The 80 men who risked their lives on a mission to bomb Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor are known as the Doolittle Raiders. 77 of these men were honored by the three raiders who are still alive, and thousands of civilians.
Four Doolittle Raiders survived the war, but only three were in attendance. The late commander, Lieutenant General James “Jimmy” Doolittle began the tradition, but the remaining three decided this would be the last ceremony they hold.
“May they rest in peace,” Lieutenant Colonel Richard Cole, 98, stated before he and fellow Raiders, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Saylor, 93, and Staff Sergeant David Thatcher, sipped from specially engraved goblets. The men sipped on 1896 cognac that was saved especially for this occasion, and it was passed down to them from Doolittle. The fourth survivor, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hite, 93, could not travel due to health problems.
Hundreds were invited to the ceremony which included the family members of the deceased Raiders. The crowded watched as the three men called out “here” when a historian called out each of the 80 members of the Doolittle Raiders.
Hite’s son, Wallace, told the Guardian that his father was wearing his Raiders blazer and other traditional clothing for their reunion. He made his own salute to the fallen with a silver goblet of wine.
Hite was the last survivor of eight Raiders who were captured by Japanese soldiers. Three were executed and the other died while being held prisoner.
A B-25 bomber flyover helped to cap the afternoon memorial tribute. A wreath was placed at the Doolittle Raider Monument outside of the museum. It is estimated that nearly 10,000 people came for the Veterans Day weekend even which honored the 1942 mission. The mission was credited for raising American morale and sending the Japanese off balance.
Acting Air Force Secretary, Eric Fanning, had said that America was at a low point when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. “These 80 men [showed] the nation that we were nowhere near defeat.”
The men have said they didn’t see their mission as an important event in turning the tide in the war. It inflicted little damage physically, but it did change Japan’s strategy and it got the American’s excited.
The attack embarrassed the Japanese high command and they resolved to prevent any more attacks. They would destroy US Carriers, but that decision led to an abysmal defeat at the Battle of Midway in June 1942. This was a turning point of the war in the Pacific.
“It was what you do … over time, we’ve been told what effect our raid had on the war and the morale of the people,” Saylor said in an interview. The Brussett, Montana, native who now lives in Puyallup, Washington state, said he was one of the lucky ones.
“There were a whole bunch of guys in World War II; a lot of people didn’t come back,” he said.
To Thatcher, the mission appeared to be one of many bombing missions. The scariest part, for him, was when his plane crash landed. This was depicted in the 1944 movie, 30 Seconds over Tokyo, which starred Spencer Tracy as Doolittle.
Cole was Doolittle’s co-pilot that day. The crew members died that day when Raiders bailed out or crash landed their planes in China. Most of the men were helped to safety by Chinese villagers and soldiers.
Cole, Saylor, and Thatcher were greeted on November 9th by people raving flags and well wishing spectators.
The 80 silver goblets in the ceremony were given to the Doolittle Raiders by the city of Tucson, Arizona. The Raiders names are engraved twice, the second upside-down. During the ceremony, white-gloved cadets presented each of the three survivors their personalized goblets and their longtime manager poured the cognac.
The deceased’s goblets were turned upside-down.