Service held for Doolittle Raider
By Airman 1st Class Clay Murray, 75th Air Base Wing public affairs
/ Published April 11, 2007
HYRUM, Utah --
Friends, family, and servicemembers paid their respects Wednesday to Lt. Col. (ret.) Chase J. Nielsen, a member of the Tokyo Doolittle Raiders, who died Friday at his home in Brigham City, Utah.
A service was held at the Allen-Hall Mortuary, Hyrum, Utah, the same city where Colonel Nielsen was born.
Inclimate weather prevented a planned four-ship, missing-man formation flyover, but the wet and windy conditions did not stop viewers from being with him at his final resting place.
"We, as a family, have found out that he has really had an influence on people," Colonel Nielsen's son, Terry Nielsen said. "People and newspapers have called us wanting to know more about him."
Colonel Nielsen's nephew, Thad Erickson, explained how moving on wouldn't be easy. He and his wife have traveled to Brigham City, Utah, many times to visit the colonel.
"He's been a hero in our eyes," said Mr. Erickson, who served in the Air National Guard for 30 years, "and he's served his country well. He leaves behind an important legacy."
In front of a crowd that included members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1625, his church, and the Royal Air Force, Colonel Nielsen's family spoke about his recollection of his prisoner of war experiences that speak to all and shed light on the atmosphere of World War II for U.S. servicemembers.
"I guess the Air Force is a family I've always been proud to be a part of," said Mr. Erickson. "This has been a great blessing, and it's been an uplifting and faith strengthening experience to see his life. We have to think about the Doolittle Raiders who died and the U.S. military members who died along the way and the ones who serve now. As my uncle lays here, I am just so proud to have been associated with him and to have known him."
The Tokyo Doolittle Raid was led by Lt. Col. James Doolittle and consisted of 16 B-25 Mitchells and 80 Airmen who took off from the deck of the USS Hornet on April 18, 1942. The mission was launched early when the fleet was spotted by Japanese picket boats. The premature launch led to inadequate amounts of fuel that caused some of the planes to crash land off the coast of China.
Although two men were killed in the crash landings, the eight surviving crewmembers were taken into custody by the Japanese as POWs. Of the eight servicemembers who were captured, three were executed and one died while in captivity.
"He went through months of torture and pain after being sentenced life imprisonment and solitary confinement," said Mr. Nielsen about his father.
After 40 months of imprisonment, Colonel Nielsen was rescued by a para-rescue team and brought back to the United States. In January 1946, he returned to China to testify in the International War Crimes Trials against four Japanese officers who ultimately were found guilty of war crimes.
Of the original 80 men who took part in the historic flight with Colonel Nielsen, 14 of those are alive today. In 1947, Colonel Doolittle started a tradition to host the Raiders annual reunion. At each reunion, the surviving Raiders meet privately to conduct a solemn goblet ceremony to honor the reunion and the deceased.
Staff Sgt. William L. Birch, a bombardier from Crew #11, who passed away Nov. 18, 2006, will also be toasted to this year. As part of tradition, a goblet with the Raider's name is engraved twice--so that it can be read both right side up and upside down.
The reunion will be held annually until only two Raiders remain. They will drink a final toast of a vintage bottle of cognac. The 2007 reunion will be held in San Antonio April 17-21.
On the floorboards of his cell, now on display at the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Colonel Nielsen documents that he was part of the Tokyo bombing. He noted that he had been sentenced to execution. Along with these words he also quotes William Penn, writing, "For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity."