Above: A plane takes off during the U.S. raid on Japan in 1942.

ON THIS DATE in 1942, eighteen-year-old Zhao Xiaobao, her fisherman husband, and countless other Chinese citizens risked everything to feed and shelter 62 members of a U.S. bombing force that landed in China following a raid on Japan during World War II. “I think it’s fair to say we owe our lives to them,” former Lieutenant Griffith Williams, who was aided by Zhao and her husband, told Knight Ridder/Tribune in 1992.

Just four months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle led 16 U.S. planes on a 1942 raid that struck five targets in Japan, including one in Tokyo. A lack of fuel forced most of the flyers (one plane flew to Russia) to bail out or crash land in China after the raid, with Williams’ plane splashing into the sea near Zhejiang Province. After reaching shore, four of the plane’s crewmembers received food and shelter from Zhao, who dried their clothes and fed them eggs and dried shrimp, and her husband, Ma Liangshui.

The next day the Chinese disguised the flyers as fishermen and snuck them through a Japanese blockade. Sixty-two of the 75 Doolittle Raiders who landed in China would make it out safely, but many who helped them would die. The Japanese, who controlled Mainland China, slaughtered an estimated 20,000 Chinese for aiding U.S. flyers.

Zhao told Knight-Ridder/Tribune that she was aware of possible retaliation from the Japanese for helping the Americans but “all that was on my mind is we wanted to save them.”

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