Howard Albert Sessler
HOME OF RECORD: Arlington, Massachusetts
Howard Sessler was one of the 80 airmen who, under the leadership of Jimmy Doolittle, disembarked from the U.S.S. Hornet in the first bombing raid over Tokyo in World War II. Following the raid he remained in the China-Burma-India Theater until July before deploying to the European Theater of Action where he served from September 1942 until September 1943. He then flew combat in the Mediterranean Theater from September 1944 until the end of the war.
AWARDS BY DATE OF ACTION: 1 of 1
Distinguished Flying Cross
AWARDED FOR ACTIONS
DURING World War II
Service: Army Air Forces
Rank: First Lieutenant
Division: Doolittle Tokyo Raider Force
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross to First Lieutenant (Air Corps) Howard Albert Sessler (ASN: 0-43165), United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary achievement as Navigator/Bombardier of a B-25 Bomber of the 1st Special Aviation Project (Doolittle Raider Force), while participating in a highly destructive raid on the Japanese mainland on 18 April 1942. Lieutenant Sessler with 79 other officers and enlisted men volunteered for this mission knowing full well that the chances of survival were extremely remote, and executed his part in it with great skill and daring. This achievement reflects high credit on himself and the military service.
Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles, California
22 July 1993
Moorpark Man Recalls a Fateful Flight Over Japan During WWII : History: The Doolittle Tokyo Raiders gave American confidence a boost with their raid. Now, half a century later, they will be honored.
Half a century ago, Moorpark resident Howard Sessler boarded a B-25 bomber headed for the unfriendly skies over Japan. He didn't know whether he would ever make it back.
Organized by Gen. James H. (Jimmy) Doolittle, the 80 men who would later be called the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders gathered on the aircraft carrier Hornet in April, 1942, and received an ominous warning.
"Doolittle called us all on the deck," Sessler recalled this week, "and said: 'If there's any of you who don't want to go, just tell me. Because the chances of you making it back are pretty slim.' And nobody batted an eye."
The bombing raid on areas around Tokyo early in World War II was aimed at boosting America's ebbing military confidence, and at showing Japan that it was vulnerable to air attack.
Historians say the effort did both.
On Saturday, Sessler and the rest of Doolittle's Raiders will be awarded the Spirit of Flight Award at the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio.
"It's pretty good to have the recognition," said Sessler, 74. "It certainly doesn't hurt anything and it revives the memory of the raid because, my God, 50 years ago, who remembers the thing anymore?"
Sessler, who owns a construction company, said he and his wife, Anna Bell, will be unable to attend the ceremony because of work obligations. He said he is looking forward to a planned reunion of the surviving Raiders next year in Fresno.
"I really don't think about it too much," Sessler said of his role in history. "I really associate it with a bunch of real wonderful guys and the memory of those guys stays with me because we were real close and still are."
Sessler, who joined the service in 1940, was stationed in South Carolina when Doolittle arrived, seeking volunteers for a dangerous mission.
The men signed on without knowing exactly what they would be asked to do. They were trained in Florida and then shipped out from Oakland with the 16 B-25 bombers to be used in the raid. Forced to take off prematurely after their carrier was spotted by a Japanese boat 700 miles off the coast of Japan, it seemed unlikely the Raiders would have enough fuel to complete their mission and continue on to land in China.
If not for an unexpected tail wind and a decision to break formation and fly individually, Sessler said it would have been impossible for the crews to ditch their aircraft close enough to the China shore to make their way to safety.
Seventy-three of the 80 men who took part in the mission survived, including Doolittle, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his leadership of the effort. He now lives in Northern California. Fewer than half of the Raiders are still alive.
Mike Jackson, executive director of the hall established in 1962, said the group deserves the award, which has previously been bestowed on the Mercury Astronauts, the Air Force Thunderbirds and the crew of the Voyager.
"When they did their thing off the carrier, morale in the United States was at an all-time low," Jackson said. "We had taken it on the chin in Pearl Harbor and in a string of battles after that."
Jackson said the raid didn't deliver a tide-turning level of damage to the area around Tokyo. But it showed Japanese officials that they could be hit, and it showed Americans that the war didn't have to be a one-sided affair.
"The country was in the dumper," Jackson said. "It was a needed ego boost."
Sessler left the Air Force in 1946 and moved to Southern California, living in Huntington Park, Downey and Bellflower before settling in Moorpark around 1973.
He speaks proudly of his role in the mission, which was commemorated by the 1944 film, "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," but says it's not something that comes to mind too often anymore.
"It's been 50 years and I've done all the thinking I'm gonna do about it," he said.
Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles, California
10 March 2001
Howard A. Sessler; Engineer, WWII Bomber Pilot
Howard Albert Sessler of Moorpark, a retired general engineering contractor, has died at the age of 83.
Sessler, who died Feb. 9 in Thousand Oaks, was born Aug. 11, 1917, in Boston, to Edward and Elizabeth Sessler.
As a young man, he worked as a caddy at a local golf course and played baseball with a Boston Red Sox farm team.
While attending Northeastern College in 1940, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. After attending flight school, he was trained to fly a B-25 bomber and was commissioned just a day before Pearl Harbor was bombed. He flew routine missions on submarine patrol off the coast of Oregon before being transferred to Tacoma, Wash., where he met Gen. James Doolittle and volunteered for a secret mission with the general.
He trained at Elgin Air Force Base, practicing short takeoffs and landings, then went to Oakland, where he boarded the Hornet. It was there that he was told, along with 80 other volunteers, that they were going to bomb Tokyo.
The planes were to land in China afterward, but poor visibility forced Sessler's plane to make a water landing. He swam about a mile to an island, where he met up with four others. They were taken on a Chinese merchant ship to another island, where they hid from the Japanese in the tunnel of a Buddhist temple. After finally arriving in mainland China, they walked for five nights to get to a hospital.
Back in the U.S., he volunteered for duty in Africa and from there went to Italy with a B-25 group.
When he returned to civilian life, he married Frances Shrader in 1944 and their daughter, Barbara Elizabeth, was born in 1945. He earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from USC and was employed by the Los Angeles County Flood Control District.
In 1964, he married Anna Bell and started his own company.
He was a member of the Moorpark Townsite Committee, the Contractors Arbitration Board, the Underground Contractors Assn., the Engineer and Grading Contractors Assn. and the Associated Contractors of America. He was named Contractor of the Year by the Ventura County Contractors Assn. He was also a master Mason of Downey and a member of the American Legion Post 502.
In addition to his wife, Anna, of Moorpark, and daughter, Barbara, of Long Beach, he is survived by stepson Duncan Fane of Escondido, three grandsons and two step-grandchildren.
A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. March 17 at Faith Lutheran Church in Moorpark.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Doolittle Raiders Scholarship Fund, c/o Col. Henry A. Potter USAF (Ret.), 2605 Loyola Lane, Austin, Texas 78723; or to the American Diabetes Foundation.
Arrangements are under the direction of Pierce Bros. Griffin Mortuary in Thousand Oaks.