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King Solomon, Town's Grave Digging Drunk Turned Hero, Wandering Worker: The American Hobo and America Strikes Back After Pearl Harbor

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
July 1, 2022 3:10 am

King Solomon, Town's Grave Digging Drunk Turned Hero, Wandering Worker: The American Hobo and America Strikes Back After Pearl Harbor

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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July 1, 2022 3:10 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Kentucky journalist Sam Terry tells the story of the man they called “King Solomon.” Connecticut Shorty of The Hobo Museum shares the story of the American hobo and how they are still celebrated today. Teacher, choir director, organist, and history buff Anne Clare tells the story of the first two major American responses to the Japanese after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Support the show (https://www.ouramericanstories.com/donate)

 

Time Codes:

00:00 - King Solomon, Town's Grave Digging Drunk Turned Hero

10:00 - Wandering Worker: The American Hobo

35:00 - America Strikes Back After Pearl Harbor: The Battle of the Coral Sea and the Doolittle Raids 

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories. And we tell stories about everything here on the show, including your story. Send them to OurAmericanStories.com.

They're some of our favorites. And this next story comes to us with the help of John Elfner, a high school history teacher and a regular contributor to our show. Kentucky journalist Sam Terry tells the story of the man they called King Solomon.

In November of 1854, the Reverend William M. Pratt recorded in his diary, I preached the funeral today of old King Solomon, 79 years old. He was born the same year with Henry Clay and had drunk whiskey enough to float a man o' war. He was once a person of considerable enterprise and business, but he had been given to drink a great many years and yet was inoffensive and of great integrity. Quite a number of citizens attended his funeral and he had a good coffin worth $30 and some 17 carriages processed to the cemetery. The deceased was William King Solomon, a Virginia native who claimed to have been a boyhood acquaintance of Harry, as he called Henry Clay, jesting that his own work as a digger of sellers and cisterns was less elevated than the famous statesman.

His loyalty to Clay was unprecedented. When one of Clay's opponents for reelection offered strong drink to Solomon in exchange for his vote, Solomon took him up on the offer and then proceeded to vote for Clay. When asked if he had voted as agreed, Solomon replied, you may have been foolish enough to try to bribe me, but I'm not foolish enough to vote for you. During Solomon's lowest time of life, his wife died and his son ran away, sending him into a liquor-filled existence that reduced him to a vagabond, whom Lexingtonians nicknamed King Solomon. By 1833, Solomon's existence, living on the streets and intoxicated, led a local judge to sell him as a servant for a period of nine months. Solomon's purchaser was the least likely of buyers. Aunt Charlotte was a free black woman who had apparently known Solomon in Virginia when he was a free white male and she was an enslaved black female, her owners having given her freedom and bequeathed her some land.

She supported herself by selling baked goods. At Solomon's auction, two Transylvania medical college students bid on Solomon, viewing him as being near the end of his life and a future cadaver for their studies. Aunt Charlotte was the winning bidder for Solomon. Her exact bid remains a mystery.

Some sources say she paid 13 cents, while others claim it was $13, and yet another maintains it was 50 cents. Whatever the price, King Solomon, the white vagrant, became the temporary property of Aunt Charlotte, the free woman of color, setting in motion one of Kentucky's renowned tales of the past. Aunt Charlotte freed Solomon, and true to his addiction, he managed to acquire some liquor before wandering back to her home where he passed out. When Solomon awakened, he found the town of Lexington in distress with people dying of cholera, one of the most feared maladies of the early decades of the 19th century. Referred to as Asiatic cholera due to its origin in the Far East, cholera is contracted by ingesting the Vibrio cholerae microbe via water that is contaminated with human feces. Now at this time, in 1833, the town branch ran through Lexington, and heavy rains caused its banks to overflow while privies overflowed into the ground, creating a deadly mixture that poured into sinkholes only to emerge through springs and other sources of drinking water. A single bucket of contaminated water from a well or public pump had the power to wipe out an entire household.

Naive individuals, unaware of the contamination, soon became victims, stricken with voluminous diarrhea after drinking even a small quantity of infected water. There was little help for the victims. Lexington's only hospital at the time was the Eastern Kentucky Lunatic Asylum.

The town's physicians were principally faculty members at Transylvania's medical college. Three of the physicians died, another was out of town and learning of the epidemic chose not to return, and yet another rendered himself useless after a fall while trying to care for the sick and the dying. The Lexington Observer and Reporter published the names of more than 500 victims in a town with a population of 6,000. The hungover Solomon found that Aunt Charlotte, like most Lexington residents, was packing to evacuate the town.

Historians have pondered how Solomon could have managed to avoid contracting cholera, most drolly concluding that his body was so well fortified with alcohol, he was immune to the disease. Solomon, however, refused to leave and he began burying the dead as the grave diggers had left along with thousands of other residents. Victims of cholera were not afforded the luxury of funerals or even coffins with many bodies being wrapped in the bed linens on which they had died. Dozens of casualties were piled up near the old Episcopal burying ground on Third Street. Concerning the need, Solomon began digging graves to bury hundreds of bodies and in turn becoming the hero of Lexington. King Solomon continued to live in Lexington until his death in 1854. He was buried in the Lexington Cemetery, not far from the towering monument marking the grave of his boyhood friend, Henry Clay. In 1908, a large monument declaring King Solomon a hero was placed at his grave. And Kentucky author, James Lane Allen, included the tale of King Solomon of Kentucky in his 1891 book, Flute and Violin and Other Kentucky Tales.

The rest of Aunt Charlotte's story, however, remains unknown. And a special thanks to Kentucky journalist Sam Terry and thanks, as always, to John Elfner. The story of William King Solomon here on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history from war to innovation, culture and faith are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

Go to Hillsdale dot edu to learn more. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners, too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

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Simply go to Geico.com or contact your local agent today. And we return to our American stories and up next, you're going to hear from Connecticut Shorty. And yes, you heard it right. That's the name she goes by. And she also happens to be on the board of the hobo museum. And you heard that right to the hobo museum. And she is here to share the stories of the history of the American hobo.

Betty Moylan is my given name. My hobo name is Connecticut Shorty. Hobo names usually are given to you by someone, another hobo usually, but some people will pick their nickname they had when they were a kid or a nickname somebody gave them along the way. My hobo name, Connecticut Shorty, came from an old time steam air hobo named Steam Train Mari Graham.

A steam air hobo is a hobo that rode steam trains and he gave me my name in Logan's Port, Indiana in 1992 at a railroad festival. He decided that should be my name. So that's my name. Prior to that, I had a hobo name. It was Twinkle Toes because I was kind of a dancer, you know, so my sister's hobo name is New York Maggie. I gave her that name because although we were both raised in Connecticut, she raised her family in Rochester, New York.

She left when she was fairly young. So I gave her the name New York Maggie. My brother is very thin. So his hobo name is Slim Tim. Redbird Express. He picked up his name because he was a truck driver. You know, when he was driving the truck, they called him Redbird Express.

So he kept that as his hobo name. Connecticut Tootsie. Her father used to give Tootsie Pops to the kids in his shoemaking store.

So she took the name Connecticut Tootsie out of her father. Slow Motion Shorty was an old time steam air hobo. He had him hit by a car a couple of times walking along roads and he moved pretty slow.

Of course, he had had a lot of injuries. So the hobos called him Slow Motion Shorty. Oh, Hard Rock Kid. He got his name. He was a hard rock miner out in the West.

He liked to mine those minerals and stuff. So he got the hobo name Hard Rock Kid. So they come from a variety of places, different names.

They're kind of fun. A lot of people mix up the American hobo. I say American hobo because it's really only an American phenomenon.

This hobo person that rode trains. A lot of people mix up the hobo with the homeless or the local people that, you know, hang around towns and beg and stuff. So classically, the hobo worked and wandered and they were homeless by choice. Some of them had homes. They could go home if they wanted to. You know, a lot of them had families and homes or a relative would take them in. But they didn't want that. They loved to be out American wandering. They didn't want to have a home. It sort of gave them claustrophobia or something.

They had to be outside. A classic example is my father. Now, he married my mother in the 1940s and he had hobo before he met my mother. So he tried very hard to settle down. He had three children.

There's three of us. And he did his best. But there was a lot of problems in the marriage because he was restless. Sometimes he'd leave and disappear for three or four days. And then eventually the marriage ended and he left. So we were raised by our mother and he went back to hobo and he worked and wandered his whole life.

He just rode trains and wandered around America and worked. So there's all kinds of stories connected with hobos having to, I guess you can't explain it to a person that doesn't have it. It's called the wanderlust where you just can't stay there. You can't settle down into a home in a normal kind of life, what we call normal. But to a hobo, a normal life was wandering around and picking up odd jobs to make enough money to keep going just to see what's going on all over the country.

So the classic definition of a hobo is they wander and work and work to wander because they don't mind working and they'll take a variety of jobs. But they get restless after usually just a couple of months tops and they just got to get on the road and see what's going on down the tracks basically. So they leave the job, short term jobs. They started pretty much after the Civil War.

A lot of the veterans, of course, didn't want to go home or they couldn't go home depending on the personal circumstances. And they had been, you know, a lot of them wandering around, you know, fighting, of course, for five years or so. So they started following the railroad, working for the railroad and just wandering and working.

But they'd do anything. They'd paint, they'd wash dishes in restaurants. They took all kinds of jobs just to stay for a short term. Some of them worked in lumber camps like that hard rock kid.

He'd work in mines. They worked a lot of the migrant farm work, but they really helped develop the country because the farmers needed the help. It wasn't the modern generation where machines can do so much today. It was all manual labor and stuff. So they were happy to have this big work crew of people show up seasonally. Most of them like they pick apples in Oregon at New York State had apples. The hobos would go to New York State to pick apples and cherries and stuff. So they were all over the place and they'd hold up in camps that were called hobo jungles. This is where they'd gather and meet each other and cook what they call hobo stew, just a pot of water and all kinds of vegetables and stuff. And if they had meat, they'd throw that in. But it filled up a lot of people.

That's the reason they cooked that, because it would fill up a whole camp of people. They share stories. They talk about where the jobs were. Some of them would play music. Now that Woody Guthrie hobo, he carried a guitar, but very few people carried a guitar.

Most of them actually play the harmonica, the ones that played an instrument, because they could just slip that in a pocket or a little bag or something. You know, because when you're getting on trains, you can't be carrying all this big stuff like guitars. And actually, they never even carried walking sticks on trains. They were in the way when you're trying to, you know, jump on trains.

Most of them would get on off trains when they were moving. They may pick up a walking stick and carry it around the town or something, you know, for things that might try to hurt them. So historically, it came down as fact that this is what the hobos did, but they weren't really riding trains with a walking stick. Some of that stuff becomes folklore. Most of them carried what we would call a bindle or a bag slung over their shoulder. It was more practical. Some of the hobos would dry their socks, hanging them on trees and sticks and stuff.

One time, this old timer had a cane now, so he was drying his socks on his walking stick. The hobos were originally meeting in the Chicago area. It wasn't really the city of Chicago. It was a lot of the surrounding smaller towns prior to 1900. About 1899, word had come to Britt that the hobos were unhappy meeting in the Chicago area. Police were hassling them in this and that, and they wanted to go somewhere else. So these business people in Britt, Iowa, there was three or four main business people. They decided, well, why don't we invite the hobos to come to Britt, and this will give us national recognition as a city.

It was a railroad town, and it'll have tourists come and spend money, and this will be a good thing for us. So they got a hold of one of the hobos. He was the grand head pipe of these hobos that were meeting in the Chicago area. His name was Charles Noe, and the grand head pipe was the spokesperson for the hobos and the chief negotiator. So he came to Britt in 1899 and met with these business people, and they did the negotiations for him to start spreading the word for the hobos to come and have their convention there. And probably the biggest reason that got him interested in having the hobos come to Britt was they promised him that the hobos could have all the free German suds that they wanted, a type of free beer. So this was a really big ticket item for these hobos. So they all agreed to come, and then 1900 was going to be the first convention held in Britt, and most of them came by trains. Of course, there was all kinds of trains back in those days. And there was notoriety all over the country.

Papers go out in California. Illinois, all over the country, carried this first annual convention. Well, they didn't call it an annual convention. This hobo convention was going to be held in Britt.

And then that was pretty successful. So then after that, Britt started inviting hobos. They just started coming back every year, and we still have an annual convention today. The hobo community people come into Britt.

I wouldn't classify them as classic American hobos anymore, but a lot of heavy duty rail riders still come in. And we sit and we have a meeting. And in the old days, they would talk about, of course, where jobs were and what's going on around the town or something.

Now we pretty much talk about our community, what we need to do in the jungle maybe to make it better, and if there's any issues in the town, we try to resolve them, things like that. But we still actually have an annual hobo convention meeting in the city of Britt every year. And you're listening to Connecticut Shorty tell the story of the American hobo.

By the way, when she says Britt, she's talking about Britt, Iowa. That's where the hobo convention is held each year. And hobos, well, they want to distinguish themselves from homeless people. This is their lifestyle. This is how they choose to live, work and wander, Connecticut Shorty said. And indeed, her father, well, he worked and he wandered, and then he kept wandering.

But she didn't resent him for it. Clearly, she's chronicling the hobo life. And when we come back, more from Connecticut Shorty of the Hobo Museum here on Our American Stories. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop. But for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot.

And I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Doing household chores can already be time consuming and tedious. And there's nothing more daunting than facing piles and piles of laundry that need to be done.

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Purchase All-Free Clear Mega Packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we continue with our American stories and to Connecticut's Shorty on the history of the American hobo. She had just told us of the long-standing tradition called the Hobo Convention that takes place each year in Britt, Iowa.

Let's return to Connecticut Shorty. Originally, the Hobo Convention was run by those business people that I mentioned and the early hobos, they had some sack races and games and things they did. But now, currently, it's a wonderful event. It's more of a family event.

It's the second full weekend in August every year. That's been consistent for over 30 years that I've been going. We have a hobo jungle there. The hobo jungle is really a camp. Now, the old-time hobo jungle was where the hobos came to meet each other when they got off the rails and they'd gather over by the railroad station in town and they'd be around the town in the daytime talking to the tourists and stuff. But then at night, they'd go to their own hobo jungle. The people really didn't go over and bother them too much.

Probably were a little afraid of them, of course. But today, it's more of a family event. People come into the hobo jungle, talk to the hobos, you know, have them sign autographs, take pictures of them.

They bring their kids down to meet them. So it's changed over the years, but it's still considered a hobo jungle because that's where we all are and where our campfire is and, you know, where many of us are sleeping. And then this is one of the reasons the hobos came to Brit for so many years and we still go to Brit. We have a memorial service in the Hobo Cemetery. The Hobo Cemetery is a section of the local Evergreen Cemetery in Britain. They've given us an area where we can bury the hobos that have caught the westbound in our community. We have a memorial service where we honor not only the hobos that are buried in the Brit Cemetery, but also the hobos that caught the westbound anywheres in the world, really, because some of them were actually World War II veterans.

They never came home. So and then we have a huge parade and the highlight, of course, is the election of the king and queen. The king and queen are elected by the public, really. Of course, there's a lot of hobos there.

The whole hobo community is included in this. They gather around this little gazebo now that they give up to a two minute speech on it to say why they should be king or queen. And then there's judges spread around the audience.

There's six judges and they listen to the claps and they come into the head judge and tell him or her who they think got the most claps. And that person is the person that is elected king and queen. They're crowned with a blue robe and a red robe and their crown is a straw hat with a Folgers coffee can attached to the top. And that's stored in the Hobo Museum and used every year. The Hobo Museum started in the late 1980s. A hobo historian, his name was George Horton, he walked into the local Chamber of Commerce. He had two boxes of hobo artifacts that he had been collecting and he put them on the desk of the Chamber of Commerce lady whose name was Willie Klein at the time and said, here, you can have these, you know, I don't really have any place to keep this collection anymore. So that generated the idea, well, why don't we start a Hobo Museum in Britt? So back in 1974, steam air hobo named Slow Motion Shorty had caught the westbound and he had left several thousand dollars with a nonprofit that was called the Hobo Foundation that was organized also by coincidence in 1974 by three hobos.

So the money was just kept in the bank account of the nonprofit for years. So then the city people and the hobos worked together. They found the chief theater downtown Britt that was empty and they used Slow Motion Shorty's donation to purchase it. So opened as a Hobo Museum.

You're talking about 30 years ago now, somewhere around there. Since then, of course, all kinds of artifacts have come in because what happened over the years, especially a lot of people in Britt had these hobo collections that they'd have hobo sign things and sometimes hobo would give them gifts and stuff. And as they get older and older and for various reasons, they donate their stuff to the Hobo Museum.

The hobos themselves donated stuff. Artifacts come in from all over the country. So it's grown to be a world class museum now with thousands of hobo connected items.

We have a nice collection of paintings. There's two really neat paintings in there. Hobo Joe had those commissioned. They're hobo jungle scenes. And what's unique about them, he had himself painted into the picture. So in each jungle scene you can find Hobo Joe, which is kind of unique.

There's a nice collection of various walking sticks. There's a quilt that was hand embroidered by Hobo named Texas Madman. It's made of denim and he sewed the sayings and the various things on the patches with string. Can you imagine hand sewn a quilt together with string?

I can't even imagine it. But he'd carry some patches in his little pack and little by little he'd make this and assemble it. And there's some photography, crafts done by the hobos. There's a knot collection in there, Frisco Jack. He hoboed and he was a merchant marine and he was an expert knot tyer.

He donated a collection of knots. It's a pretty unique place. It's the only hobo artifacts museum in America, in the whole world for that matter.

So it's one of the most unique museums in anywheres that you could find because it's amassed quite a collection of items. I've been on the board of directors for the Hobo Museum since 1992. Today there's a lot of steam air hobos still alive, but most of them, you know, are in their 90s or over 100 years old. The genuine classic steam air hobo, which is the history that we're trying to preserve in Britt. We had only one steam air hobo come to Britt this year. His name is Minnesota Jim.

He's 94 years old. There's other hobos still alive from that generation, but they don't necessarily come to Britt. So what we have today coming to Britt, not counting Minnesota Jim, is mostly what I would call rail riders.

We have a lot younger generation coming in. They're riding trains from California to Minnesota and making their way to Britt and stuff. But I wouldn't call them a classic hobo anymore.

The hobos that worked and wandered are pretty much gone. So today we have people that still ride trains. Some of them have been riding trains since the 70s.

They're heavy duty rail riders. Still coming to the hobo convention and coming into the hobo jungle where we share a lot of stories and history. There's still a lot of us, you know, older people wandering around that are happy to talk about the hobos to anybody. There's a neat little restaurant in Britt called the Hobo House that has all kinds of hobo memorabilia on the walls and around the restaurant. So if people are interested in hobo history, the place to come is Britt, Iowa, and you can't do any better than that. You just never know who's going to be there, who's going to show up.

Like some people, they come back year after year. I've actually been to 31 consecutive hobo conventions myself, and there's still a handful of us. Redbird Express and my sister have been there 31 years consecutively. Minneapolis Jewel has been there 41 consecutive years this year.

She's 10 years ahead of us. So there's some really old timers there. And the most fun is meeting your friends. A lot of times you see people there that you haven't seen all year. You see them once a year. They show up in Britt. Sometimes you'll meet a unique person and you'll spend a lot of time talking to them or socializing with them and you'll never see them again.

So I think it's probably the interactions with the various people that is the reason I keep going back to Britt personally. And of course, my father's buried there, Connecticut Slim. I think we mostly go for each other to meet our friends and honor our dead. That's really the big reason the hobos go, to honor our dead. When we have our hobo service out at the cemetery, at the end of the service, we all walk around and touch all the stones with our walking sticks to show the people that have caught the westbound honor. So that's a tradition that we have that probably started 40 years ago. I just think that Britt is a unique, wonderful small town in Iowa that honors these hobos since 1900.

And it's worth a stop when anybody's passing through. And a great job on the storytelling by Madison and a special thanks to Connecticut Shorty for sharing her passion with the American hobo with all of us. And we all learned something from that story. A, that it's a unique thing, the hobo, it's an American thing. Moreover, that there's a convention where people convene to talk about hobos. And we also learned that there are not many hobos left. And indeed, the hobo life is over in large part. Though the heavy duty rail riders, well, they still prevail all over this country, the people who just love hopping on a train. By the way, the Emperor of the North, a movie with Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin is a classic story centered around hobo life and hobo jungles.

The story of the Hobo Museum here on Our American Stories. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners, too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Doing household chores can already be time consuming and tedious, and there's nothing more daunting than facing piles and piles of laundry that need to be done. I mean, that can be overwhelming for anyone. So if you want to get those larger laundry loads done right and get back to your life, try All-Free Clear Mega Packs. All-Free Clear Mega Packs are bigger packs with two times the cleaning ingredients compared to a regular pack so that you can tackle any laundry load without the worry. All-Free Clear Mega Packs are also 100% free of perfumes and dyes and they're gentle on skin, which is great for any family's sensitive skin needs.

Which my family, we definitely have sensitive skin. So the next time the whole family gets home from long vacation or you get the kids back from summer camp or whatever the situation is that's caused this big pile of dirty clothes, just know that All-Free Clear Mega Packs, they have your back. Purchase All-Free Clear Mega Packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we return to Our American Stories, and we love to tell stories about history on this show, and all of our history stories are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, where you can go to learn all the things that matter in life, all the things that are beautiful in life, a classical liberal arts college, and there are so few of them left in this great country. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses. I learned more watching the Constitution 101 course, their free offering, than I did in three years studying law at the University of Virginia School of Law. Up next, a story from writer Ann Clare on two of America's first responses to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle raids and the Battle of the Coral Sea.

Take it away, Ann. The Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor and other Allied strongholds on December 7, 1941 had far-reaching consequences. Shocked and angered, the United States officially entered the Second World War.

On the home front, people of Japanese descent living in the U.S. faced suspicion, and in some cases, internment. Abroad, the U.S. Navy, damaged but not destroyed, looked for chances to strike back. Now, as the U.S. was looking for a chance to strike back, one of the goals was Tokyo itself.

The new commander in the Pacific, World War I veteran Admiral Chester Nimitz, definitely knew that striking Tokyo was no mean feat. His ships were pretty severely outnumbered in the Pacific, and in order to get bombers close enough to strike Tokyo, he'd have to send an aircraft carrier and escort ships within just a couple hundred miles of the target. And at that range, he risked both the planes and the ships when he didn't really have any to spare, so how could he risk it?

Well, the answer came in this whole plan that became known as the Doolittle Raid because it was led by Lieutenant Commander James, or Jimmy, Doolittle. Now, an aircraft carrier's regular complement of planes has a shorter range, but B-25 bombers had a range of around 1200 or more miles. So the big idea was that if pilots could be trained to take off in B-25s from a carrier's short runway, those extra miles would make the whole scheme of an attack on Tokyo far less risky to the ships. The problem was that the B-25s were too heavy to land on the carriers afterwards, so they had to figure out what to do with the planes. Now, Doolittle's plan was that they'd actually continue past Tokyo after dropping the bombs and land in China, because while there was a lot of conflict going on in China, there were friendly forces there.

Chinese had groups that were allied with the Americans, even though Japan was occupying different areas, they hoped they could find sheltering forces to hide them, and then eventually they could just make their way back to the US. Nimitz agreed to the plan. So 16 B-25s and 80 crewmen boarded the USS Hornet and set out. The plan did succeed in part. Now, the bombers achieved their surprise. They were able to unload their payloads and to fly on.

Afterwards, things didn't work out quite as they might have hoped. One crew did not make it to China. They actually landed near Vladivostok and were detained there as authorities of the USSR, maybe overcome with the need to show hospitality to their new allies, detained them for over a year until they got out. Eight of the Doolittle raiders were captured by the Japanese and imprisoned. Of those, three were executed and one died as a POW.

However, Doolittle himself and the majority of the others did find shelter with the sympathetic Chinese as planned. Now, the Japanese authorities really downplayed the importance. They called it the do-nothing raid instead of the Doolittle raid. However, Admiral Yamamoto is quoted as saying, Even though there wasn't much damage, it is a disgrace that the skies of the imperial capital should have been defiled without a single enemy plane being shot down. As the Japanese plan their next strokes, their attempt to spread their influence and control in the Pacific would shortly bring them into a direct clash with U.S. forces in the Coral Sea. But before we can really move on to the Coral Sea, we need to go back a little bit to the other American responses to Pearl Harbor. U.S. naval intelligence was scrambling.

They were fairly shocked and embarrassed at how badly things had gone at Pearl. And it really galvanized the efforts of people like Crypt Analyst Commander Joseph Rochefort and Admiral Nimitz's Chief Intelligence Officer Captain Edwin Layton. And they really were struggling to break the Japanese naval code.

And in late April, they sent word they discovered something. Maybe it was spurred by the successful Doolittle raid, but whatever the case, Japan was preparing for a big push to expand their influence in the Pacific. And it appeared they'd try to take Port Moresby in New Guinea, which would give them dominance of the Coral Sea, very close to Australia. So victory there would give the Japanese a real clear shot at Australia, as well as potentially cutting Australia's supply lines with the U.S., which would really do a number on allied efforts in the Pacific. Admiral Nimitz sent the aircraft carriers Yorktown and Lexington, along with several American and Australian cruisers, to meet this threat.

And it turned out the intelligence was correct. Admiral Yamamoto had sent his own forces to the Coral Sea, including not two, but three carriers. So the stage was set for a new kind of naval battle.

Aircraft carriers were not brand new on the scene, but they definitely changed the face of naval warfare in the Pacific. Because both U.S. and the Japanese could launch attacks on each other while still completely out of sight. Now, of course, the trick is the planes would still need to be able to find the opposing vessels. This might not sound hard in theory, but poor weather conditions made it pretty difficult, especially for the Japanese who had no radar.

The opposing sides spent the 5th and 6th of May searching for each other. On the morning of the 6th, U.S. planes spotted smaller aircraft carrier the Shoho and Sankar. One down, two to go, but the two remaining were the big carriers.

Due to weather, on May 8th, U.S. planes had difficulty locating the Japanese carriers. And when they did, one took refuge under low clouds and escape, the other took three bomb hits and was temporarily put out of commission. But meanwhile, the Japanese planes had located the Yorktown and the Lexington. The Yorktown was hit, but not sunk.

The Lexington, unfortunately, was not so fortunate. She was hit multiple times. The crew worked furiously to repair the ship and put out fires. And for a while, it appeared they were succeeding.

But 12 minutes after their ship's log reported that all of the fires below decks were put out, a new entry was logged that heavy explosions were felt venting up through the bomb elevators. And in spite of all the crew's efforts in the end, she had to be abandoned and scuttled. And that was essentially the end of the Battle of the Coral Sea. Interestingly, both sides claimed victory. The Japanese lost their smaller carrier and more aircraft than the Americans. However, the loss of the Lexington was a blow to U.S. forces in the Pacific. The Yorktown survived, but had to limp back to Pearl Harbor, trailing an oil slick. Perhaps the best claim for American victory, though, is the fact that the Japanese plans to invade Port Moresby were thwarted for good, as it turned out. However, the Japanese Navy did have other plans in the works.

As new intelligence came in, Admiral Nimitz urged the workers repairing the Yorktown to hurry up, because if his analysts were correct, she was going to be needed soon to defend Midway. And great job as always to Monty on the storytelling there, and a special thanks to Ann Claire telling the story of the Doolittle raids and the Battle of the Coral Sea. We tell these stories about World War II and all of our stories about history, because if we forget what we did, well, we'll forget who we are. And by the way, for my money, that was a win for us. You can both claim victory. But the Japanese had plans with the Coral Sea, and we had plans of our own to stop them. And we did. And imagine what would have happened in World War II if Australia had been captured and taken over by the Japanese. It will be still my heart that that didn't happen. The story of the Doolittle raids and the Battle of the Coral Sea are history stories, as always brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, here on Our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-16 19:50:35 / 2023-02-16 20:06:53 / 16

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