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Bob Emmens — That skinny redheaded kid

Ski handed his holster to Bob Emmens.

"You guys stay in the ship and keep me covered," he said.

"You know any Russian?" asked Emmens with a smile.

Ski looked up from the bottom hatch, grinned back and shook his head.

With his hands in the air, Ski walked toward the pointed rifles held by a small group of Russian soldiers, while Emmens felt for the trigger of his pistol and opened the plane's side window against a stiff Siberian breeze.

"Gee, those guys look friendly enough," he thought.

Ski said something to the Russians, and suddenly those threatening faces loosened. They lowered their rifles and began shaking hands. Ski turned back to the plane and gave the all-clear signal.

They lied and told the Russian colonel they were on a goodwill tour. The colonel laughed, handed Ski a bottle of vodka, and said, "You bombed Tokyo. Is that not so?"

Indeed, they had. Just before 4 a.m., April 18, 1942, "Ski" — Capt. Edward York — his co-pilot, Lt. Robert Emmens, and a crew of three were the eighth of 16 B-25 bombers launched from the deck of the aircraft carrier Hornet.

Named the "Doolittle Raid" for its leader, Col. Jimmy Doolittle, the daring plan was simple, yet dangerous. When the carrier was nearly 400 miles from Japan, the bombers would launch, bomb the Japanese homeland, continue across the Sea of Japan and land at Allied airfields in China. There was little military value, but the public was depressed following Pearl Harbor and needed a victory.

Bob Emmens was born in Medford July 22, 1914, the youngest son of Dr. Jocelyn Emmens, a Pennsylvania native who had come to Oregon in 1911. Classmates at Medford High remembered Bob as that "skinny, scrawny, redheaded kid." After his graduation, he attended the University of Oregon with intentions of becoming a physician, but along the way he discovered airplanes and enlisted in the Army Air Corps Reserves.

After passing Army Examinations in 1941, he was called to active duty and given a regular commission with the 17th Bomb Group. There he learned how to fly the B-25. After a five-hour ocean flight, the men reached the Japanese islands. Climbing to 1,500 feet, they dropped four bombs on a power plant.

"I swear one went down the smokestack!" screamed bombardier Nolan Herndon.

Ski checked his fuel. "We'll never make China," he said. "We're heading for Russia."

Because the Russians were afraid Japan would retaliate if they helped the Americans, Emmens and the crew became virtual prisoners for 13 months, until they escaped. "Guests of the Kremlin," as Emmens would later title his book.

Emmens remained in the Air Force, and in 1958 he was stationed in Japan.

"It took a while," he said, "but I learned to love that country."

In April 1992, a few days before the 50th anniversary reunion of the Doolittle Raiders, Bob Emmens passed away at his Medford home.

In the deepest despair of war, this redheaded hero, and a million more just like him, had risked their lives to return pride and confidence to their country.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com.

Crew No. 8, front, left to right: Capt. Edward J. York, pilot; Lt. Robert G. Emmens, co-pilot; back, left to right: Lt. Nolan A. Herndon, navigator/bombardier; Sgt. Theodore H. Laban, flight engineer; Sgt. David W. Pohl, gunner. - U.S. Air Force 060217-F-1234P-01