79th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid celebrated in Spearfish
RAPID CITY, S.D. — April 18th marked the 79th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, a turning point for Americans in the fight in the Pacific during World War II, and a proud moment for South Dakotans.
Author Paul Higbee hosted an afternoon at the High Plains Heritage Center in Spearfish to discuss local hero, Don Smith.
His book, The First Strike, details Smiths short life as a South Dakota State University football player, rodeo rider, and agriculture enthusiast, and later Army Air Corps Captain. A Belle Fourche native, Smith served as a pilot during the Doolittle Raid, the heroic mission that launched 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers off aircraft carriers to strike targets in Japan.
The raid was a turning point in the war, cementing victory in the eyes of American soldiers, and for Smith, he became a local hero.
Fellow World War II veteran and Belle Fourche Jack Wells was in attendance. Wells knew of Smith, and provided invaluable first hand accounts of the war and raid for Higbee. An aircraft mechanic, Wells says he felt soldier like him who worked on the aircraft were also a part of the raid, even though they didn’t fly, and that they knew the raid was a step in the right direction.
“Most of us, we were from the middle west, we knew we were gonna win the war,” said Wells. “You just felt that.”
Higbee said Smith “seemed to epitomize a lot of things that South Dakotans like about their young people.” He also said it was not rare to find South Dakotan soldiers and heroes during WWII.
During the war, South Dakota had the highest number of enlisted men and women per capita, and that many thought it was their duty to serve.
Smith survived the Doolittle Raid, but he passed not long after when his bomber crashed during a routine exercise over the English countryside. Ellsworth Air Force Base is also home to three of the four original squadrons that flew during the historic event.