Veterans Day: WWII Doolittle Raiders head to Dayton, Ohio to make final toast to fallen comrades

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) -- The last of the Doolittle Raiders, all in their 90's, offered a final toast Saturday to their fallen comrades, as they pondered their place in history after a day of fanfare about their 1942 attack on Japan.

"May they rest in peace," Lt. Col. Richard Cole, 98, said before the three Raiders present sipped an 1896 cognac from specially engraved silver goblets. The cognac was saved for the occasion after being passed down from their late commander, Lt. Gen. James "Jimmy" Doolittle, who was born in 1896.

In a ceremony Saturday evening at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, hundreds of people including family members of deceased Raiders watched as the three Raiders each called out "here" as a historian read the names of all 80 of the original airmen.

A B-25 bomber flyover helped cap an afternoon memorial tribute in which a wreath was placed at the Doolittle Raider monument outside the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton. Museum officials estimated some 10,000 people turned out for Veterans Day weekend events honoring the 1942 mission credited with rallying American morale and throwing the Japanese off balance.

Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said America was at a low point, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other Axis successes, before "these 80 men who showed the nation that we were nowhere near defeat." He noted that all volunteered for a mission with high risks throughout, from the launch of B-25 bombers from a carrier at sea, the attack on Tokyo, and lack of fuel to reach safe bases.

Only four of the 80 are still alive. The Raiders said, at the time, they didn't realize their mission would be considered an important event in turning the war's tide. It inflicted little major damage physically, but changed Japanese strategy while firing up Americans.

"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," Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, 93, said in an interview.

The Brusset, Mont. native, who now lives in Puyallup, Wash., 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.

Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, 92, of Missoula, Mont., said during the war, the raid seemed like "one of many bombing missions." The most harrowing part for him was the crash-landing of his plane, depicted in the movie "Thirty Seconds over Tokyo."

Three crew members died as Raiders bailed out or crash-landed their planes in China, but most were helped to safety by Chinese villagers and soldiers.

Three of the four surviving Raiders were greeted by flag-waving well-wishers ranging from small children to fellow war veterans. The fourth couldn't travel because of health problems.

Twelve-year-old Joseph John Castellano's grandparents brought him from their Dayton home for Saturday's events.

"This was Tokyo. The odds of their survival were 1 in a million," the boy said. "I just felt like I owe them a few short hours of the thousands of hours I will be on Earth."

More than 600 people, including Raiders widows and children, descendants of Chinese villagers who helped them, and Pearl Harbor survivors, were expected for the invitation-only ceremony Saturday evening.

After Thomas Griffin of Cincinnati died in February at age 96, the survivors decided at the 71st anniversary reunion in April in Fort Walton, Beach, Fla., that it would be their last and that they would gather this autumn for one last toast together instead of waiting, as had been the original plan, for the last two survivors to make the toast.

"We didn't want to get a city all excited and plan and get everything set up for a reunion, and end up with no people because of our age," explained Lt. Col. Richard Cole, the oldest survivor at 98. The Dayton native, who was Doolittle's co-pilot, lives in Comfort, Texas.

Lt. Col. Robert Hite, 93, couldn't come. Son Wallace Hite said his father, wearing a Raiders blazer and other traditional garb for their reunions, made his own salute to the fallen with a silver goblet of wine at home in Nashville, Tenn., earlier in the week.

Hite is the last survivor of eight Raiders who were captured by Japanese soldiers. Three were executed; another died in captivity.

The 80 silver goblets in the ceremony were presented to the Raiders in 1959 by the city of Tucson, Ariz. The Raiders' names are engraved twice, the second upside-down. During the ceremony, white-gloved cadets presented each of the three with their personal goblets and their longtime manager poured the cognac. The deceased's glasses are turned upside-down.

--

Contact the reporter at HTTP://WWW.TWITTER.COM/DANSEWELL

Print this article Back to Top

Comments

or Subscribe now so you can share your opinion! It’s only a penny for a month trial.

Latest Forecast
More National News
PD: FB photo of shoplifted dress leads to arrest
PD: FB photo of shoplifted dress leads to arrest

Police said 27-year-old Danielle Saxton, of West Frankfort, shoplifted from a downtown boutique last week. Then, she posted pictures of…

Ways to guard against theft while on vacation
Ways to guard against theft while on vacation

Being robbed is a quick way to put a real damper on your vacation.  While there is no way to guarantee thieves will leave you alone,…

Protect yourself from vacation rental fraud
Protect yourself from vacation rental fraud

When on vacation, choosing to rent from a private citizen rather than an established hotel can be risky, especially when you're trying to…

BLOG: Explore! It's good for your mental health
BLOG: Explore! It's good for your mental health

Sometimes a long trip just isn't possible, but it's still important to use your vacation time to recharge and re-examine the world…

Create a tax-deductible vacation
Create a tax-deductible vacation

One of the coolest things about the American tax system is that if you spend 4 hours a day at some kind of conference, convention, workshop,…

For heart attacks, big ERs thump small ones
For heart attacks, big ERs thump small ones

Heart attack patients admitted to hospitals after first being treated in giant emergency rooms are 25 percent less likely to die in the…

VIDEO: James Garner's most memorable roles
VIDEO: James Garner's most memorable roles

Legendary actor James Garner died at age 86 Saturday of natural causes. In celebration of his long career, here’s a look back at some…

RJ Reynolds vows to fight $23.6B in damages
RJ Reynolds vows to fight $23.6B in damages

The nation's No. 2 cigarette maker is vowing to fight a jury verdict of $23.6 billion in punitive damages in a lawsuit filed by the widow…

Neil Armstrong's post-Apollo 11 life
Neil Armstrong's post-Apollo 11 life

As the world celebrates the 45th anniversary of the historic trip of Apollo 11 to the moon, we have to wonder — what happened to Neil…

Cop in fatal NY arrest stripped of gun, badge
Cop in fatal NY arrest stripped of gun, badge

A New York City police officer involved in the arrest of a man who died in custody after being placed in an apparent chokehold has…