U.S. Army Air Corps, military aviator. Farrow was born in Morehead City, North Carolina, on September 24, 1918, to Isaac Glover Farrow and Jessie Stem Farrow. His father was a tobacco buyer for a cigarette company in Raleigh, North Carolina, and his mother was the daughter of Fred Stem, owner of a number of tobacco warehouses and longtime mayor of Darlington, South Carolina. In 1929 Farrow’s father moved the family to Raleigh. After numerous confrontations related to Isaac Farrow’s drinking and indiscretions, Jessie Farrow moved her children back to Darlington to be with her family. Jessie’s uncle, Harold McFall, owned the McFall Hotel in Darlington, and he gave Jessie a job as hotel manager and provided her with an apartment in the hotel to raise her son, Bill, while her daughter, Margie, lived with Jessie’s parents.
The break-up of his family, when he was twelve years old, seemed to have had little effect on Bill Farrow. He was blessed with a high IQ, he was an excellent student in school, and he was a youth leader at First Baptist Church of Darlington. He was a voracious reader, who spent much time at the Darlington County Library. He joined the Boy Scouts in 1930 and became an Eagle Scout in 1934. In 1935 he graduated with honors from St. John’s High School, but he had no funds to attend college. South Carolina was in the depths of the Great Depression, and Farrow was unable to find a job for nearly a year. In the spring of 1936, he worked briefly for a factory near Hartsville before being fired because of his lack of experience. Farrow then applied to become a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and in May 1936 he was accepted and assigned to Liberty Camp near Greenville, South Carolina. In April 1937 he went to work for an uncle managing a service station in Hartsville, and he saved as much money as possible with the hope that he could attend college. With his savings and funds raised by family members, Farrow enrolled at the University of South Carolina in August 1938. There he achieved an excellent academic record, and, in the fall of 1939, he was one of three USC students chosen by the Civil Aeronautics Authority to undergo pilot training at government expense, at the Hawthorne Aviation School in Orangeburg, South Carolina. In March 1940 he received his pilot’s license and with the other two students decided to travel to Pensacola Naval Air Station on June 9 to take their physical examinations to enter the United States Army Air Corps. Farrow was ordered to report to Love Field in Dallas, Texas, for induction in November 1940. Farrow was inducted and began his flight training at Love Field. He was transferred to San Angelo, Texas, for more training, and then completed it at Kelly Field, Texas. On July 11, 1941, he received his silver pilot wings and was commissioned a second lieutenant.
Farrow was assigned to fly B-25 bombers and was ordered to the 34th Bomb Squadron, 17th Bomb Group (Medium), which was stationed at Pendleton, Oregon. The 34th Bomb Squadron flew antisubmarine patrols from Pendleton before moving to Jackson, Mississippi, and Augusta, Georgia, for maneuvers before returning to Pendleton. On December 7, 1941, Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor, and U.S. commanders quickly sought a way to strike back at Japan. In January 1942 crewmen of the 17th Bomb Group were ordered to fly to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where they were given the opportunity to volunteer for a “secret and highly hazardous mission.” Farrow volunteered immediately. On February 3, 1942, the volunteers of the 17th Bomb Group were sent to Owens Field in Columbia, South Carolina, to begin training.
On February 24, 1942, Farrow and the other aircrews were sent to Eglin Field, Florida, to begin more intensive training for what would subsequently be known as the Doolittle Raid, named for Lt. Colonel James H. Doolittle, the mission’s commander. The mission called for aircrews to fly their B-25 bombers from the decks of an aircraft carrier, which would deliver the aircraft into striking distance of the major cities in Japan. After delivering their bombs, the B-25s were to land at Chuchow Air Field, in China, where they would be refueled before flying to Chunking.
After training in Florida, on March 23, 1942, the bomber crews flew their aircraft to March Field in Sacramento, California, and then to McClelland Field. There only sixteen of the bombers were picked to participate in the mission. Farrow’s bomber, christened “Bat Out of Hell,” was the 16th and final bomber chosen. On April 1, 1942, the bombers and their crews were loaded on the aircraft carrier USS Hornet and the following day the Hornet and its task force departed for its target.
On April 18, while it was still 650 miles from Japan, the task force was spotted by a Japanese picket ship, which radioed the mainland prior to being sunk by American ships. Realizing that their mission had been discovered, the task force commander decided to launch the bombers with the knowledge that the planes probably would not reach their refueling sites. The raiders launched without mishap. Farrow’s plane was the last to leave the Hornet.
The raiders flew toward Japan at low altitude and arrived over their target at 2:00 p.m. Farrow and his crew released their bombs from five hundred feet on an oil storage tank and the Mitsubishi Aircraft Factory in Nagoya, the fourth largest city in Japan. Afterward he piloted the “Bat Out of Hell” southwest into China and then westward toward Nanchang. East of that city Farrow’s plane ran out of fuel, and the crew parachuted from the aircraft into Japanese-occupied territory. Farrow was the last to the leave the aircraft. The following day Farrow was captured, along with his other crewmen. For the next four months he and his crewmen were imprisoned and tortured. On August 28, 1942, Farrow, Lt. Dean E. Hallmark, pilot of the number four bomber, and the crewmen from the two planes were tried for war crimes by the Japanese. On October 10, 1942, the men were sentenced to death, but the sentences for all of the crewmen except Farrow, Hallmark, and Corporal Harold A. Spatz were commuted to life imprisonment. On October 14, 1942, Farrow, Hallmark, and Spatz were informed that they would be executed the following day. At 4:30 on the afternoon of October 15, 1942, the three were taken by truck to Public Cemetery Number 1 outside of Shanghai. There they were tied to white crosses and shot by firing squad. Their remains were cremated and left at the International Funeral Home in downtown Shanghai. The ashes were later discovered by investigators in August 1945. Investigators also found Farrow’s final letter to his mother, which was never mailed, but instead placed in a Japanese file. On January 19, 1949, Farrow’s remains were reinterred in Arlington National Cemetery.
For his valor Farrow was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Chinese Breast Order of Pao Ting. He also received a Purple Heart and a Presidential Unit Citation. On September 25, 1987, a street on Myrtle Beach Air Force Base was named in his honor.
Griffin, John Chandler. Lt. Bill Farrow: Doolittle Raider. Gretna, La.: Pelican Publishing, 2007.