April 23, 2012

Doolittle raiders honored at ceremony marking 70th anniversary of historic mission

by TSgt. Matthew Bates
Air Force News
Air Force photograph by TSgt. Bennie J. Davis III
Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole co-pilot of Gen. Jimmy Doolittle's B-25 plane #1, signs autographs during a meet and greet with the raiders for their 70th reunion, April 19 at the Hope Hotel, Fairborn, Ohio. At 96, Cole is the oldest of the remaining five Raiders and says the attention they receive still surprises him.

The five remaining members of the famous Jimmy Doolittle Tokyo Raid were honored in a banquet at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, Ohio, April 19.

Four of the raiders were in attendance, SSgt. David J. Thatcher, Maj. Thomas C. Griffin and Lt. Cols. Richard E. Cole and Edward J. Saylor. The fifth, Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite, was unable to attend for health reasons.

Cadet Chad Aukerman, Squadron Commander of Cadet Sq. 11 at Air Force Academy, performs the honor of goblet detail during the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders 70th Reunion, April 19 at a banquet for the historic reunion at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Two cadets are selected by the senior staff of the History Department of the Academy to perform the detail during Raider reunions.

The banquet commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle raid, where the crews of 16 B-25 bombers took off from the deck of the USS Hornet and dropped bombs on several locations in mainland Japan. After the mission, the crews didn’t have enough fuel to return home and 15 of the B-25s were either crash-landed in Japanese-occupied China or abandoned when their crews bailed out. The final B-25 landed safely within the borders of the Soviet Union and was the only plane to survive the mission.

The mission, though daring, was important because it marked the first time the United States was able to take the offensive against Japan after the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The raid forced the Japanese to change their tactics and boosted the morale of America and its allies.

“It was a hard mission, but we got away with it,” Saylor said, who served as a gunner with crew 15. “And we always knew it would help morale.”

The banquet not only honored the brave men of the Doolittle Raid, but gave those in attendance a chance to show their respect and meet the living legends.

“We are honored to host the raiders on the 70th anniversary of such a historic event,” said Lt. Gen. (ret.) Jack Hudson, the museum’s director. “And we are grateful these amazing men chose to come here to commemorate this famous World War II mission.”

During the banquet, the raiders were honored with a special movie featuring Hollywood stars such as Gary Sinise and Jon Voight, who all thanked the raiders for their service and praised them for their courage.

Several representatives from the Chinese Embassy were also on hand, as well as Hu Daxian, from Zhejiang, China, whose husband, Li Senlin, aided the rescue of Doolittle Raider crew number two, after they landed in Japanese-occupied China.

The banquet culminated a week of events held at the museum and throughout the local area, including a flyover of 20 B-25s, the most in one flight since World War II, and several autograph sessions and luncheons with the raiders.

Surviving Doolittle Raider Major Thomas C. Griffin, navigator of the #9 plane, greets attendees of a banquet to honor the Raiders during their 70th reunion at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, April 19, 2012.

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