When America goes to war, the Bay Area — with its deep military roots, and especially distinct connections to World War II — usually plays a key role.
On Memorial Day weekend, Bay Area residents will pause to remember the men and women who died fighting in the dozen or so wars and conflicts the U.S. has fought dating back to the Revolutionary War.
Events planned for Memorial Day across the region include what organizers are describing as a “rare combination of commemoration and presentation” on the USS Hornet, the massive aircraft carrier now decommissioned and berthed in Alameda.
Monday’s ceremony will include remembering the men and women who died in service to our nation, as well as an appearance by a now 101-year-old former Chinese pilot credited with saving the life of a soldier who would later become an American war hero.
USS Hornet Museum CEO Randall Ramian, who is also a captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve, said of Monday’s event:
“We extend a special invitation to all veterans and their families to join us as we honor the brave men and women who have unselfishly defended our country, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives defending our nation’s freedom.”
The carrier — now a designated National Historic Landmark and museum — is actually the eighth U.S. Navy ship to be named Hornet. Launched in November of 1943, it’s also one of the most decorated ships in the history of the Navy.
Its predecessor was the floating base from where 16 B-25 bombers were launched during what later became known as the “Doolittle Raid,” a daring mission led by Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle to bomb Tokyo and other Japanese cities during the early days of World War II.
That carrier was later sunk by Japanese forces in a massive sea and air battle in the South Pacific in October of 1942.
A few months earlier the 824-foot long aircraft carrier had pulled out of Alameda in the first leg of the risky mission that included steaming across the Pacific and launching the bombers in attacks on Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
But a little more than two weeks after leaving the Bay Area the carrier and its accompanying task force was spotted by a Japanese patrol boat while still more than hundreds of miles from the intended launch site.
Though the task force was within range for the bombers to make it to their targets, it was likely too far for the bombers to be able to continue on to their intended airfields in friendly areas of China.
Still, Doolittle made the decision to launch.
None of the U.S. bombers were shot down by the enemy, but without enough fuel, none of them were able to make it to the designated landing fields in China. Fifteen either crash-landed, ditched at sea, or their crews bailed out; one diverted to the Soviet Union.
Of the 80 crewmen and pilots who took part in the raid, three were killed, while eight were captured by the Japanese. Three of those men were executed, while a fourth man died in captivity.
The rest of Doolittle’s men escaped with the help of the Chinese, including a Chinese pilot name Moon Chin.
Now a resident of Hillsborough, Chin flew Doolittle out of China ahead of a massive search as the Japanese scoured the countryside looking for the American raiders.
Chin — who turned 101 last month — will also be celebrating his birthday on the ship.
Also attending the commemoration is Gregory Crouch, author of the book, “China’s Wings,” who will talk about the Hornet’s role in World War II, as well as the suffering the Chinese endured for helping Doolittle and his men escape to safety.
In a statement on his website, Crouch said:
“I’m deeply honored to have been chosen to make a China’s Wings presentation aboard the USS Hornet for Memorial Day.”
Monday’s ceremonies are set to begin at 11:00 a.m. and run until 4:00 p.m.
For more information, including ticket prices:, visit http://www.uss-hornet.org/calendar/liveship/.
John Marshall is an SFBay editor and producer and writer for San Francisco’s KGO Radio. Follow him on Twitter @breakingnewsman.