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World War II: Interview with Doolittle Raider James Macia

Originally published by Military History magazine. Published Online: June 12, 2006 
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Aboard a North American B-25 droning in formation across southern Arizona during the last week of March 1942, the navigator asked the pilot, 'Can you see that little spot of a town over there? The navigator, 1st Lt. James H. Macia, explained, That is where I was raised.

What in the hell is the name of that place? the pilot, Major John A. Hilger, wanted to know.

Tombstone, Lieutenant Macia replied, and Hilger laughed.

It was gallows humor, because Macia, Hilger and the men in the other bombers knew they were preparing for a mission from which they were unlikely to return. The mission would make history as Doolittle's Raid. Its target was the seemingly inaccessible Japanese capital of Tokyo.

Chappie Macia (pronounced MAY-cee) was born in Tombstone in 1916. His mother's family moved to the silver-mining camp in 1879–two years before the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday killed two McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton near the O.K. Corral.

Macia's father arrived in Tombstone 20 years after the famous gunfight and worked for the Tombstone Consolidated Mines Co. as a mining engineer. That was the course of study his son decided to pursue at the University of Arizona, following his graduation from Tombstone High School as class valedictorian. Cindy Hayostek asked him to trace his activities from there.

Military History: When did you begin college?

Macia: I started at the U of A in 1934. I was on a football scholarship and played on the varsity team my sophomore year but wasn't a star by any means. In the middle of my sophomore year, I decided to drop out of school and earn some money because things were pretty tight for my family. Always in the back of my mind was the opportunity to go and mine. My father was working a little mine at the time, and there was a place for me. I dropped out for a year and worked on that and got a few dollars ahead. I went back to the U of A in 1937. I actually ended up going a full four years. Each summer I would work in the mines.

MH: How, then, did you come to join the U.S. Army?

Macia: In the spring of 1939, Army recruiters visited the university, and many of my Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers became enthused about joining the U.S. Army Air Corps (USAAC). As they headed for the dispensary to take the physical, I walked with them. Almost on a whim, I decided to take the physical, too–and, to my surprise, I passed. Slated to be called up in June 1939, I asked for a delay so I could work a mine I'd obtained a lease on. My family always felt that this mine was the one where our fortune would be found. It turned out that the mine, although we did make some money, didn't work out as we had all dreamed. One of the worst mistakes I ever made was destroying that dream, because once you find that it is not going to be, then that dream is gone.

MH: What was your flight training like?

Macia: In June, 1940, I became part of Class 41-A and went to San Diego for primary training at the Ryan School of Aeronautics. I soloed in about 11 hours, but then, the same as several others, had difficulty getting more time in because of poor weather. The word was, there hadn't been enough washouts, so there must be something wrong. The commander, Captain John Horton, said, I'm going to see that everybody gets a ride within the next few days and determine what has to be done.

MH: Did you have to go through that second-guessing?

Macia: Yes. After my ride, Horton told me that I'd not be going on to advanced training. This was quite a blow. It was softened somewhat by the fact that six or seven other fellows that I thought were pretty good fliers were washed out, too. Oddly enough, there were three or four notoriously poor fliers–in our view–that did not get washed out. They released us from further flight training, but kept us on cadet status.

MH: With no more flight training, what did you take up?

Macia: The navigation program was just starting, and they announced we were eligible to qualify as navigators. They needed people with mathematics backgrounds. In my case, they immediately said: You qualify. If you want to do it, it is open to you. I accepted, and attended Pan American Airways' Navigation School in Florida. The class began in October 1940 and placed great emphasis on celestial navigation. I earned the top academic rank.

MH: Where did you go from there?

Macia: In the summer of 1941, I went to Pendleton, Oregon, assigned to the 89th Reconnaissance Squadron, which was attached to the 17th Bomber Group. Taking time out from maneuvers near Spokane, Washington, I and my college sweetheart, Mary Alice Murrell, were married in July 1941. That December in Pendleton we learned about the Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor.

MH: What do you remember of December 7, 1941?

Macia: We were staying in a private home where about five couples lived, each couple in one room. One of the guys called to tell us that Pearl Harbor had been hit. We turned on the radio and started listening. It was unbelievable. Later I received a call to report to the base.

MH: What was your first wartime mission?

Macia: About that time, the 17th was receiving North American B-25 Mitchells. The group's first wartime mission was patrolling the Pacific coast, but in February 1942 it moved to Columbia, South Carolina. Only a day or so after we arrived, we heard that they were looking for volunteers for an extremely hazardous operation. Of course, we didn't know it as the Doolittle mission, but one that would require only about one-fourth of the available crews for a period of three or four months. Most of us volunteered, so then it was up to the squadron commanders to select the people they felt were best qualified. In my case, I went to my commanding officer, John A. (Jack) Hilger, to tell him I was volunteering. His comment was, Good, I already have you down as my navigator/bombardier.

MH: He seems to have had a lot of confidence in you.

Macia: Earlier, Hilger had named me as the 89th Squadron's navigation officer. I became one of just three Raiders who
were both navigators and bombardiers. Hilger became Doolittle's deputy, charged with training the selected volunteers at Eglin Army Airfield, in northern Florida.

MH: Where did you meet Doolittle?

Macia: At the Florida field. Of course he was a legend. Even then I would not have hesitated to call him America's greatest aviator. We still looked upon ourselves as neophytes, even though we were considered one of the most experienced medium-bomber groups in the air force and were combat ready. And here was a true expert; a man who had a legendary flying reputation. One thing was clear: This mission was very important if he was involved in it.

MH: Did you have any clue at that time as to what the mission was?

Macia: I remember that from the beginning I felt we were going to take off from a carrier, bomb Japanese targets
and then land in China. We were going through short-takeoff exercises, and all the crews had to make long, low-level flights across the Gulf of Mexico while training at Eglin Airfield. Before delivery to Eglin, our planes received new bulletproof gas tanks that almost doubled our range. Also, we were experiencing serious problems with our .50-caliber guns, as well as our gun turrets. We finally had to drop our lower turrets and add another fuel tank.

MH: Where did you go from Eglin?

Macia: On March 25, 1942, we left Florida and headed for California. Six days later, the planes and crews boarded the carrier Hornet at Alameda Naval Air Station in San Francisco. Leaving the next day, Hornet became the flagship of one of two elements that made up a task force. The other element was led by the carrier Enterprise, whose planes provided air cover since Hornet's planes were under the flight deck, which was covered with B-25s. The two elements met on April 13, about 1,000 miles northwest of Hawaii, to form Task Force 16 with Admiral William Halsey on Enterprise as commander.

MH: What do you recall of the launching?

Macia: In the early morning hours of April 18, 1942, while still about 700 miles away from Japan, Task Force 16 began encountering Japanese picket vessels. Just after daybreak, a Japanese ship was sunk, but not before it sent out a radio message. That triggered the launching of the B-25s 200 miles farther out than planned.

MH: How did that change in plan affect the squadron?

Macia: We were ready. The night before, we pretty well understood that it was going to be tomorrow, but it was supposed to be a late afternoon takeoff. The sudden announcement the next morning when they called us to battle stations was a shock in one sense–it's going to be sooner rather than later. I assumed quite early in the game that we would not survive the mission. First of all, I thought if the Japanese had been tipped off that we were coming, and if they had the defenses they were supposed to, and if we were going to strike right in the middle of the day, then we were going to encounter a swarm of fighters coming out after us, so we were going to have to fight our way in. Second, if we got to the targets and got out, we could not make it past midpoint in the China Sea, so we were going to have to ditch our planes in a Japanese-controlled area. I thought the only thing short of being destroyed over the target area would be to end up as a prisoner of war.

MH: All that must have been disconcerting, before the mission even began!

Macia: Oddly enough, that is not as uncomfortable a feeling as you might imagine. You conclude, This couldn't have happened to me but it's happening to me, so I'm going to go in and really do it right, and that's all I care about! I had a sort of nostalgic feeling. I just wished I had said this or that to my dad, my mother and Mary Alice, and that I had seen my little boy. Mary Alice was expecting; I assumed it would be a boy.

MH: Can you describe the flight to your target?

Macia: I watched Doolittle take off into a stiff wind. My plane was 14th of the 16 planes to take off. About 31Ž2 hours later, Japan was sighted. It came out just about as I had plotted it. We made a landfall just to the east of Tokyo. Once we clearly identified where we were, we turned and started down the coast toward our objective, Nagoya. Of course by this time you're starting to realize, Where are those fighters? They are not here. And, Thank God, we are not going to be shot down. I was thankful because we were going to be able to do a good job.

MH: What was the bombing run like?

Macia: Hilger flew Plane No. 14 down the coastline about an hour and then turned inland. I noted extensively cultivated country around Nagoya, and the compactness of the city. As our plane climbed to 1,500 feet, we drew flak but didn't suffer any damage. We dropped two demolition bombs, one on an oil storage facility and the other on a military barracks. We then dropped two incendiary bombs on the Atsuta and Mitsubishi aircraft factories. As we flew away, Staff Sgt. Ed Bain, our gunner, saw smoke rising from the Mitsubishi works, which was one of Japan's most important aircraft plants.

MH: What was it like flying to the relative safety of China?

Macia: Flying away from Japan, Hilger took our plane low to avoid bad weather over the China Sea. I recall our flying a wind pattern and picking up a strong tail wind. Our planned destination was Chuchow, about 100 miles southwest of Shanghai. My concern from the navigation point of view was to do the best I could in getting us to our destination. We wanted to avoid a drift to the north, which was Japanese-held territory. Another concern was when to start pulling up to get over the mountains, since we had been flying down on the deck. I realized that we were going to have offshore islands to consider, so I recommended to Jack that we start our climb early, which he did.

MH: What happened when you reached that obstacle?

Macia: It was starting to get dark, and we were well into the coastal range of mountains. Jack did toy with the idea of trying to let down and see if he could break out of the weather, but gave that up as too high a risk. Then I suggested that we try to climb out of the clouds and get above the weather and see if we could take a celestial fix, but we finally gave that up because we were using up a lot more fuel. As we went on, we realized that we had enough fuel. By that time, of course, my earlier doubts had been completely erased; we had made it. All we had to do now was get down. I felt if we could avoid falling into the hands of the Japanese, we were home safe.

MH: How did you reach safety?

Macia: I recommended a course assuming that we had already flown over Chuchow. Although we never broke out of the poor weather, my recommendation worked out well. We bailed out about 100 miles east of Chuchow. I went third. The first thing that happened was, somehow, just after clearing the airplane, I pulled the rip cord, which was far too soon, and I got caught in the prop wash. That is like the wind catching you as the airplane is flying away from you. Another thing you don't expect is to hear an airplane that you've been in, listening to the motors for hours and hours, suddenly fly off into the distance. There is a complete silence, and you are all alone. Anyway, when I went out, the parachute caught this prop wash, which caused it to be forced up, and then I swung back through. When I came to the end of the swing, it was like hitting a wall. I got a tremendous jolt. Then I found myself swinging back and forth in a long arc.

MH: At least you were okay. What happened next?

Macia: It was dark. I was in the clouds. It was raining. The swinging slowed, and then I started spinning around. I finally got that stopped, but felt I wasn't falling. It seemed as though I was suspended in a white mass. I looked down, and it looked like a black hole was coming up around me. I was trying to react to that when I suddenly hit the ground. I started tumbling down the side of this hill. Finally, the chute caught up in some small pine trees and that stopped me. I was not injured.

MH: Did you re-establish contact with your fellow crew members?

Macia: I spent the night on the hill, trying unsuccessfully to sleep in intermittent rain. In the morning, I walked into a village and became the focus of people who had never seen a non-Oriental before. Eventually, I came across Staff Sgt. Jake Eierman, Plane 14's engineer. As we walked through the countryside, we were passed from person to person and began to feel as if we were captives. Others have told me they had the same experience of feeling at times that they were possibly prisoners of war. I think it was sort of an attitude, a sense of proprietorship, that each would take, of assuming the authority over the previous person to take over these people who had fallen into their hands. After receiving a scare from some soldiers who we thought might be Japanese, Eierman and I found Hilger and then Lieutenant Jack Sims, the co-pilot, as well as a town where there were English-speaking people. Late that night, Bain turned up.

MH: Where did the Chinese take you from there?

Macia: They took us up to Chushien. When we came in there, we were maybe the fourth or fifth crew to appear. Doolittle had not arrived yet. We stayed there for a number of days, and Doolittle finally came in.

MH: Did you learn about the others?

Macia: After Doolittle arrived, information began filtering in about the other Raiders. All but one of the 16 planes dropped bombs. Eleven crews bailed out over China. Four planes ditched or crash-landed; three men were killed, and eight were injured. One plane landed in Russia, where the crew was interned for 13 months before escaping through Iran. Eight crewmen were captured by the Japanese in China. Three were executed, one died a prisoner of war, and the rest were liberated in 1945. Of the 80 Raiders, 67 received Chinese help.

MH: What was Chushien like?

Macia: The little place where we were staying was an air base, designed to accommodate some American or Western air force people. Almost every day, the Japanese would send over a bombing mission; they knew we were at this place. The Chinese had dug a shelter into a limestone bluff, and they insisted that we go up there. The intelligence they had was fantastic because they would come in at 9 and say, At 10:30 there will be four Japanese aircraft over here dropping bombs; they have just taken off. This obviously had been passed on by some Chinese working right at the airfield where the Japanese airplanes were operating. How their communications worked I never knew, but the word would come through. At a quarter after 10, the Chinese would insist we go up to the shelter. We would all wander up to the shelter, which was about a mile away and looked down over the airfield. Pretty soon four aircraft would come, just exactly as reported. They would come over, look around, circle, come back, maybe drop one bomb, circle a few more times. The Chinese had no air defenses. If we went out in front of the shelter to get a better view, our hosts would have all kinds of problems. I imagine they had been told that they were in charge of our safety and nothing had better happen to us. This went on for several days. Finally it was announced that we would be departing in groups.

MH: What about your departure?

Macia: I happened to be in the group with Doolittle and Hilger. We left by train for Hengyang. It seemed we traveled three or four days. On the way, we stopped at a mission run by Father William Glynn. I later learned that the Japanese, in an effort to punish people who had helped the Americans, overran the mission. Glynn, through fortunate circumstances, escaped and later became auxiliary chaplain with the U.S. Air Force in China, serving until 1948. Eventually, we reached Chungking. There we met Generalissimo and Madam Chiang Kai-shek. Madam, on behalf of the Chinese Nationalist government, presented decorations to the 25 or so Raiders there. Later, Doolittle received promotion to brigadier general and the Medal of Honor. Members of his command earned Distinguished Flying Crosses. I was decorated by General Henry H. Hap Arnold.

MH: Where did you go from Chungking?

Macia: About half the Raiders stayed in the China-Burma-India theater. I, and some others, went home. My journey to Tucson took about a month, part of it on a Douglas C-56. After that, I plunged into selling war bonds. One of my first visits was to Douglas, a copper-smelting town about 50 miles southeast of Tombstone, where I received the key to the city and talked about my experiences.

MH: When did you return to service?

Macia: In August 1942, I reported to the 320th Bombardment Group, a part of the Twelfth Air Force commanded by Doolittle. I was one of six Raiders in the 320th, and became group navigator. The 320th flew Martin B-26 Marauders. The crew of my plane dubbed it Herbie the Third, after my son. The 320th arrived in North Africa in December 1942. We flew tactical support, bombing bridges, munition dumps, small marshaling yards and other targets requiring pinpoint accuracy. Bombing from 10,000 feet to achieve this, we were always exposed to heavy anti-aircraft fire from German 88mm guns. Despite that and other dangers, I and another Raider, Jack Sims, became the first men of the 320th to complete a tour of 40 missions. By then, the 320th was in Italy. I was a major and had become group intelligence officer.

MH: What were the 320th's activities in the European Theater of Operations?

Macia: We moved from North Africa to Sardinia and supported the operation in northern Italy. While we were in Sardinia, we also supported the landings in southern France in August 1944. We were the lead attack force. As a matter of fact, I was the flight commander on the lead aircraft that dropped the first bombs. Then we moved to Corsica and supported the Po Valley operation. After the Italian campaign wound down, the 320th moved up to Dijon, France, and we operated from there. We supported the Battle of the Bulge and the cleanup operations that followed.

MH: Where were you at the end of the war?

Macia: We had just moved over to a place called Dol-de-Bretagne before I left in April 1945. By that time I had become the group executive officer and had been promoted to lieutenant colonel. I had flown more than 70 missions.

MH: What did you do after the war?

Macia: I returned to Tucson and became a reserve officer in 1946. Recalled in 1951, I attended a specialized school and went to Europe, where there was a large buildup. I served as staff planning officer, assigned to the Air Force's European command. Promoted to colonel, I became involved with the Lockheed U-2 and early satellite reconnaissance programs. After serving with the Strategic Air Command as director of intelligence, Second Air Force, I was assigned to the Air Force Security Service. I completed my military career as deputy chief of staff, operations; commander of the European Security Region; and chief of staff. I was the last Doolittle Raider to remain on active duty, retiring in 1973.

MH: Do you attend the Raiders' annual reunions?

Macia: Oh, yes. In fact, I am partially responsible for a reunion tradition. In 1959, the reunion was held in Tucson. A friend of mine, Chuck Arnold, was in charge of preparations. He and I got together to talk about the arrangements. Chuck was speculating on what they might do that would be unusual and lasting. Suddenly, the idea of the city of Tucson's giving a set of silver goblets occurred to him. They were presented to us at our reunion in Tucson. Then, in October, Chuck brought them to the football game between the Air Force Academy and the University of Colorado. At halftime, they had a ceremony where Doolittle presented the case and goblets to the superintendent of the Air Force Academy for safekeeping. Each year the goblets, escorted by cadets, appear at the reunion of Doolittle's Raiders and are used to toast departed comrades. The goblet of any Raider who has died is turned upside down in the case. The last two Raiders will open a bottle of cognac–vintage 1896, the year of Doolittle's birth–and once again toast departed comrades.


This article was written by Cindy Hayostek and originally published in the March 1996 issue of Military History magazine.

For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Military History magazine today!


11 Responses to “World War II: Interview with Doolittle Raider James Macia”


  1. 1
    Richard "Rick" Patrick, USAF Ret says:

    I remember Colonel Macia well as I was assigned to USAFSS HQ in San Antonio TX. At the time he was Chief of Staff. I worked in the Information Office and also was the flag bearer for Genl's Coira, Stapleton, Hesse and Johns (the latter two being the vice commanders). I always remember the colonel as being very professional.

  2. 2
    W A Lees says:

    I first met Colonel James H. Macia at the IG Farben building in Frankfurt, Germany in January 1968. As Commander of USAFSS’ European Security Region, he had an office on the sixth floor. Col. Dale Hanks was his deputy, and Col. Jack Cooney was his director for Communications-Electronics. As a 1st Lt, I was OIC for a joint service start-up located on the 4th floor referred to as CCCAF. All three gentlemen, along with a civilian named Norman Boardman, were extremely supportive of this state-of-the-art facility.

    However, my new bride was most impressed by the gracious concern of Mrs. Macia (Mary Alice). She was affectionately known as “Mother Macia”, and she took a special interest in the welfare of young servicepersons and their families. We have many fond memories of USAFSS, the 6900th Support Squadron, and the Macia family.

  3. 3
    Charlene Crosthwaite says:

    I was completely facinated by this interview with James Macia.
    James' family lived for years out west, however, they orignated from the the northeast and before that Canada.

    I know this because I have researched my father's family "Messier" for many years now. The other spellings of the name are Macia, Machie and Macha.
    James' family lines go as follows…
    James H. Macia 1916 Tombstone, AZ; James H. Macia 21 Feb. 1872, Chester, MA; Pierre Macia/Messier 29 Feb. 1848, Addison, VT; Gabriel J. Macia/Messier 2 Feb. 1815 Varennes, Canada; Louis Messier 23 Feb. 1783 Varennes, Canada; Augustin Messier abt. 1743 Varennes, Canada; Joseph Messier 14 Feb. 1713 Varennes, Canada; Francois-Michel Messier 1679 Boucherville, Canada; Michel Messier abt. 1642 St. Denis-le-Thiboult, France; David Messier abt. 1612 France; Jehan Messier in France.

    This family has quite a history including in the military. Starting with Michel Messier being granted land in Montreal for serving in the French army. My great-grandfather (another of Gabriel's sons) fought in the Civil War and survivied the hell of Andersonville prison. My father and several of his brothers also served their country. All are now gone.

    I was pleasantly surprised to find this connection and thrilled at the same time.
    Thank you for the wonderful interview.

    Sincerely,

    Charlene "Messier" Crosthwaite
    Willimantic, Connecticut

  4. 4
    Tom Macia says:

    Charlene

    One of the folks who works for me passed your note, above. I think you know that this interview with my father, COL James H Macia, Jr, was written some time ago in Military History Magazine.

    It was really interesting to see someone who knows the Messier liniage back to Quebec. I visited Verrenes in 1986 with my parents and we all saw the Messier cottage.

    I have a lot of interest in the family history and would love to talk to you about it.

  5. 5
    Charlene Crosthwaite says:

    Dear Tom,

    I was going back over the information I have about your father and his family from AZ and was surprised and pleased to see your response.

    You can call me at 860-617-6679. I would love to speak to you anytime! The best time to call is after 7 p. m.

    I have found that our family history is very interesting indeed.

    It seems that after the Civil War, your great-grandfather, Pierre along with his older brothers, George and Alex and their brother-in-law, Pierre Beauregard settled for a while in western MA. During this time the brothers married and started their families. All were working in the Emery Mines. Another brother-in-law, John Elliott was a mining supervisor.

    Can't wait to hear from you.

    You can also snail mail at the following:

    Mrs. Charlene Crosthwaite
    53 Southridge Drive
    Willimantic, CT 06226-3411

    • 5.1
      Liliane Vignau says:

      Allo Charlene, I'm so happy to have news of you. I hope you are fine. I'm working on a Messier généalogy. I suppose you know that the ancester is Michel Messier married to Anne Lemoine. If you need information, let me know. I went a while ago to Varennes to a barbecue at the Messier's place where Tom went.
      Michel's ascendance is David, Jehan, and Marin born ca 1550.
      A big hug.

      • 5.1.1
        Charlene Crosthwaite says:

        Greetings Liliane,

        How are you?
        So nice to see that you are still keeping busy!
        I haven't had a chance to visit Varennes yes. However, last year we visited the town my grandmother, Malvina Claing Macha Messier was born in. Beautiful area!
        Yes, I have the connections back to Michel's grandparents. I have continued to add to the Messier lines. Bits and pieces at a time. Which Messier line are you working on? If I can be of any help here, just let me know.
        A big hug right back to you too!

  6. 6
    WAYNE WASANO says:

    I would like to get your father's signature in my Doolitte book. Can I visit your father, a famous war hero…..

  7. 7
    Tony Schweikle says:

    Hi Tom, your father was head of a bomber group that had a mission to Sapri Italy in 1943? Let me know at altavilla38@yahoo.com

  8. 8
  9. 9
    Matt Leonard says:

    the Trackback link above for this article refers to our site, MainStreetRadical.com James Devere (Mr Macia's Nephew) is the writer for the blog. his full article can be found at
    http://mainstreetradical.com/2009/12/22/america-loses-a-hero-col-james-herbert-macia-dies-at-age-93/



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