One of Utah's greatest World War II heroes, Air Force Lt. Col. Chase J. Nielsen (Ret.) of the Tokyo Doolittle Raiders, died March 23 at his home in Brigham City.
Born 90 years ago in Hyrum, Colo., Nielsen earned a civil engineering degree from Utah State University in 1939 and enlisted in what was then the Army Air Corps (later the Air Force) as a flying cadet. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1941.
Early the next year he became the navigator of one of the 16 B-52 bombers chosen to strike at Japan. The exceptionally dangerous raid, led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, was the first to hit Japan after that country's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Raiders traveled toward Japan on an aircraft carrier, the Hornet, and launched from the carrier. Normally, fighter planes took off from carriers but the heavily-laden bombers all managed to get airborne.
On April 18, 1942, Chase Nielsen's plane hit industrial targets in Tokyo. But because they had been forced to take off farther from Japan than planned, the raiders ran out of fuel after they dropped their bombs.
His plane ditched four miles offshore in the East China Sea off the coast of occupied China, killing two crewmen. The survivors reached shore and were hidden by sympathetic Chinese.
However, Col. Nielsen and other crew members were captured by Japanese forces and tortured for information, but he never gave any except his name, rank and serial number. He was subjected to a mock execution, then actually sentenced to die. That sentence was commuted to life in prison, but three other Raiders were executed.
A press release issued by the Air Force about Col. Nielsen's passing says, "Of the 80 men who took part in the raid with Col. Nielsen, three were killed during the mission, five were interned in Russia and eight became prisoners of war in Japan."
Of those in Japan, three were executed by Japanese firing squads and a fourth died in captivity, it adds.
"Thirteen others would die later in the war," the release says of the bombers' crews. "There are 14 Raiders alive today."
The raid had immense impacts here and in Japan. It gave American morale a much-needed boost at a time when the war had been going badly, and it forced Japan to divert forces to protect the mainland. That reduced the forces opposing Americans who were fighting their way across the Pacific.
Lt. Nielsen and the few survivors were rescued a week after the war ended. He had spent 40 months in prison, nearly all of that in solitary confinement. In 1946, he provided evidence during war crimes trials that helped convict Japanese officers of maltreatment and murder of prisoners.
Following World War II, he rose through the ranks in the Air Force, helping to build up the Strategic Air Command. He retired in 1961 as a lieutenant colonel.
Col. Nielsen then began a career as an industrial engineer at Hill Air Force Base, retiring in 1981.
comment on this story
He was the first Utahn to earn the Distinguished Flying Cross, and he was awarded the Air Medal, the Purple Heart with Cluster, the Air Force Commendation Medal with Cluster, the Outstanding Unit Award, the Longevity Ribbon with Four Clusters and the Chinese equivalent of the Flying Cross.
Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Allen Hall Mortuary Chapel in Logan. A viewing is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesday at the mortuary and from 10 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. the day of the funeral.