Tag Archives: Montana’s Home Front During World War II

October 1943 in Montana

October 1943

• October 1 – Start of a statewide scrap drive. Nine men were killed when their B-17 bomber crashed east of Big Sandy.

• October 7 – A pilot was killed when his fighter plane crashed east of Stockett.

• October 9 – Antelope season ended after 657 antelope were harvested statewide.

• October 11 – Three Gore Field fliers were killed in a B-24 crash at Colorado Springs.

• October 13 – Italy declared war on Germany.

• October 14 – One passenger died, and 58 were injured when the Milwaukee Road Olympian train derailed near Miles City after the tracks washed out. Most of the victims were servicemen and WACs.

• October 16 – A fire in Billings caused $170,000 damage to the Stockman’s Bar, the Elks Club, and the Midland Bank Building.

• October 20 – Two dead, two injured in a Billings house fire.

• October 23 – A fighter pilot was killed in a crash near Lewistown. A hit-and-run driver killed a Billings woman.

• October 28 – Havre hosted 400 Farm Union delegates.

Montana History Calendar 1942

Montana History Calendar 1941

Montana History Calendar 1930s

September 1943 in Montana

November 1943 (coming soon)

Learn more about what was happening October 1943 in Montana and check out  Montana’s Home Front During World War II


The Final Doolittle Reunion

Col. James Doolittle led a daring raid of sixteen B-25 bombers which took off from an aircraft carrier on April 18, 1942 and bombed several Japanese cities. Two of the 80 “Raiders” were Montanans, David Thatcher of Billings and Edward Saylor of Brusett. Both survived the raid and the subsequent crash landings in China and returned to Montana as heroes. Thatcher, a modest man who saved the lives of the other four members of his crew, suddenly found himself a celebrity. “When we were first told that the ‘special mission’ was to be, I just thought it would be a lot of fun, but I honestly never expected to come back.”

Doolittle takeoff
A B-25 lifts off from the USS Hornet on its way to Japan. USAF 80-G4119631

After a harrowing take-off from the deck of the USS Hornet, Thatcher watched as his B-25, piloted by Lt. Ted Lawson, skimmed over the ocean. They were flying so low that Japanese swimmers waved as they passed over the beach and headed for their target, the Nippon machinery works and steel factory. “As we let go our first load I saw a great column of black smoke and debris shoot into the air… The antiaircraft fire was pretty heavy. It jarred the plane around it was so close, but I’m sure we weren’t hit.” Flying on, their B-25 eventually ran short of fuel and  crashed in the ocean just short of the China coast. All five members of the crew made it to shore, but except for Thatcher they were all badly injured. The young corporal from Billings performed first aid on the four officers and found shelter for them.
Chinese guerrillas helped the fliers elude the Japanese patrols sent to find them, and all of the crew eventually reached safety, but Lawson’s leg was so badly infected that it had to be amputated along the way. Lawson wrote down his experiences in the best-selling, “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” which was soon made into a major Hollywood film starring Spencer Tracy and Robert Mitchum. Robert Walker played the part of David Thatcher, the teenaged flier from Billings. Thatcher won a Silver Star for his actions, and according to an official War Department release, “All this plane’s crew were either saved from capture or
death as a result of Corporal Thatcher’s initiative and courage in assuming responsibility and tending the wounds himself day and night and arranging for the transportation of his companions.” Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, chief of the Army Air Forces, pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross on Thatcher and Sgt. Edward Saylor of Brusett in Washington D.C., before the two men returned to Montana in July. Edward Saylor received a warm welcome as the guest of honor at a Heroes Day parade and war bond rally at Dornblaser Field in Missoula, while 1,000 people watched from the lawn of the Billings courthouse as the Silver Star was pinned on Thatcher. “Real heroes, it seems, are always modest,” said
the Billings Gazette. “For the uncrowned champion of the Modest Heroes League, we raise to nominate Sergeant David J. Thatcher, late of Shangri-la and Tokyo.” Thatcher replied that “It’s funny to see my name in the paper. We saw plenty of action over Japan, all right,” but added that he would like to, “go over again.” After the war Thatcher became a postman in Missoula. He attended the annual Doolittle Raiders reunion until the last one in 2013, attended only by Thatcher, Saylor, and Lt. Col. Richard Cole.

Doolittle Crew #7
The crew of plane #7 on the Doolittle Raid. (L. to R.) Lt. Charles L. McClure; Lt. Ted W. Lawson; Lt. Robert S. Clever; Lt. Dean Davenport; Sgt. David Thatcher. Thatcher
was originally from the Billings area, and now lives in Missoula. USAF 94606

A Final Toast for the Doolittle Raiders

Official site of the Doolittle Raiders

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April 1943 in Montana

• April 3 – A prairie fire near Miles City scorched 8,000 acres.

• April 6 – The First Special Service Force paraded through Helena prior to their departure.

• April 10 – A Johnson Flying Service flight instructor, his father, brother, and brother’s girlfriend, all of Missoula, were killed in a plane crash near Warm Springs.

• April 12 – The Second War Bond drive commenced.

• April 15 – Nelson Eddy entertained Air Base personnel at the Great Falls Civic Center.

• April 18 – Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was killed by U.S. fighter planes.

• April 19 – Jews in Warsaw revolted against the Nazis.

• April 20 – Sixty conscientious objectors to the draft were employed by the U.S. Forest Service as smokejumpers.

• April 24 – The Great Falls Victory Parade featured a display of warplanes and vehicles from the Air Base.

• April 30 – Representative Mike Mansfield gave a nationwide radio address on the situation in Asia.

May 1943 in Montana

March 1943 in Montana

Montana History Calendar 1942

Montana History Calendar 1941

Montana History Calendar 1930s

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