By Staff Sgt. Torri Ingalsbe, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs Command Information
/ Published April 20, 2015
DAYTON, Ohio (AFNS) -- On April 18, 1942, 80 men inspired a nation by flying 16 B-25 bombers off the deck of the USS Hornet and dropping ordnance on Tokyo. Now, 73 years later, Congress honored these men with the Congressional Gold Medal, presented to the Raiders in Washington D.C., April 15.
The medal, which is the highest civilian honor Congress can give on behalf of Americans, was flown on a ceremonial B-25 flight, in the care of Brian “Bear” Anderson, the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Association sergeant at arms, and landed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, April 18. The B-25 “Panchito,” owned by Larry Kelley and Lorie Thomsen, was crewed by Larry Kelley, Calvin Peacock, Lorie Thomsen, Don Penny Schneider, Harry Fox and Matt Sager.
Later that night, the two remaining Raiders, retired Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” E. Cole and former Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher, presented the Congressional Gold Medal to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force to be housed in the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders B-25 exhibit.
“Seventy-three years ago today David Thatcher and I, along with 78 fellow flyers took off on a mission that was based on trust in our leader – James H. Doolittle,” Cole said. “Ten years ago today the surviving Raiders put their trust in the decision of appointing a new guardian for our silver goblets – the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Today, April 18, 2015, Dave Thatcher and I find ourselves putting the Doolittle Raiders’ trust once more in the hands of the director of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. We proudly hand over our Congressional Gold Medal to (retired Lt. Gen.) Jack Hudson, who we trust will respectfully guard it and have it securely displayed in (the) Doolittle Raider exhibit for the world to see and appreciate.”
The Doolittle Raid, which took place before the Air Force became a separate service, not only motivated a nation, but proved strategic airpower is necessary for global reach and the joint fight.
"The actions of these brave Airmen altered the course of World War II, and put our nation on the glide path to where we are today," said Gen. Janet C. Wolfenbarger, the commander of Air Force Materiel Command. "It is absolutely an honor to play a part in this well-deserved tribute for a tremendous group that we proudly claim as predecessors to our Airmen of today."
The Raiders look back on the Raid as just another mission in the war. They said they were just average American volunteers.
“The Doolittle Raiders came from a generation that spoke proudly of service to their country, but rarely drew attention to their own courage,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown. “They sought no recognition, but oh, how they’ve earned it.”
The medal is displayed at the museum, rotating near the Raiders’ 80 silver goblets, only two of which remain upright. The Raiders said they hope the Doolittle Exhibit educates the younger generation, and Thatcher had advice for current and future Airmen.
“Be prepared for anything you run into – we weren’t,” he said. “Learn everything you possibly can, and be good at it.”
Both Cole and Thatcher spoke of the raid and their fellow crew members with fondness and twinkling eyes, all with an undercurrent of humor and humility.
“Tonight’s affair couldn’t have been planned more accurately,” Cole said. “As I remember, the mission was over, it was Saturday night, on the 18th of April and about this time, David Thatcher was on the beach in China saving the rest of his crew, and I was hanging in my parachute in a tree.”
With only 158 Congressional Gold Medals ever awarded, the Raiders are in the company of men like former President (Gen.) George Washington.
“The Congressional Gold Medal is a testament to the heroic achievements and lasting impact of the Doolittle Raiders,” said Rep. Mike Turner. “We want you to know that the United States of America is forever indebted to you, for not only the sacrifices and valor you displayed that day, but also for how you have shared and honored the legacy of our veterans…it is an example of unwavering commitment to service by the men and women in uniform to our nation and to each other.”