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Video: Air Force unveils football uniform honoring WWII raid on Japan. Not everyone is happy

970 cadets at Class of 2022 Graduation Ceremony at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., May 25, 2022. (Joshua Armstrong/U.S. Air Force)

The Air Force Academy football team’s plan to wear uniforms honoring the participants in an air attack on Japan during World War II has elicited positive and negative reactions.

The Falcons will pay tribute to the Doolittle Raiders with alternate uniforms to be worn during their Oct. 21 game against Navy. That group of 80 pilots and crew, led by then-Lt. Col. James Doolittle, bombed targets in Tokyo and other military locations in Japan on April 18, 1942, as a response to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor more than four months earlier.

“Although the raid did only minor damage to the Japanese mainland, it did incalculable damage to Japanese morale,” read The Times’ 1993 obituary of Doolittle. “More important, perhaps, it also boosted American spirits at a time when it was most needed.”

In an emailed statement to The Times, the Air Force athletic department said a tribute to the Raiders seemed appropriate as it’s part of its annual Air Power Legacy Series.

“The APLS uniform is selected to honor historical moments of the Department of the Air Force and Army Air Corps and aircraft used during these moments,” the department said.

“Our Association of Graduates organization is housed on our campus in a building named after General Doolittle (Doolittle Hall). The idea of doing something to honor the Raiders has always been in the plans.”

The 2023 alternate uniforms include a chrome helmet with “B-25” (the name of the bombers flown during the raid) on the front bumper and either nicknames of specific planes or “Doolittle” on the back. The right side shows a B-25 while the left has an image of a Raiders patch. The uniforms also feature letters and numbers that resemble steel and rivets, and the Raiders’ mantra “Ever into Peril” is written on the pants legs.

The Falcons unveiled the alternate uniforms last week and featured them on numerous social media posts during the next several days.

One tweet, from Thursday, is captioned, “An Ambush.” It shows a Air Force player wearing the uniform honoring the Doolittle Raiders, with a background featuring the image of a newspaper from the day of the raid (“Tokyo Bombed” appears to be the headline) and a quote from Lt. Col. Doolittle stating, “The Japanese were apparently entirely unprepared for our arrival.”

Some Twitter users who responded in the comments criticized that post for attempting to relate football to war and for glorifying the bombing of a U.S. ally. The Air Force Academy was asked by The Times about that particular tweet.

“This year’s edition of the Doolittle Raiders has been extremely well received,” the athletic department said in an email. “The post you mention has caused a few negative social media posts, but most of the people on the forum have reacted to the negative posts in a supportive way for the Academy. All of the posts have been factual and taken from accounts of the raid and aftermath.”

Another tweet, which displays some statistics from the raid, also received some negative responses. But the majority of social media responses — which largely seem to be coming from Air Force fans or military supporters — do seem to be in favor of the decision to honor the Raiders.

“The Air Power Legacy Series has been one of the most popular things we have done in terms of uniforms and social media,” the Air Force athletic department said. “The series has been overwhelmingly positive among graduates and fans. The series has grown since its beginning in 2016 and the uniform reveal has always stirred emotions of patriotism.”


© 2023 Los Angeles Times

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