A long overdue thank you for local soldier

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 20, 2005

It was too long a time coming.

Finally, more than six decades after helping shape the course of World War II history, John G. Griffin Jr., 87, has been recognized for his role in the famous Doolittle Raids.

A lifelong resident of Suffolk and owner of a cabinet shop in downtown on Factory Street for more than 20 years, Griffin spent nearly four years serving aboard the Cimarron, an oiler ship that was part of the battle group that included the carriers Enterprise and Hornet.

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In April 1942, that group, named Task Force 16, successfully carried out one of the most courageous events of the entire Second World War.

Four months after Japan’s surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, Task Force 16 brought the war to homeland Japan by carrying out the now storied raids against Tokyo, Yokohama and Nagoya.

The men of Task Force 16 never had the opportunity for recognition until 1995. As part of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Navy approved commendations for all who served in Task Force 16.

Even so, Griffin never applied for the recognition until earlier this year.

&uot;I knew about it but I never applied until one of my shipmates, who now lives in Colorado, applied and got it,&uot; he said.

Griffin’s newly acquired plaque recognizes his participation in Task Force 16 and describes the

importance that Doolittle’s Raids had on the rest of the war effort.

The plague reads:

&uot;Facing adverse weather and under constant threat of discovery before bombers could be launched to strike the Japanese homeland, the crews of the ships and LTC Doolittle’s bombers persevered.

On 18 April 1942 at 1445, perseverance produced success as radio broadcasters 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…Those exploits, which so inspired the service men and women and the nation, live on today and are remembered when the necessity of success against all odds is required.&uot;

Griffin said he was proud to receive the award a couple of weeks ago.

&uot;It’s nice to be recognized but I don’t feel I deserved it any more than any other guys who were out there,&uot; he said. &uot;At the time, I just did what I was told to do.&uot;

The honor gives merit to Griffin’s accomplishments.

&uot;Now it’s just not an old man talking,&uot; he said, humor in his voice.

Even before the Cimarron left San Francisco, Griffin knew something important was in the works.

&uot;When we were getting ready to leave port, you began to get wind that something big was getting ready to take place,&uot; said Griffin, who served on the ship until 1944.

&uot;We were carrying the fuel for the rest of them but we didn’t know exactly where we were going when we left San Francisco.

We didn’t even know about the two subs (the USS Trout and USS Thresher) that were with us.&uot;

But those aboard the Cimarron knew military maneuver was a success, he said.

There were 16 bombers, each with a five-man crew, which left the Hornet more than 600 miles from Japan.

The crews knew they would not have the fuel range to return to the carrier. Some were captured by the Japanese after ditching into the sea, the rest made it to China, but none were able to find or reach the airfields designated for landing.

Most survived the landings, some did not.

But every one of the 16 bombers reached their Japanese targets and carried out their missions, Griffin said.

The Japanese Command was highly embarrassed by the bombings.

Even though the damage was relatively minor, the ability of the U. S. to strike major Japanese cities so soon after Pearl Harbor was supposed to be a devastating, demoralizing attack, Griffin said.

The Doolittle Raids, combined with the Battle of Midway less than two months later, changed the overall tide in the Pacific from an offensive war on the part of the Japanese, to mostly defensive from mid-1942 on.

&uot;The story got back to us that the Japanese swore they would sink every ship involved in it.

They got some, but not all.&uot; said Griffin.

Griffin continued his service on the Cimarron until mid-1944, when he was transferred to Norfolk, and he married Barbara.

But John was still in the Navy, and after the war ended, he served in the Pacific again, this time aboard the USS Mount McKinley.

The McKinley, and Griffin, was part of atomic bomb testing in the Pacific.

He also had the opportunity to visit Tokyo during his time on the Mt. McKinley.

Griffin then retired from the Navy in 1946.

John’s four brothers also served in World War II – three in the Navy and one in the Army. All five brothers were fortunate enough to survive the war and return home.