Final Toast: Trio of Surviving âDoolittle Raidersâ â Who Bombed Tokyo in Top-Secret WWII Mission â Gather for the Last Time
tory by the Associated Press; curated by Dave Urbanski
DAYTON, Ohio (AP) â The last of the Doolittle Raiders, all in their 90s, offered a final toast Saturday to their fallen comrades, as they pondered their place in history after a day of fanfare about their 1942 attack on Japan.
âMay they rest in peace,â Lt. Col. Richard Cole, 98, said before the three Raiders present sipped an 1896 cognac from specially engraved silver goblets. The cognac was saved for the occasion after being passed down from their late commander, Lt. Gen. James âJimmyâ Doolittle, who was born in 1896.
In a ceremony Saturday evening at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, hundreds of people including family members of deceased Raiders watched as the three surviving team members each called out âhereâ as a historian read the names of all 80 of the original airmen.
A B-25 bomber flyover helped cap an afternoon memorial tribute in which a wreath was placed at the Doolittle Raider monument outside the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton. Museum officials estimated some 10,000 people turned out for Veterans Day weekend events honoring the 1942 mission credited with rallying American morale and throwing the Japanese off balance.
Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said America was at a low point after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other Axis successes; then âthese 80 men who showed the nation that we were nowhere near defeat.â He noted that all volunteered for a mission with high risks throughout, from the launch of B-25 bombers from a carrier at sea, the attack on Tokyo, and lack of fuel to reach safe bases.
Only four of the 80 are still alive. The Raiders said, at the time, they didnât realize their mission would be considered an important event in turning the warâs tide. It inflicted little major damage physically, but changed Japanese strategy while firing up Americans.
âIt was what you do âŚ over time, weâve been told what effect our raid had on the war and the morale of the people,â Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, 93, said in an interview.
The Brusset, Mont. native, who now lives in Puyallup, Wash., said he was one of the lucky ones.
âThere were a whole bunch of guys in World War II; a lot of people didnât come back,â he said.
Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, 92, of Missoula, Mont., said during the war, the raid seemed like âone of many bombing missions.â The most harrowing part for him was the crash-landing of his plane, depicted in the movie âThirty Seconds over Tokyo.â
Three crew members died as Raiders bailed out or crash-landed their planes in China, but most were helped to safety by Chinese villagers and soldiers.
Three of the four surviving Raiders were greeted by flag-waving well-wishers ranging from small children to fellow war veterans. The fourth couldnât travel because of health problems.
Twelve-year-old Joseph John Castellanoâs grandparents brought him from their Dayton home for Saturdayâs events.
âThis was Tokyo. The odds of their survival were 1 in a million,â the boy said. âI just felt like I owe them a few short hours of the thousands of hours I will be on Earth.â
More than 600 people, including Raiders widows and children, descendants of Chinese villagers who helped them, and Pearl Harbor survivors, were expected for the invitation-only ceremony Saturday evening.
After Thomas Griffin of Cincinnati died in February at age 96, the survivors decided at the 71st anniversary reunion in April in Fort Walton, Beach, Fla., that it would be their last and that they would gather this autumn for one last toast together instead of waiting, as had been the original plan, for the last two survivors to make the toast.
âWe didnât want to get a city all excited and plan and get everything set up for a reunion, and end up with no people because of our age,â explained Lt. Col. Richard Cole, the oldest survivor at 98. The Dayton native, who was Doolittleâs co-pilot, lives in Comfort, Texas.
Lt. Col. Robert Hite, 93, couldnât come. Son Wallace Hite said his father, wearing a Raiders blazer and other traditional garb for their reunions, made his own salute to the fallen with a silver goblet of wine at home in Nashville, Tenn., earlier in the week.
Hite is the last survivor of eight Raiders who were captured by Japanese soldiers. Three were executed; another died in captivity.
The 80 silver goblets in the ceremony were presented to the Raiders in 1959 by the city of Tucson, Ariz. The Raidersâ names are engraved twice â once right-side up, the second upside-down. During the ceremony, white-gloved cadets pour cognac into the participantsâ goblets. Those of the deceased are turned upside-down.