Doolittle Raiders celebrate 64th reunion

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo
  • Air Force Print News
The Doolittle Raiders started the celebration of their 64th reunion this year with a solemn goblet ceremony April 18 in Dayton, Ohio. The ceremony, normally held in private, was opened to the media to honor the significance of the historical Tokyo Raid on April 18, 1942.

With eight of the 16 remaining Raiders present, retired Lt. Col. Dick Cole, 90, presided over their honored roll call and toasted Lt. Col. Horrace Crouch, the Raider who died since their last meeting.

“We do this to pay homage to the people we love and lost,” said Colonel Cole, who was a first lieutenant at the time of the raid and Doolittle's co-pilot. Since the Tokyo Raid, the Raiders have gathered every year, with the exception of 1946 and 1951, to pay tribute to the historic mission and the friends they lost.

In 1942, Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle and a select team of 80 pilots, gunners, navigators and bombardiers of B-25 Mitchell bombers were assembled to execute a surprise attack over the islands of Japan. It would be the first time any of them would take off from a carrier.

Armed with enough fuel for a one-way trip to Japan and a landing in China, they planned to launch off the USS Hornet about 450 miles from Japan. The U.S. ships were spotted early and the Doolittle Raiders were forced to depart about 650 miles from their intended target.

The B-25s arrived from varying directions, confusing the Japanese. The bombers hit their targets and escaped Japan of their own accord.

Unfortunately, the lack of fuel and relentless weather over China forced the crews to bail out or crash-land. Two men drowned after ditching their aircraft. Eight men were captured -- three of them were executed and the rest were sentenced to life imprisonment by the Japanese. Chinese natives welcomed the remaining men. The mission was a success and it turned up the spirits of Americans during World War II.

“The thoughts of a (U.S.) mainland invasion lingered, but the actions of the Doolittle Raiders absolutely reversed that notion along with the morale of the country,” said Bill Gius, an avid American history buff who attended the ceremony.

The Doolittle Raiders’ legacy motivates future Airmen to take up the fight where they left off. Cadet 1st Class Nathan Chal, an Air Force Academy senior, said he was inspired by Colonel Cole, his grandfather, to join the Air Force.

Cadet Chal was one of two cadets to attend the goblet ceremony. In the ceremony, the surviving Raiders toast those who died since their last meeting. Each Raider is represented by a silver goblet which has his name etched on it. When a Raider dies, his goblet is turned upside down.

“I am very thankful and fortunate to have gotten this opportunity to honor these men,” Cadet Chal said.

To some Americans, the Doolittle Raiders are more than just inspirational Airmen.

“To me, that’s being American,” said retired Master Sgt. Wesley Fields, former AC-130 gunner. “Volunteering -- not knowing the consequences -- to protect your country.”