Sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers launched from an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Theater on April 18, 1942, to strike mainland Japan during World War II. It was the first time bombers had launched from a carrier.
The strike, known as the Doolittle Raid, followed the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and played a key role in boosting American morale.
Two of the crew members on the bombers were born and raised in Lincoln, and thanks to a former Pius X High School student, their legacies will be remembered on a monument in their hometown in the Veterans Memorial Garden in Antelope Park.
The monument will be unveiled Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the garden, 3200 Memorial Drive. In case of inclement weather, the ceremony will be held in the enclosed shelter near the garden entrance.
Daniel Robertson, a sophomore at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, first got the idea to raise money for the memorial as a senior at Pius X.
It was his answer to a final class project that asked the question: “What will I do for my world?”
Robertson’s world was Lincoln, he said, and he decided to tie his fascination with WWII history with his love for his community.
Robertson had learned in middle school about the Doolittle Raid and the Lincoln men who had flown during the mission. He thought commemorating their service would be ideal.
“I asked myself why I couldn’t do it,” Robertson said. “There’s no real good reason why I couldn’t.”
In 2016, Robertson approached the Veterans Memorial Garden Advisory Board to offer his idea for a memorial.
He met board member Diane Bartels, another Lincolnite with a fascination in military history who has written a book about Nebraskan WWII aviator Evelyn Sharp.
Bartels helped Robertson research the names and titles of the Doolittle raiders and network with members of the community who could help him with his efforts to build the memorial.
“I believe that when children have a vision, people in the community need to support them,” Bartels said.
Robertson hand-wrote letters for more than a month to potential donors to raise funds to build the memorial.
“It took the longest amount of time,” he said.
The Lincoln East Rotary Club provided a generous lead gift.
Family members of the Lincoln Doolittle raiders will attend the memorial ceremony Wednesday.
Todd Joyce, son of Lt. Richard O. Joyce, who piloted one of the bombers, was happy to see his father being honored in the city he loved and contributed to throughout his life.
“His passion to fly was carried throughout his entire life,” Todd Joyce said. His father died in February 1983 and is buried in Wyuka Cemetery.
Lt. Joyce returned to Lincoln following the raid and continued to work in aviation for more than 20 years on the Nebraska Airport Authority Board of Directors.
“I’m very touched by this,” Todd Joyce said. “This is truly a blessing.”
Kelly Estes, great-niece of Cpl. Donald E. Fitzmaurice, a Lincoln native who died during the raid, has spent years writing a book and creating a veterans scholarship program to honor her great-uncle’s sacrifice.
“Our biggest fear as a family has been that his sacrifice would be forgotten, but knowing that you have taken the time to ensure that his legacy lives on brings tears to our eyes,” Estes wrote in a letter that will be read at the ceremony.
Estes was touched by Robertson’s efforts to memorialize men he didn’t know in the city they were raised.
“It’s kind of funny,” she said. “It’s interesting how Daniel reminded me so much of my own journey. I’m just so grateful.”
Wednesday’s memorial ceremony marks the culmination of more than two years of work by Robertson.
“It’s a very touching way to end this project,” he said.