GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio - When Maj. Thomas Griffin of Green Township saw the movie blockbuster “Pearl Harbor,” he was watching himself on the big screen.
Griffin, a B-25 navigator in World War II, flew with Gen. Jimmy Doolittle’s Raiders in the famous bombing attack on Tokyo that was depicted in the movie. Of the 80 men who took off from air carriers in the daring raid, Griffin was one of the last five survivors. He died Tuesday night at the VA Fort Thomas Community Living Center at the age of 96.
Griffin, whose plane was named “Whirling Dervish,” got a kick out of the movie.
“Three times in that ‘Pearl Harbor’ movie, they showed a B-25 with ‘Whirling Dervish' painted on its nose and headed for Tokyo Bay. That surprised the heck out of me,” Griffin said after the movie release in 2001.
The daytime raid took place on April 18, 1942 - just four months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor - and was credited with lifting American morale and shaking Japan's.
The raid was just the beginning of a remarkable, heroic tale for Griffin, said Jack Snyder of White Oak. Snyder, a Navy combat medic in the Pacific, met Griffin long ago when the two joined VFW Post 10380 in Green Township.
“Tom’s crew didn’t have enough gas to get back to the carrier, so they bailed out over China. Some of them were captured by Japanese, but Tom was found by friendly Chinese soldiers, and he got back,” Snyder said.
“Then Tom flew bombing runs in Europe and got shot down. He was captured and spent the rest of the war (nearly two years) in a POW camp.
“His life was so fascinating, somebody ought to do a movie just about him,” Snyder said.
Griffin was a quiet hero, said Chris Heather of Cincinnati.
“I met Tom at an air show. He was quite a remarkable fellow, but he did not like notoriety,” said Heather. He said Griffin didn’t talk about the war for many years afterward, but once word got out that he was one of Doolittle’s Raiders, he spoke around the country. In 2012, Heather made a video interview with Mr. Griffin. (For mobile and tablet users, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1UPXLUhkHc to view the video.)
Born in Wisconsin in 1916 and graduated from the University of Alabama, Griffin and his wife Esther moved to Cincinnati after the war and he opened an accounting office in Cheviot. Griffin’s wife died in 2005. They are survived by two sons, Gary and John.
A memorial service, concluding with a B-25 flyover, will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, March 9, at Green Township Veterans Park, 6231 Harrison Ave.
The family requests memorials to: Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Education Fund, c/o Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, 48 Blaschke Road, Comfort, Texas 78013.
Arrangements are being handled by Neidhard Minges Funeral Home, 3155 Harrison Ave., 513-661-3022.
Read more about Mr. Griffin and the other Doolittle Raiders at http://www.doolittleraider.com
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