Ken Beaton: I can’t find the words

Captain Ted William Lawson in his flight gear ready for takeoff. This picture was taken before April 18, 1942.

Captain Ted William Lawson in his flight gear ready for takeoff. This picture was taken before April 18, 1942.

Dec. 7, 1941 to April 18, 1942 was a vanquished four and a half months. Our Pacific fleet was on the bottom of Pearl Harbor, the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy dominated the news headlines with numerous victories over Allied forces. Americans had no good news. Be patient.

President Roosevelt wanted to attack Japan as soon as possible to lift Americans spirits, similar to his “fireside chats” during the dark days of the Great Depression.

Saturday, April 18, 1942, Americans and our allies heard on their radios, “American planes bombed cities in Japan!” Payback time.

As days passed after April 18, more information became available. Lt. Colonel James Doolittle launched a B-25 from the flight deck of the USS Hornet, “The Fighting Lady. 15 B-25s followed to fly within feet of the Pacific Ocean then rose to 1,500 feet to bomb their strategic targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe, and Osaka.

My wife gave me the book, “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” copyright 1943. Captain Ted W. Lawson dictated his book to Robert Considine over two days and four evenings. Being a professional writer Robert edited the book.

Captain Lawson dedicated his book to “Lieutenants Bill Farrow, Dean Hallmark, George Barr, Bob Hite, Bob Meder, Chase Nielson, Sergeants Harold Spatz, William Deshazer, and Corporals Donald Fitzmaurice and Jacob Deshazer. They didn’t get back. God help them.”

After his bombing run over Tokyo, Lt. Lawson flew into a cold front. The weather changed to rain as his plane approached the Chinese coast. With his landing gear down, his B-25, “The Ruptured Duck,” ran out of fuel. Traveling at 110 mph his B-25 stopped instantly when it hit the Pacific Ocean close to shore. Lawson went through the B-25s windshield at 110 mph. All of his teeth were knocked out. His left leg was severely lacerated and bleeding.

Fortunately Doc White, a flight surgeon, had volunteered to be a gunner on one of the B-25s. To make a long story short, Doc White amputated Lawson’s left leg. He recovered and was carried in a sedan chair by two Chinese coolies to Choo Chow Lishuiaway.

In Karachi, India, Lawson boarded a Boeing Stratoliner, a four-engine commercial plane, which landed in Cairo on June 7, 1942. Lawson visited a cable office in Cairo with mixed emotions. He didn’t know how to tell his wife that her husband’s was an amputee. He wrote her name and address on a cable form only to crumble and toss it.

Two of Lawson’s fellow pilots’ wives were in California with Ellen expecting their first child. He asked Hilger and Greening for their advice.

“I told them, it was making me nervous. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell her. I told them I didn’t know how to put the words down so they wouldn’t hurt Ellen or the baby. Yet I figured that no matter how I told her or when I told her, it would be hard for her to accept.”

June 16, 1942 Lawson’s plane landed at Bolling Field, south of the capital. An ambulance took him to Walter Reed Hospital. Newly-promoted General Doolittle visited Lawson. He told Lawson, “I’ve already written your wife and told her you were injured and on the way back, but I did not know the extent of your injuries.”

Lawson did not consider Ellen’s feelings when he decided to “just stay in Walter Reed Hospital until I had all the work done on my leg and face and learned to use the artificial leg. Ellen could think that I was still in China or India. Then when I was right, I could walk up to her and tell her all the things that had happened.”

Lawson had no fear flying over Tokyo, but he feared how his wife would accept him.

On June 17 General Doolittle had called Ellen in California. He told her, “There was something else I couldn’t talk about over the phone, and that I’d airmail a letter.”

The next day, the 18th, Lawson received “my first letter from Ellen in a long time. ‘You’ll never know how relieved I am to know you’re back. I’m coming to Washington just as soon as I can. At least I can see you every day. When I do see you I’ll do my best to control my tears. But, should there be any, please don’t misinterpret them. They’ll be tears of happiness and joy.”

Allow me to share a personal story. During World War II, nobody in our armed forces was allowed to write where they were in their letters home. My dad’s ship was an escort on convoy duty. Knowing Mom’s concern for him, Dad sent her a picture, he was sitting on a camel with palm trees in the background. Now, she was able to relax knowing he was safe and somewhere on the coast of North Africa. Plus, she had the most recent picture of “her man.” It was a great day to receive mail from Dad!

It was June 19 or 20. Lawson was sitting in his room looking out the window missing Ellen. He was prompted to turn his head as the door opened with Ellen in the doorway. Can you hear a violin playing softly as Ellen’s eyes begin to glisten having waited months for this moment? His first reaction was to hug her. Forgetting his amputated left leg and his crutches, he fell at her feet. Wow, talk about falling hard for a gal!

Ted and Ellen’s daughter, Ann, was born at Walter Reed Hospital on Sept. 25, 1942. Ted owned and operated a machine shop in Southern California.

Tune in on Sunday, June 4, the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Midway to learn how Doolittle’s Raid on Japan set up Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s next “chess move,” Midway.


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