thomas Griffin at the Cinncinati Public Library [2006] (59 min.)
More like this
»Wings of War
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (8 items)
1939 graduate of University of Alabama, a commissioned officer, training in artillery when war broke out in Europe; switched to Army Air Corps; to 17th Bomb Group and new B-25 Mitchell bombers; idea of retaliatory strike fell to Mitchells as only long-range planes which could launch from deck of aircraft carrier; Army asked for volunteers for secret mission; Jimmy Doolittle leader of mission, which none of them could talk about outside of their group; Griffin and another airman sent to Washington, DC to gather maps of Japan and China. (06:16) Departing on mission on the Hornet, new carrier; room for only 16 of the 20 planes in the group; two cruisers and four destroyers as escorts; Admiral Halsey telling Doolittle before they left that the task force would try to get within 400 miles of Japan; each crew assigned specific target, 11 in Tokyo; at one point in the voyage, told that if intercepted by Japanese, the planes would still be able to make it Japan and no farther; Doolittle said he would not be taken prisoner, would let his crew evacuate after bombing and then direct his plane into a target; on April 18, they were still 650 miles out and saw some Japanese picket ships, so they knew they had to take off immediately, as word was likely being radioed back to Japan. (06:16) Two concerns: the takeoff, with only 400 feet for an overloaded plane that usually needed 1200 feet with a normal load; rough, windy day for takeoff, which favored them, as a tail wind helped; Doolittle was first to take off; planes were tail-heavy with extra fuel; second concern was how much fuel they would need to get to China, where they would bail out. (04:11)
Griffin in Plane 9; little margin for error on either side of plane; as they reached Japan, skies cleared; by the time his plane reached land, flak was beginning to go up; flew very low to avoid flak and pursuit planes; faking appearance of tail gunners; flying over Hirohito's house; his target was a tank factory; pulled up for bombing to avoid concussions from explosions; learned later they missed the factory and hit the Tokyo Gas & Electric Company next door. (05:22) After bombing, flying out to sea to confuse defense forces, then paralleling shore of Japanese islands, took a right and headed for Chinese mainland, flying 15 feet above water to avoid radar; cruiser fired on them but missed them; in air 15 1/2 hours; fearful of running out of gas over water, but they got a strong tailwind; 15 planes made it to China, one headed north to Vladivostok; only one of all those who bailed out was killed; he landed south of Shanghai, area controlled by Japanese; 8 men were captured; Chinese killed by Japanese for helping Doolittle raiders; of 8 captured, 3 were executed, five sentenced to prison. (10:11) How he got back from China; some of them stayed behind with 14th Air Force; going back around the world; joined new groups being trained on B-26 Marauders; fall of 1942, flew northern route to Europe, then down to Oran once a field was secured; shot down over Sicily in July 1943 and spent the rest of the war in a prison camp. (01:47)
Enlisted men in some camps were allowed to go out on work parties and could get food from locals; officers were not permitted to work; humane treatment from Germans; last three months, pulled out of Stalag Luft III to Moosburg, got very hungry because food ran out; liberated by Patton's men on April 30; had radios; better organized than military camps in States; trying to make Germans work hard to guard them and distract them from war effort. (06:32) Skip bombing in January 1943 in Mediterranean; go in low and drop bomb that skipped across the water to hit a ship; swimming to shore after plane went down; at war's end, they were going to be part of force invading Japan; relieved when war did end. (02:01) 

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  October 26, 2011
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