Mission impossible

THIRD EYE - Ramon J. Farolan - The Philippine Star

In my youth the highlight of Easter Sunday festivities was the Easter egg hunt. My world was at peace and the only concern was success in searching for multi-colored eggs hidden among the rocks and bushes of our garden. Each discovery would be a source of much pride and inner satisfaction. We were not aware of a character by the name of Adolf Hitler who was on the rampage in Europe, gobbling up land belonging to others.

On Easter Sunday, 1941, Pope Pius XII called on his people to pray for “universal peace, a peace that would guarantee the honor of all nations, satisfying their vital needs and ensuring the legitimate rights of all.”

Today Easter Sunday 2022, 81 years after, a similar message is being made by Pope Francis, calling for an Easter Sunday truce that will lead to peace through real negotiations. After two of the most destructive wars in history, mankind has not learned to live in peaceful coexistence with each other. As the 21st century version of Hitler is on the move for more land belonging to a neighbor, we join the Holy Father in praying to the Prince of Peace, for Him to protect the people of Ukraine and to touch the hearts of Russian soldiers.

We also pray for our fellow countrymen who have lost loved ones and have been rendered homeless by Typhoon Agaton and who will continue to need our support and assistance in the days ahead.

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Has anyone noticed? The predominant colors of The Philippine STAR – gold lettering on a field of blue – are similar to the colors of Ukraine, two horizontal bands of yellow and blue. The yellow portion symbolizes the wheat fields of a country known as the “bread basket” of Europe under a clear blue sky. Seventy percent of its land are farmlands of super-fertile soil that generate high agricultural yields. Corn is its largest export product, with China buying more corn from Ukraine than from any other country. In 2021, we imported $85.8 million worth of cereals from Ukraine. Our exports, mostly vegetables, fruits, machinery, some electrical equipment and few live animals, amounted to $5.3 million.

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In the Christian world, April 3, 1942 was Good Friday. Here the day would signal the start of Japan’s final offensive against the “battling bastards of Bataan; No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam... and nobody gives a damn,” one of the few ditties to come out of the war. There would be no rest, no resurrection on Easter Sunday, April 5 as the full force of the attack split and outflanked the Filipino American defenders on the peninsula. A few days later, April 9, General Edward King Jr. would surrender his forces. But unknown to all but a very few, an event was about to take place that had been secretly planned since late December of 1941.

In his book “Target Tokyo,” a Pulitzer Prize finalist, James M. Scott, provides us with a gripping narrative of this event that would eventually lead to the defeat of Japan at the Battle of Midway. Scott is also the author of another brilliant story, “Rampage,” on the Battle of Manila. He devotes almost an entire chapter on my father’s experience during the carnage that saw more than 100,000 civilians perish at the hands of Japanese brutality and American artillery fire.

Two weeks after the Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt convened his closest advisers in the Oval study. In view of the continuing defeats suffered by the allies in both the Atlantic and Pacific fronts, morale of the American public was at a low point. Roosevelt stressed the need to deliver a message to Japan “in the form of a bombing raid” to give its people a sense of the consequences of the war they had started.

It was a young US naval academy graduate, Capt. Francis Low, who came up with the “foolish idea” of utilizing a plane carrying a bomb load and taking off from the short distance available on an aircraft carrier. After discussions with Air Force personnel, the B-25 Mitchell bomber was chosen because of range, payload and wingspan. Also chosen to lead the mission was a former boxer turned aviator, James Doolittle who, at 5’4”, was “two inches shorter than Napoleon.” Since this was going to be a one-way mission, he wanted only volunteers. After intensive training, 16 B-25s with 80 crew members were on-board the aircraft carrier Hornet leaving San Francisco Bay. Only Doolittle knew their final destination. Japan’s Good Friday offensive in Bataan would start a day later.

On Saturday morning, April 18, just as Filipino American captives were being herded into the O’Donnell concentration camp, Doolittle and his flight of 16 bombers were on their way to Tokyo and for the first time, the Japanese homeland was hit by enemy explosives. While the damage was minimal, it shook Japanese confidence and caused tremendous loss of face for the Imperial General Staff. For days, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor, was despondent over his failure to protect the skies over the imperial palace. One official Japanese account reported that “the emotional shock of the Doolittle raid on the government and the people of Japan was extremely large.”

Of the 80 men who carried out the spectacular mission, 61 survived the war. Lt. Colonel Doolittle was given a double promotion to Brig. General, and awarded the Medal of Honor for his leadership and courage. In a time of darkness, the raid provided America with the morale booster needed to pursue the difficult struggle against Japan, reminding us of the saying, “The darker the night, the bolder the lion.”

Tomorrow April 18, marks the 80th anniversary of what was once described as “Mission Impossible.”


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