The Air Force hosted the famed Doolittle Tokyo Raiders’ final toast to their fallen comrades during an invitation-only ceremony Nov. 9 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
“Tonight is a night of conflicting emotions: pride in our Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, sorrow at the end of a mission and a myriad of other emotions,” retired Maj. Lloyd Bryant, the Master of Ceremonies, said as he opened the ceremony.
On April 18, 1942, 80 men achieved the unimaginable when they took off from an aircraft carrier on a top secret mission to bomb Japan. These men, led by Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, came to be known as the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders.
The ceremony was attended by three of the four living Doolittle Tokyo Raiders: retired Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” E. Cole, the copilot of Aircraft No. 1; Lt. Col. Edward J. Saylor, the engineer-gunner of Aircraft No. 7; and Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher, the engineer-gunner of Aircraft No. 7. The fourth living Doolittle Raider, retired Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite, the copilot of Aircraft No. 16, could not attend the ceremony due to health issues.
“The Doolittle Raiders are the epitome of this innovation spirit of Airmanship. We owe these 80 men as well as their army and navy teammates a debt of gratitude,” said Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning. “Gentlemen, once again, thank you for what you did for your country.
“Thank you for representing all those you served with and thank you for inspiring all of us everyday since then. Godspeed.”
Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III followed Fanning.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is the greatest professional honor I’ve ever had to speak here with this crowd at this event,” Welsh said.
“The very first book I read as a young guy was Thirty Seconds over Tokyo. It was given to me by my father, also a World War II vet, with the words that I should read it closely because this is this what America is all about. I’ve never forgotten those words.
“The Doolittle raiders have been celebrated in book and in journals … in magazines … in various papers. They’ve had buildings named after them … had streets named after them. People play them in movies.
“They hate to hear this, but Jimmy Doolittle and his Raiders are truly lasting American heroes, but they are also Air Force heroes. They pioneered the concept of global strike … the idea that no target on earth is safe from American air power.
“In the last two weeks gentlemen, I’ve received emails from a number of today’s bomber crew members. They asked me to assure you and your families this evening that your legacy is strong and safe with them.
Welsh ended his speech by thanking the Raiders for their service to the nation.
“Sir (Cole), for you and the brothers beside you … your service was a gift to a nation at war … the family and friends who stood proudly beside you since and to hundreds of thousands of American Airmen who continue to stand on your shoulders and hope to live to your example. Airpower … the raiders showed us the way,” he said.
Fanning and Welsh presented the Doolittle Raiders with an Eagle as a token of their appreciation and gratitude.
Cole was then asked to open the 1896 Cognac and give a toast. The year of the bottle of cognac is Doolittle’s birth year.
“Gentlemen, I propose a toast,” Cole said. “To the gentlemen we lost on the mission and those who have passed away since.
“Thank you very much and may they rest in peace,” he ended.
The 80 silver goblets in the ceremony were presented to the Raiders in 1959 by the city of Tucson, Ariz. The Raiders’ names are engraved twice, the second upside-down. During the ceremony, white-gloved cadets poured cognac into the participants’ goblets. Those of the deceased were turned upside-down.
The Doolittle Raiders received a standing ovation from the crowd, but before closing the ceremony retired Col. Carroll “C.V” Glines, the historian for the Doolittle Raiders and a distinguished author, said, “This concludes the ceremony and also completes a mission.”
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