Why do they call it that? Jimmy Doolittle Award: MacDill heroes' story

8:29 AM, May 9, 2013   |    comments
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Click here for more installments of "Why Do They Call It That?"

All month long, it's a Military May for our "Why do they call it that?" series.

This week, there's an impressive story of how three of our Bay Area neighbors became heroes in the skies over Libya. They were honored with the Jimmy Doolittle Award.

Why do they call it the Jimmy Doolittle Award?

It's early in World War II. America is losing fight after fight to the Japanese.

We need major momentum shift.

A plan is dreamed up. It's nuts. Fly huge land-based bombers from an aircraft carrier at sea -- and bomb Tokyo itself.

To pull that off, you'd need a person who's a geek, pilot, leader, and crazy genius. You'd need Jimmy Doolittle.

"He was known as being a risk-taker... but in a positive sense," U.S. Air Force Col. Matt Molineux explained.

Molineux says Doolittle gathered a team, perfected a plan, and on April 18, 1942, his planes rumbled down the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet and -- just barely -- soared into the sky.

Hours later, bombs torched Tokyo.

Nearly all of the planes crash-landed, but 69 of the 80 men avoided death or capture.

"Although striking the targets was kind of minimal, we were able to let the American people know that the attack on Pearl Harbor was not going to stand," Molineux said.

The Japanese panicked.

The Americans and Allies went on the offensive.

The Doolittle Raid turned the tide of history.

And his legacy lives on in the Air Force today. The crew of a refueling plane from MacDill Air Force Base was recognized with the Jimmy Doolittle Award in 2012.

Maj. Marcas Maltby, Capt. Matthew Hedlund, and Senior Airman Christopher Cannon earned it in the first wave of airstrikes on Libya.

After an already intense flight -- including fixing an engine alarm and refueling planes that did major damage to the enemy -- their radio crackled with a new assignment.

"They were retasked to get even closer to the fight," said Col. Molineux, who was that air crew's commander.

Molineux says an American F-15 fighter jet had crashed. In their huge tanker plane, the crew that called MacDill Air Force Base home headed into Libyan airspace.

They faced Qaddafi's guns to keep a steady supply of fuel on hand for the planes trying to find and rescue the two men from that crashed fighter.

"It's in those clutch-type situations that we're really proud to know that our air crew can pull it off every time," said Molineux, who commands the Air Force's 6th Operations Group.

The support from that refueling crew meant the crashed fighter crew was rescued. They came home alive, to hold their wives and hug their moms.

At a welcome home celebration, one of the rescued aviators fought back tears as he remembered, "That back door opened. I see a group of young Marine Recon units jump out."

"And that's probably the best feeling I have ever felt in my entire life."

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

Make sure you're watching next Thursday morning.

We'll tell you about an incredible soldier who has a middle school named in his honor -- in both Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

That's "Why do they call it that?" Thursday at 6 a.m. on The Morning Show on 10 News.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Thursday on 10 News at 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy Award-winning series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

Follow 10 News reporter Grayson Kamm on Twitter at @graysonkamm as he travels Tampa Bay telling your stories.















Grayson Kamm, 10 News.

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