Doolittle Raiders reunite at Air Force Museum

  • Published
  • By Gabriel Myers
  • 88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Four of the remaining eight Doolittle Raiders, known for their nearly impossible bombing raid on Japan during World War II, reunited for the 68th year at the National Museum of the United States Air Force April 16 through 18.

Retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, 94, of Comfort, Texas; Maj. Thomas C. Griffin, 92, of Cincinnati; Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite, 90, Nashville, Tenn., and Master Sgt. David J. Thatcher, 88, of Missoula, Mont., came together again to share memories, sign autographs and be recognized once again as an iconic piece of American history that helped propel the allies to victory in World War II.

Col. Jimmy Doolittle led a group of 80 men to fly B-25 Mitchells from the deck of an aircraft carrier more than 600 miles to drop bombs on Japan April 18, 1942. At the time getting a bomber airborne from an aircraft carrier's deck had barely been tested.

The reunion kicked off April 16 with the men at the museum signing autographs on books, airplanes, photos and even clothing with hundreds waiting their turn to meet the aviators.

Those who attended were eager to hear their story and talk about the importance of their mission in shaping the outcome of World War II.

"Well I'm an aviation historian and it's also an opportunity to meet the great heroes of American history," said Bob Jaques who drove to the event from Alabama.

Air Force Secretary Michael Donley, who attended a dinner in their honor, said the men continue to be an inspiration to Airmen today.

"The Doolittle Raiders have a very special place in the history of the Air Force," Secretary Donley said. "They've provided such great examples to us of leadership, of audacity, of innovation and personal courage, in some of the darkest days of World War II."

The men were honored April 17 by a fly-in of 17 privately owned replica B-25s from all over the country onto the museum runway to help celebrate the occasion.

Museum officials said it was one of the largest gatherings of B-25s since World War II.

The Raiders also participated in a ceremony April 17 to toast and honor their fellow colleagues who have died. Following the toast the last survivors overturned the goblets of those who have died since the last reunion.

The event concluded with the B-25s taking off from the museum runways with thousands of patrons lining the streets and fence lines to attempt to get a glimpse of the aircraft and ensuing fly over by all 17 aircraft for a memorial service in the early afternoon.

The word "hero" is overused in this country and broadly applied to sports figures, rock stars and others, said Ret. Maj. Gen. Charles D. Metcalf, the museum director. "Today, in the truest sense of the word, we are among heroes."