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Cardinal Charlie: Maj. Griffin part of Doolittle’s daring Japan raid

Published 9:59pm Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I guess old Charlie, as he gently ages, seems to frequently learn new things.

Just the other day in my mail came something from a reader friend that I found really interesting.

It was some information about another person who had connections with Dowagiac, like P.D. Beckwith, James Heddon, King Gillette, Chris Taylor, Carl Kincheloe, the three Tuskegee fliers and my friend, Norbert Swierz.

This new addition is Major Thomas Griffin, who I was told was one of the 80 men who took part in the Jimmy Doolittle raid on Japan in 1942, when 16 B-25 bombers took off from the aircraft carrier Hornet.

Remember that great movie, “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” with Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson?

I remember it and it is a tear-jerker, believe me.

It was the first time that a plane larger than a small fighter plane was ever flown off of a carrier. They were so far out at sea from Japan that it was not known if they could even make it back to the carrier, and maybe might make it to China.

I think it was great that Tom Griffin was one of those heroic fliers.

So you see how to me he fit in with the other group of famous Dowagiac folks I mentioned.

In our research in my vast collection of old Wahoos, we could not find Tom Griffin, but my wife, on her laptop, found where Tom was a 1939 grad from the University of Alabama.

Tom was married to Esther Jones, the older daughter of Lyle B. Jones, who owned Midwest Textile at 306 W. Division St.

His other daughter was Bobbie Jones, who married Tom Grove (one of the Tune Vendors quartet). I think Bobbie worked at the Daily News at one time. In the 1948 city directory, Tom lived at 306 1/2 W. Division St.

The Doolittle raid did only scattered damage, but it lifted spirits here at home while shaking Japan’s confidence.

But it did not come without a price. Three raiders were killed while trying to land in China.

Eight were captured by the Japanese, of which three were executed and a fourth died in prison.

Griffin ditched his plane, out of fuel, and bailed out in darkness, landing in a tree.

In my opinion, all 80 of those men were true heroes when they went on a mission knowing they had a small chance of making it back.

It was after making it home from China Tom was shipped to North Africa. He flew as a navigator. He was shot down in Africa and spent the rest of World War II in a German prison camp.

Maybe another reader will come up with another Dowagiac person who should be written about.

“Cardinal Charlie” Gill writes a nostalgic weekly column about growing up in the Grand Old City.
Email him at

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