Sometimes, you are blessed to meet someone whom you recognize as being important, but the depth of that importance doesn’t hit you until later in life. Such was my case with Colonel Chase Jay Nielsen. Colonel Nielsen came to speak to us when I was in elementary school. He’d recently retired from the Air Force and we were all amazed at getting to talk to a real-life Air Force Colonel.
I don’t remember exactly what he spoke of, but it included bombing Japan. At that time, the war had been over for only 20 years, and many of the veterans still had vivid recollections. He told us that he had been captured and spent time as a POW in Japan, rescued at the end of the war, then resuming his career until retiring in 1961.
But, he was from my hometown of Hyrum, Utah, and also went to Utah State University, where I would later go. In Junior High School, he came back and talked to us again and it was there that I finally understood who he was. Then Captain Nielsen had been the navigator aboard B-25 #6 on Doolittle’s Raid. It made an impact upon me because I had recently seen the movie “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” and also had a copy of the book. A while later, I noticed that my copy of the book was missing from my bookshelf. My dad said he’d borrowed it, so I didn’t think anything of it. Turns out he’d taken it over to the Legion Post in Salt Lake City when Colonel Nielsen was speaking there, and asked him to sign it for me. It’s one of my treasured possessions now.
Later on I was fortunate to actually meet and talk with the Colonel when back home on leave from the Navy. He was still working as, I believe, a defense contractor.
Still, you just never know who you might meet in your life, what individuals you pass along the road each of you are taking. That’s why it’s important to stop and chat every now and then, to say hello and maybe share a cup of coffee. These heroes, these legends, walk among us every day, quietly getting on with their lives. They aren’t interested in the limelight, but it’s always a good thing to just say a simple “thank you”, because they deserve our thanks, and because they will be gone too soon.
Today is the 70th anniversary of that great raid. If you have the chance, take a moment to thank God for giving us such men.