Thomas C. “Tom” Griffin was the navigator on B-25 number nine, the Whirling Dervish , during the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. He was born on 10 July 1917 in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and graduated from the University of Alabama with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science in 1939. Commissioned through the school’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program, he entered military service on 5 July 1939 as a second lieutenant in the Coast Artillery, but he requested relief from active duty in 1940 to enlist as a flying cadet.
He was rated as a navigator and re-commissioned on 1 July 1940, after which he was assigned to the 17th Bombardment Group, Pendleton, Oregon. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, his group immediately began antisubmarine patrols off the coast of Oregon and Washington, during which a crew received credit for sinking a Japanese submarine. In February 1943, he volunteered for a highly classified mission-the Doolittle Raid-and was transferred to Columbia, South Carolina. He was to be one of 80 volunteers to fly B-25 bombers from an aircraft carrier to targets in Japan; this feat had never been attempted. On 1 April 1942, 16 B-25 bombers were loaded onto the aircraft carrier USS Hornet and readied for movement.
On the morning of 18 April 1942, while en route to Japan, aircraft carrier personnel spotted two Japanese fishing boats and sank them using fighter planes. Fearful that the Japanese military now knew of their approach, a decision was made to launch the mission even though they were still about 640 miles from their targets-200 to 300 miles farther than the original plan. Flying close to the water all the way to its target, Griffin’s aircraft bombed the Tokyo Gas and Electric Company in the southern part of that city. His aircraft was the ninth bomber to make an appearance over Japan, and by the time it arrived over the target the air defenses were well prepared.
After making their strike, his crew headed to China to land at preplanned destinations. However, because the aircraft were forced to launch earlier and farther than anticipated, there was no hope of reaching the originally planned airfields. Griffin’s aircraft ran out of fuel, and the crew members were forced to bail out in a thunderstorm over China and behind Japanese lines. The crew eventually made their way to Chunking and returned to combat duty. After the Tokyo Raid, Griffin served as a B-26 navigator in North Africa participating in numerous missions in support of Operation TORCH and in preparation for the invasion of Sicily.
On 4 July 1943, shortly before his 26th birthday, he was shot down over Sicily and captured by the Germans. He remained a prisoner of war for 22 months until he was released in April 1945. Griffin’s decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters and Chinese Army, Navy, Air Corps Medal, Class A, 1st Grade. He retired as a major in 1945.