And his little known connection to Virginia City

and our Family

 This week heralds the 70th anniversary of the extraordinary attack on Japan led by Jimmy Doolittle, a daring escapade that, while it caused minimal damage to the homeland, succeeded in raising doubts about Japanese vulnerability and lowered civilian morale. The Doolittle Raid, on April 18, 1942, was the first air attack by the United States to strike the Japanese Home Islands (specifically Honshu) during World War II. By demonstrating that Japan itself was vulnerable to American air attack, it provided a vital morale boost and opportunity for U.S. retaliation after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, just four months earlier.

The raid was planned and led by Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle, USAAF. Sixteen U.S. Army Air Forces B-25B Mitchell medium bombers were launched from the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet, deep in the Western Pacific Ocean. The plan called for them to bomb military targets in Japan, and to continue westward to land in China—landing a medium bomber on the Hornet was impossible. All the aircraft involved in the bombing were lost and 11 crewmen were either killed or captured—with three of the captured men executed by the Japanese Army in China.

LTC Doolittle’s plane crashed, but he and his crew parachuted into a rice paddy and were exfiltrated with the help of Chinese guerillas (and the REV John Birch!)






A B-25 taking off from Hornet for the raid







18 April 1942: Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle (second from left) and his crew pose in front of a B-25 on the deck of the USS Hornet {Doolittle Tokyo Raiders

The raid caused negligible material damage to Japan, but it succeeded in its goal of helping American morale, and casting doubt in Japan on the ability of the Japanese military leaders. It also caused Japan to withdraw its powerful aircraft carrier force from the Indian Ocean to defend their home islands, and the raid contributed to Admiral Yamamoto’s decision to attack Midway—an attack that turned into a decisive rout of the Imperial Japanese Navy by the U.S. Navy near Midway Island in the Central Pacific.

Approximately 250,000 Chinese civilians were massacred by the Japanese Army in eastern China in retaliation for Chinese assistance of the attacking American aviators.

Young Jimmy Doolittle’s Ties to Virginia City and the Cobb Family

That story has been well recounted, but few know of GEN Doolittle’s connection to Virginia City, Nevada, and to our family personally.

Young Jimmy Doolittle was a mining engineering student at the University of California (Berkley) in 1917, and came to work in the mines at Virginia City that summer. One day tragedy struck—two miners were killed when the mining hoisting equipment (“cage”) they were descending in at the Union Mine broke and plunged 300 feet to the bottom of a shaft. The two were Paddy Hughes and George Benner, the latter our great uncle, who are buried in the cemetery next to that mine.

Since the cage was unworkable, it was decided to lower someone down the mine shaft to see if the miners were alive. Our grand-dad, Will Cobb, and young Doolittle volunteered and the two were lowered to the wreckage, where they found the dead bodies and brought them and the bad news to the surface.

GEN Doolittle himself confirmed that story. Just shortly after his daring raid on Japan, Doolittle was contacted by George Benner’s son, Delbert (our cousin), to ascertain the validity of the tragic events that day and Doolittle’s bravery in the mines. This is the note the General sent:


Ty was able to talk with GEN Doolittle in his final years—he called him at his home in Pebble Beach when he was 94, but still sharp of mind. Doolittle confirmed the story and once again passed on his condolences—“Sorry about your uncle”, he said.

Great American, great airman and an honorary “Hot Water Plug” for his role in Virginia City history.

 Tyrus W. Cobb

Patricia Cobb

Bill Cobb

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