Colonel Dean Davenport, USAF


When I was a brand-new ?butter bar? second lieutenant, Colonel Dean Davenport was the Wing Commander of the 325th Fighter Wing (AD) at McChord AFB, Washington. I was personally impressed by his leadership and the example he set for the rest of the wing. For example, during one Operational Readiness Inspection (ORI), Colonel Davenport was flying a ?pop-up? mission, during which he approached the target at low altitude, then put his F-106 interceptor into a steep climb, made his attack run at high altitude and then returned. I happened to be in the command post as part of the Wing Battle Staff when he came back and reported that the cabin heat in his plane went out, but he wasn?t about to abort the mission. He still looked a bit blue from the cold at 39,000 feet, which was a weird contrast with his orange flight suit!

Unfortunately, it was not until some time after he left McChord AFB that I learned Colonel Davenport was one of the heroes of the Doolittle raid on Tokyo in April of 1942. I wish I?d taken advantage of the opportunity I had back then to talk to him about the raid and maybe get him to sign a copy of Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo for me. 20-20 hindsight at work, I guess.

In any event, this bio is gleaned from several sources, and I present it to honor his memory.

Dean Davenport was born June 29, 1918, in Spokane, Washington. He graduated from Portland (Oregon) High School in 1937 and studied law at Albany and Northwestern Colleges in Portland until he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a Flying Cadet on February 7, 1941. He Completed advanced flying training and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on September 27, 1941.

Not long after America entered World War II, Lieutenant Davenport became the co-pilot of the B-25 Mitchell bomber ?Ruptured Duck,? whose role in the Doolittle raid over Japan was recounted in the book and movie "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo."

Pilot Ted Lawson recalled the final pre-mission flight before the raid on Tokyo. Approaching San Francisco from the west, his crew became excited as they approached the Golden Gate Bridge. "What about flying UNDER the bridge," suggested co-pilot Lieutenant Davenport, who was at the controls. Lawson consented and then chaffed nervously as Davenport dropped the nose of the big bomber to slide underneath the suspended structure. "I hoped there weren't any cables hanging under the span," Lawson later wrote. "I was half tempted to take over and pull the Ruptured Duck (the name his crew had given to their airplane) up over the bridge at the last moment."

On the morning of April 18, 1942, a group of 16 Army Air Forces B-25 bombers, under the command of Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, took off from the aircraft carrier Hornet for a low-level, daylight bombing attack that brought the war to the Japanese homeland for the first time. The raid resulted in minimal damage to military and industrial sites, but lifted the spirits of an American home front reeling from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It forced the Japanese to take costly defensive measures and brought Doolittle the Medal of Honor.

The seventh plane to depart from the Hornet was the Ruptured Duck, flown by First Lt. Lawson and his co-pilot, Second Lieutenant Davenport. They flew the twin-engine bomber 700 miles to Tokyo, bombed a steel plant, then headed for an airstrip in China.

The 16 bombers, without enough fuel to return to the Hornet, were supposed to land at airfields in parts of China that had not fallen to the Japanese. But they ran into a storm, and most of the 80 crewmen bailed out or crash-landed. Three died and eight were captured by Japanese troops. Three of the captives were executed and one died of dysentery.

The Ruptured Duck crashed at night in the East China Sea, a quarter-mile from a beach where its pilots had tried to land. Lieutenants Lawson and Davenport, strapped into their seats, were catapulted through the plane's windshield as it sank in shallow water. Lieutenant Lawson suffered a gashed leg and facial injuries and Lieutenant Davenport had a fractured leg and a concussion, but the pilots and the other three crewmen swam to the beach.

They were found by Chinese guerrillas, and over the next seven weeks were carried in chairs, rickshaws and trucks until being rescued by an Army Air Forces plane that took them to India. The crewmen flew on to the United States and, with other returning Doolittle fliers, received the Distinguished Flying Cross from Gen. Henry Arnold, commander of the Army Air Forces.

The ordeal of the Ruptured Duck's crew was recounted in 1943 by the newly promoted Captain Lawson in "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" written while he was convalescing from the amputation of his left leg. The book described the moment when the battered lieutenants found each other on the Chinese beach: "Speaking, and the sight of each other, seemed to bring us further along toward complete consciousness and both of us began to moan, standing there next to each other in the black rain."

Lieutenant Davenport was a technical adviser for the 1944 movie "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," in which he was portrayed by Tim Murdock, and he flew a B-25 bomber off a pier in Santa Monica, Calif., in a scene depicting the departure from the Hornet. The Army Air Forces also allowed him to fly in the wartime movie "A Guy Named Joe," an aviation fantasy.

Later in the war, he served in Alaska, flying P-40, P-38 and P-51 aircraft. Davenport remained in the service after World War II and returned to combat in the Korean War, flying 86 missions as a fighter pilot. He was commanding officer of several fighter units, including the Air Defense Command?s 325th Fighter Wing, flying F-106 interceptors. He retired as a colonel in 1967. In addition to the Distinguished Flying Cross, he was awarded the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Air Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster. For his part in the Tokyo raid, he was awarded the Chinese Army/Navy/Air Corps medal, Class A, 1st Grade.

Colonel Dean Davenport passed away as a result of congestive heart failure and pneumonia February 14, 2000, in Panama City, Florida. He was 81.

I am proud to have known him and to have served with him.

Daniel Patz
Colonel, USAF, Retired

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