This is a tribute to the American Spirit.
It is not a tribute to War – or worse, the Geo-Politics that spawn War.
It is a tribute to 80 men with courage, principle, and backbone – Men who simply wished to avenge injustice and right a wrong. By so doing, they inspired an entire nation.
This is a tribute to men who understand the importance of a mere 30 seconds – and how half a minute not only changed a nation, but also the entire world.
This is the Story Behind the Story of the “Doolittle Raiders”.
They didn’t “do – little” – NO —-
in only 30 seconds over Tokyo, they “did a lot”.
Once, not too long ago, they were among the most universally admired and revered men in the United States . There were 80 of the Raiders 72 years ago back in April 1942, when they carried out one of the most courageous and heart-stirring military operations in this nation’s history. The mere mention of their unit’s name, in those years, would bring tears to the eyes of millions of grateful Americans.
Today, too many Americans have forgotten them, and most don’t know the “Story Behind the Story”.
Today, only 4 men are still alive. Above is their “70th Anniversary Photo” taken in 2012.
After Japan ‘s dastardly sneak attack on Pearl Harbor , with the United States, shocked, reeling and deeply wounded from a string of defeats in the Pacific, something dramatic was needed to turn the war effort around.
Even though there were no friendly airfields close enough to Japan for the United States to launch a retaliation, a daring plan was devised. Sixteen B-25s were modified so that they could take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier. This had never before been attempted — sending such big, heavy bombers from a carrier.
The 80 men, divided into 16 five-man crews, under the command of Lt. Col. James Doolittle, who himself flew the first, lead plane off the USS Hornet, knew that they would not be able to return to the carrier. They would have to hit Japan and then hope “on a wing and a prayer” to make it to China for a safe landing.
Unfortunately, on the day of the raid, the USS Hornet and its small task force, still 600 miles from Japan, encountered a small Japanese fishing vessel that radioed an alert. Knowing that the Japanese military had now caught wind of the plan, the Raiders were told that they would have to take off immediately, from a point hundreds of miles farther out in the Pacific Ocean than they had planned on. They were told that because of this they would clearly not have enough fuel to make it to safety at their pre-determined landing fields in China.
Yet, those determined men went anyway. Can you spell COURAGE?
Undaunted, and not willing to risk their carriers and task force, they launched their heavy, specially modified B-25 bombers into the wind, and headed for the Japanese mainland. They successfully bombed Tokyo , and then flew as far as they could towards China. Four planes safely crash-landed; 11 more crews bailed out, and three of the Raiders died. Eight more were captured; three were executed by the Japanese.
One of the five remaining prisoners died of starvation in a Japanese prison camp. The four others survived hellish prison conditions primarily because they were able to share and read one small bible among them! One crew made it to Russia, where they were at first arrested as enemy combatants, but over a year later, eventually were released.
The Doolittle Raid sent a clear and powerful message from the United States to its enemies, and to the rest of the world: We will fight. And, no matter what it takes, we will win.
Furthermore, the raid sent Japan into a defensive posture for the first time. They had to remove key fighter planes and other aircraft and over a quarter of their personnel from the Solomon Islands in order to protect Tokyo. They never regained their offensive momentum following the Dolittle Raid of 30 seconds!
Of the 80 Raiders, 62 survived the war. They were celebrated as national heroes, models of bravery. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a motion picture based on the raid; “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” starring Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson, was a patriotic and emotional box-office hit, and the phrase became part of the national lexicon. In the movie-theater previews for the film, MGM proclaimed that it was presenting the story “with supreme pride.”
Beginning in 1946, the surviving Raiders have held a reunion each April 18, to commemorate the mission. The reunion was held in a different American city each year.
In 1959, the city of Tucson , Arizona , as a gesture of respect and gratitude, presented the Doolittle Raiders with a set of 80 pure silver goblets. Each goblet was engraved with the name of a Raider, twice.
One name engraved straight up, and one carved inverted, or upside down.
Every year since 1960, a wooden display case bearing all 80 goblets is transported to the reunion city. Each time a Raider passed away, his goblet is turned upside down in the case. During the next reunion, each of his old friends bear solemn witness to their friendship and unity, and they drink a toast of cognac to his memory.
Also present in the wooden case is a bottle of 1896 Hennessy Very Special cognac. The year is not happenstance: 1896 was when Jimmy Doolittle was born.
There has always been a plan: When there are only two surviving Raiders, they all agreed the last survivors would open the bottle, and at long last drink from it, and toast their 78 comrades who preceded them in death.
As the year 2013 began, there were five living Raiders; then, in February:
Tom Griffin passed away at age 96, leaving only 4.
What a man Tom Griffin was. After bailing out of his plane over a mountainous Chinese forest after the Tokyo raid, he became ill with malaria, and almost died. When he recovered, he went to Europe to fly more combat missions. He was eventually shot down, captured by the Nazis, and spent 22 months in a German prisoner of war camp.
The selflessness of these men, the sheer guts …
However, there was a passage in the Cincinnati Enquirer obituary for Mr. Griffin that, on the surface, had nothing to do with the war, but that emblematizes the depth of his sense of duty and devotion, and speaks VOLUMES about his heart and his character:
“When his wife became ill and needed to go into a nursing home, he visited her every day. He walked from his house to the nursing home, fed his wife and at the end of the day brought home her clothes. At night, he washed and ironed her clothes. Then he walked them up to her room the next morning. He did that for three years until her death in 2005.”
David Thatcher, from left, Edward Saylor, and Richard Cole, three of the four surviving members, Veteran’s Day – November 9, 2013
So now, out of the original 80, only four Raiders remain: Richard “Dick” Cole (Doolittle’s co-pilot on the Tokyo raid), Robert Hite, Edward Saylor and David Thatcher. All are in their 90s. Following the 2013 reunion, they decided that there are too few of them left now for the public reunions to continue.
The events in Fort Walton Beach, April 2013, marked the end of their reunions. Last November, during a private ceremony at the Air Force Museum in Dayton Ohio, the final three (Richard Hite was too ill and frail to attend) finally opened the 1896 bottle of brandy, and shared their final toast to their 80 comrades. Richard Cole opened the bottle.
Do these four men ever wonder if those of us for whom they helped save the country have tended to it in a way that is worthy of their sacrifice? They don’t talk about that, at least not around other people.
But I have to think they are more than a little bit concerned.
As they filled the four remaining upturned goblets with the 1896 cognac,
They offered a simple toast to those who are gone: “May They Rest in Peace”.
Then they drained their cups, and the final page of this incredible story was turned.
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