Navy Corpsman Bill Remley of Royal Palm Retirement Home in Port Charlotte, Fla. was aboard the heavy cruiser USS Vincennes watching the “Doolittle Raiders” fly their B-25, twin-engine bombers off the deck of the carrier USS Hornet on their way to bomb Japan four months after devastating the American fleet at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
“After each bomber flew from the deck of the carrier it almost touched the sea in front of the giant ship. Then the plane climbed back into the sky,” the 91-year-old former Port Charlotte sailor recalled. “I only got to watch a couple of them takeoff before I had to go back down to my battle station in sickbay.”
Just before the Doolittle raiders flew into history the undertaking was on the verge of being cancelled after Adm. Halsey’s “Task Force-16” was spotted by a Japanese ship a couple of hundred miles off mainland Japan. The admiral and his subordinates decided to go ahead with the risky attack on the Japanese cities in the hopes their whereabouts weren’t divulged to enemy commanders.
“I didn’t see ships from our fleet sink the Japanese boat, but I heard about it after it happened,” Remley said the other day. The enemy ship apparently did not have time to radio the Japanese Navy about the American fleet headed westward to bomb Japan.
Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s squadron of 16 B-25 bombers would fly from the Hornet near the east coast of Japan, bomb a half dozen major cities including: Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Yokosuka, Kobe and Yokohama. Then the bomber crews would fly on across the Sea of Japan to mainland China and land on Chinese air bases. Eventually those American air crews who survived the mission would be returned to the U.S.
In reality, several bombers crashed and the crews were captured and some of the crewmen beheaded by the Japanese. Others made it all the way to China and landed on the designated runways, while others were forced to bail out of their planes on the Chinese mainland when they ran out of fuel. One crew ended up in Russia and was held for a year in captivity until they were returned to U.S. custody.
Damage caused by the “Doolittle Raiders” on Japanese industrial facilities was minimal. However, the response from the raid on both sides of the Pacific was huge.
Coming four months after the Pearl Harbor attack, which launched the U.S. into World War II, Americans were ecstatic about the “Doolittle Raid.” The Japanese government and military command, on the other hand, were astonished by the bombing. They had no idea how the U.S. had carried out the attack on the main islands 10,000 miles from the U.S.A.
Half a century after the end of World War II, former Warrant Officer William J. Remley received a special commendation signed by John H. Dalton, Secretary of the Navy, dated: 15 May, 1995.
It read: “On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Second World War, it is appropriate that we take time to reflect on the unique and daring accomplishments achieved early in the war by Task Force 16. Sailing westward under sealed orders in April 1942, only four months after the devastating raid on Pearl Harbor, Task Force 16, carrying 16 Army B-25 bombers, proceeded into history.
“On 18 April 1942 at 2:45 p.m., perseverance produced success as radio broadcasts from Japan confirmed the success of the raids. These raids were an enormous boost to the morale of the American people in those early and dark days of the war and a harbinger of the future for the Japanese High Command that had so foolishly awakened ‘The Sleeping Giant.'”
Less than two months later Corpsman Remley returned to Pearl Harbor on the Cruiser Vincennes and was transferred to the Kalol, a small munitions ship that sailed for Midway Island. It was a speck of sand in the South Pacific that was destine to be the site of the biggest carrier defeat the Japanese sustained in World War II.
On June 6, 1942 Adm. Raymond Spruance was steaming toward Midway with the much smaller American fleet in preparation for attacking Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, commander of the much larger Japanese fleet.
Spruance’s edge: American intelligence broke the Japanese Naval code and knew the enemy fleet was headed to Midway. Yamamoto planned to sink what was left of America’s Pacific Fleet there. Then he would move east, attack the Hawaiian Islands and continue east and invade the west coast of the United States.
By the following day all four of the Japanese’s major aircraft carriers– Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu– had been sent to the bottom by Spruance ‘s Naval Air Power. Adm. Yamamoto and his massive fleet were in retreat toward Japan. This battle ended Japan’s offensive power in the Pacific War.
Corpsman Remley was sent to Midway aboard Kaloli, an ammunition freighter, to supply the Marines on the little island with more fire power. Just before the epic battle between Halsey and Yamamoto took place off the tiny atoll, Remley’s ship was ordered to move out 50 miles away and wait.
“We couldn’t see or hear a thing of the battle,” he said. “Later we learned that the Battle of Midway was a big American Naval success.
“We must have stayed out at Midway about a month before sailing back to Pearl. When I got back to port I was transferred to the Kamanga Manga, a small supply ship that delivered goods and equipment to many of the Pacific Islands: I ended up in Guam, Guadalcanal, Okinawa, after the battles were over,” the old salt recalled.
After serving 23 months aboard ships in the Pacific and taking part in a couple of the most important battles of the war, Remley sailed for San Francisco aboard a freighter filled with injured servicemen. He took a slow-moving train across country to Philadelphia where his wife and child were living at the time.
Remley decided to make the Navy a career and spent the next 15 years serving in hospitals and medical facilities around the country. He retired from the service in 1960 as a Warrant Officer 1.
He moved to Port Charlotte in 2007, after his wife, Charlotte’s death. They have six children: Harriet, William Jay, Charlotte, Floyd, Penny and Terry.
Name: William J. Remley
D.O.B: 15 Feb. 1920
Hometown: Columbus, Ind.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: Nov. 1938
Rank: Warrant Officer – 1
Unit: USS Vincennes
Commendations: National Service Defense medal, Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory medal,
Battles/Campaigns: Doolittle Raid, Battle of Midway
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Oct. 3, 2011 and is republished with permission.
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