One Shining, Golden Star:
Remembering a Doolittle Tokyo Raider
There are 4,000 sculpted gold stars that gleam at night, standing guard above a reflecting semi-circular fountain at our nation’s World War II Memorial.
Each star represents 100 Americans among the more than 400,000 who gave their lives in a global war that exhausted the best blood and efforts of a generation from 1939 to 1945. In that way that incalculable suffering and sacrifice must somehow be made meaningful, I began one evening to mentally dedicate stars to our fallen heroes. Each, after all, tells a story—one emblem divided by 100 into one mission and one life cut tragically short.
The tip of the sixth star from the right, top row, belongs in my mind to Lieutenant Dean E. Hallmark and the remaining, valiant members of Crew #6 who never came home—Lieutenant Robert Meder, Sergeant William Dieter, and Corporal Donald Fitzmaurice.
They were men who volunteered once, no questions asked, for a dangerous and top secret mission. While their willingness to take the fight to the Japanese helped change the course of the War in the Pacific, their crew suffered the highest casualty rate of what became historically known as the Doolittle Raid.
Lieutenant Hallmark’s story is a pinpoint in a sea of stars and an ocean of bravery. But it ought to be deeply personal to each of us who inherited such hallowed, hard-won liberty.
Prior to visiting the memorial on the National Mall, the tour I most often offer to high school students at Arlington National Cemetery honors the fallen Doolittle Raiders. It takes us on a long road, a bit of a climb, a passage through McClellan Gate, to Lieutenant Hallmark’s grave. What was left of his earthly remains after the war is buried between what was left of Lieutenant Meder, his co-pilot, and Lieutenant William Farrow, senior pilot of Crew #16 of the Doolittle Raid.
Before proceeding I remind the young men and women of cemetery etiquette, especially in an active cemetery like Arlington. The students always demonstrate incredible restraint and respect. They are careful to speak in lowered tones and walk judiciously on paved roads and behind the headstones once we enter the large expanse of Section 12. And yet when they reach the grave sites of these three men, they instinctively sit on the grass, as near as possible to the graves themselves. It is a sacred, beautiful moment to see that—our youth being drawn to these men. They know they belong to them intimately, in the way children know to lean into their mothers who gave them life and breath.
Most of the students relate to a young man who became something of a local hero on the east Texas football fields surrounding his hometown of Greenville. Prior to the Doolittle Raid, Dean was actually best known for being a standout offensive tackle. He helped lead Greenville High School to their first ever appearance in the state playoffs in 1931. He overcame repeated injuries throughout his career to remain a dominant force as an offensive lineman—first at Paris Junior College and then as a transfer to Auburn University (then Alabama Polytechnic Institute) on a full-ride football scholarship in 1935. He earned the distinction of playing at Auburn for the Tigers’ freshman team under the legendary Ralph “Shug” Jordan.
Dean made a lot of friends everywhere he went, partly because he was the life of any group to which he belonged and a lot because he was the kind of person who went out of his way to help another. He was not only a gifted athlete but uniquely cut from the leading man-cloth variety—a handsome, rugged individualist with the expected hard work ethic and tenacity of a son whose father was a cotton farmer and cattle buyer. He was also the product of a mother who was a seamstress, talented enough to serve as a dressmaker for some of the Dallas area’s most notable fashion shows. He inherited her generosity of spirit, her hopefulness and her trademark tailoring wherever he went. A close look at his style, even in standard issue uniform (or especially in uniform), shows a man who knew how to wear clothes—paired with square-toed Justin boots as often as he could get away with them while serving as a pilot in the United States Army Air Forces. Dean had hopes of being an aviator as early as 1935 when he befriended Roland B. Scott, an engineering student at Auburn whose primary aim was to also fly. Roland described Dean as “a typical Texan,” big, commanding and outgoing.
“We spent many hours in front of Alumni Hall where I lived, talking about the day we’d each be wearing a leather jacket and white silk scarf and tooling a fighter or bomber through American skies,” Roland stated in a 1987 interview for the Auburn Alumnews. “Little did we know that it would take the greatest war in history for (us) to do so.”
In a truth stranger than fiction, some five years after their time at Auburn, the first class of aviation cadets Roland Scott was assigned to train was that of Dean Hallmark. “Nearly all of the members of that class—41E—were from Texas,” Roland said. “Calling roll, I came to the name of Dean Hallmark and looked up to see Dean grinning and waving at me. We were an aeon away from the ‘Loveliest Village,’ but we were back together again.”
Lieutenant Hallmark earned his wings and officer’s commission on July 11, 1941. He received orders the next day to report for duty with the 95th Bomb Squadron, 17th Bombardment Group, stationed at Pendleton Field, Oregon. The assignment put him among the first group of aviators to ever pilot the North American B-25 Mitchell bomber.
Just five months later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and Lieutenant Hallmark was ordered, along with his crew, to fly anti-submarine patrols off the West Coast. On February 9, 1942, the group was transferred to Columbia, South Carolina, presuming they would next fly patrols off the East Coast. A few days later, however, a world-famous aviator by the name of Jimmy Doolittle sought the most experienced group of B-25 pilots to man a dangerous but unspecified mission.
Lieutenant Hallmark volunteered immediately, earning the position of command pilot of Crew #6 after top secret training at Eglin Field, Florida.
In one of the greatest feats in aviation history, 16 B-25 bombers were launched from the deck of the USS Hornet on the morning of April 18, 1942. The hazard of the Doolittle Raid was already unprecedented for its launch of bombers from an aircraft carrier with less than 500 feet of available takeoff distance. The danger was compounded by miserable weather conditions on the high seas and, importantly, the detection of the task force by Japanese picket boats on patrol in the North Pacific. Due to the possibility the picket boats would signal the USS Hornet’s presence to the Japanese mainland, orders were given to proceed with the raid ahead of schedule and 170 miles further out than planned. Each crew member faced the fact that their planes lacked sufficient fuel to make it to what should have been safe airfields in an unoccupied region of China. Every one of the 80 men participating that day accepted the risk and launched their bombers skyward anyway.
The crews had orders to fly, without fighter escort, straight into Tokyo (or, in some case, its outlying areas) to bomb military targets, proving that the Japanese homeland was vulnerable to attack. Many of the planes, including that of Crew #6, nicknamed the “Green Hornet,” came under anti-aircraft fire. Lieutenant Hallmark and his men successfully bombed their downtown military targets then followed headings all the way to China from the one man on their crew who would ultimately survive the mission—their navigator,
Lieutenant Chase Nielsen.
Dangerously low on fuel, the crew reached landfall at dusk under rainy conditions with extremely limited visibility. When the aircraft’s fuel -starved engines suddenly lost power, Lieutenant Hallmark was forced to ditch his aircraft in the surf four miles off the coast. He performed what was described by a fellow Raider as an “incredible display of steel nerves and skill,” putting the large plane atop the water. The impact was so great, however, that Lieutenant Hallmark was seriously injured, catapulted through the windshield while still strapped to his seat. Sergeant Dieter and Corporal Fitzmaurice suffered the gravest injuries in the crash, subsequently drowning before reaching land.
Lieutenant Hallmark and the remaining two officers managed to swim to shore and locate each other at daylight, rendezvousing at a local Chinese garrison. With the help of friendly Chinese, they buried Sergeant Dieter and Corporal Fitzmaurice on a small slope above the beach. They managed to evade capture for three days before being overtaken by Japanese forces in the small village of Shipuzhen, just off the coast of the East China Sea.
Lieutenant Hallmark was the first to be discovered late in the morning on April 21 by an enemy patrol as the three officers hid in a hut. Surrounded by several armed Japanese, he was questioned pointedly on the whereabouts of the other men. His navigator later recalled that Lieutenant Hallmark stood from his hiding position slowly upon being discovered, took one long, deep breath and refused to surrender his fellow officers.
Along with five captured crew members from the 16th bomber on the mission, the men were interrogated, beaten, tortured and placed on a starvation diet as prisoners of war under the notorious Kempeitai. Standing in his prime at six feet tall and weighing 200 pounds, Lieutenant Hallmark was reduced over a six-month period to just 120 pounds in the Bridge House of Shanghai, China—a prison also known as the “Butcher Shop,” made infamous for the deplorable conditions that frequently led to the deaths of those being held captive. During the sweltering summer months of imprisonment in which the men shared their confines with rats, Lieutenant Hallmark became so bony and overcome by dysentery that fellow Texas pilot Lieutenant Robert Hite
of Crew #16 held his head in his lap at times, trying to provide some cushion and support on the hard wooden floors. By the time the captured Raiders were subject to the farcical court-martial of August 28, 1942—held by a Japanese tribunal in retaliation for the flyers’ mission—Lieutenant Hallmark was emaciated and semi-conscious. He was carried into the makeshift courtroom on a stretcher to stand trial, too weak to even brush the flies that hovered on his face. Because of his deteriorated condition, he was separated from his fellow Raiders and taken back to the Bridge House while the others were transferred to the Civic Center Prison in Shanghai. At the Japanese War Crimes Trials of 1946, a surviving Russian, also imprisoned at the Bridge House, testified that Lieutenant Hallmark was virtually unable to stand or care for himself during the final months of his life.
On October 14, 1942, Lieutenant Hallmark was summoned for transport by his Japanese captors. In a parting act of dignity, he willed himself to rise and walk through the prison doors unassisted. Upon arrival at the Kiangwan prison compound in Shanghai, he was informed he was to be executed by firing squad the next day. Shocked and self-described as “in a daze,” he used what little strength remained to write a final letter home to his family, admonishing his father, mother and sister to “try to stand up under [the trial of his death] and pray.”
At 4:00 pm local time on October 15, 1942, a gray and foggy day, Lieutenant Hallmark was transported to a freshly mowed field at Shanghai Public Cemetery #1. He was given the opportunity to offer a silent prayer, then subsequently blindfolded, forced to kneel, and tied to a small, white cross. He was positioned alongside two other Doolittle Raiders from Crew #16, Lieutenant William Farrow and Sergeant Harold Spatz, who had also been sentenced to death. All three men were shot in the head by firing squad at exactly 4:30 pm local time, dying instantly.
There are several aftermaths to the abrupt end of Lieutenant Hallmark’s life. Just over a year after his execution, his co-pilot—Lieutenant Meder—succumbed to the debilitating effects of malnutrition and mistreatment in solitary confinement. His grim existence, lived out until December 1, 1943 in a dark and primitive cell, 9 by 12 feet, in Nanking, had been marked for as long as he lasted by a kind of hopeful resilience on his part in which he had continued to tap out his post-war plans in Morse code through the cell walls. He was hoping to start a furnishings company in his hometown of Lakewood, Ohio when the war ended. The poignancy of that story is matched only by one of Lieutenant Hallmark’s last requests for a song during his darkest hours—Lieutenant Hite sang Stardust for him, over and over again, as he awaited execution.
Following their deaths, each of the bodies of the fallen Doolittle Raiders was cremated—a disposal considered by the Japanese military, at that time, to be the greatest indignity that could be imposed upon the deceased. Their ashes were recovered by members of the Allied War Crimes Commission in September of 1945, following the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. The remains of Lieutenants Hallmark, Meder and Farrow were kept at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii for more than three years, finally brought home to be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on January 17, 1949.
Their families’ incomprehensible losses—their entire remaining lives without their sons and the promise of what might have been—is an integral part of the story of that gleaming gold star at the World War II Memorial. Gold stars, after all, are the longstanding symbols displayed on flags in the windows of homes of grieving survivors, of those who parted with their loved ones that our battles might be decisively won—that we might remain free to live out our lives in a way the fallen never will. Before quietly filing away from the grave sites, visiting students are given an opportunity to write down what they will do with that precious liberty granted them. They record and lay down their promises in black memorial boxes, posted before each headstone, the hopes and dreams of the living committed to each heroic flyer who went before.
As we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, we would do well to follow our youth’s example, to at least seek out one star in our own way—that one pinpoint and that one hope and dream we can commit to a fallen service member, making it the lifeblood of our remembrance.
We would do well to live our own one life worthy of their sacrifice and honor.
Amy E. Dimond is an accomplished brand communications executive and the author of My Country to Defend. She has traveled to and worked in over 30 international markets. In writing this blog, she gratefully acknowledges the exhaustive work of official Doolittle Raider historian, Retired Air Force Colonel Carroll V. Glines. For the official histories of each Doolittle Tokyo Raider, please visit DoolittleRaider.com. You can learn more about Lieutenant Dean E. Hallmark at Facebook.com/DeanHallmark.