Any doubts about the value of
airpower or the effectiveness of the airplane as a military weapon were quickly dispelled
in the stunning December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. In less than two hours 360
Japanese airplanes literally destroyed the American Pacific fleet, killing nearly 2,500
Americans, and with a loss of less than a dozen of their own aircraft.
Reeling from the staggering losses, America needed
a glimmer of hope in the early dark days of World War II. Four months after the Day
of Infamy, 80 Army aviators performed the unthinkable, flying 16 B-25 bombers from the
deck of an aircraft carrier 400 miles from the Japanese homeland, to strike back.
The first moral victory of World War II was appropriately achieved by the knights
of the air, and was achieved not only because of their great valor, but also because
of their ingenuity. America's airmen continued to push the envelope.
Airmen from all branches of service gained a new
respect, and the sole surviving Medal of Honor aviation hero of World War I found himself
returning to the combat airfields less than a year after the Pearl Harbor attack, to share
his experiences and encourage a new generation of fliers. (Eddie Rickenbacker was
paid $1 per day for this special mission, during which his transport plane crashed in the
Pacific and he spent 21 days surviving in a small life raft adrift in the war zone.)
For more than four years pilots and co-pilots,
gunners, bombardiers and navigators continued to build the legacy of the American airman.
And, just as the pilots of the Army Air Corps gave our Nation its first ray of hope
in the early days of the war, it was Army aviators who brought it all to a conclusion with
the historic flight of the Enola Gay. Along the way, our Nation
gained...and lost...many heroes.