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Doolittle Raiders Offer Final Toast To 71-Year-Old Mission

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Doolittle Raiders Offer Final Toast To 71-Year-Old Mission

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Doolittle Raiders Offer Final Toast To 71-Year-Old Mission

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On this Veteran's Day, let's take a moment to remember one of the most daring raids of World War II, and the men who took part in it.


In April 1942, in retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor, 80 men took off in B-25 bombers on a top-secret mission to bomb Japan. Because of the long distance, the journey would have to be one way: Hit the target, and then land in a part of China not occupied by the Japanese.

GREENE: The mission succeeded. Sixty-two men survived. Led by Colonel James "Jimmy" Doolittle, they became known as the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders. On Saturday, three of the four remaining raiders met for what they said would be the last time at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. From member station WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Jerry Kenney reports.

JERRY KENNEY, BYLINE: Spectators young and old have gathered outside the museum this Saturday afternoon. The sky is a brilliant blue, but winds are strong. At 1:15, the Raiders' motorcade approaches, each man in a separate car, flanked by Liberty Riders.


KENNEY: Waving to the crowd are 98-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Richard Cole from Texas, 93-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Edward Saylor from Washington state and from Montana, 92-year-old Sergeant David Thatcher. Fellow Raider, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hite, could not make the trip from his home in Tennessee. Slowly, the motorcade pulls into Memorial Park, where Cole addresses the crowd.


RICHARD COLE: Ladies and gentlemen, once again, we meet in this Memorial Park to reflect on the mission we took in more than 71 years ago.


KENNEY: Following a B-25 bomber flyover, the Raiders were escorted to a private room above the museum, next to each man, a framed photograph of his younger self. It is time on display. On one side of the room, Lieutenant Colonel Edward Saylor holds court. He says younger generations want him to talk about World War II.

EDWARD SAYLOR: I've got two commitments next week: high schools, Rotary Club, Kiwanis, military outfits. Lots of interest in it. So, I speak quite often.

KENNEY: And across the room, Staff Sergeant David Thatcher explains his thoughts on the mission.

DAVID THATCHER: It's really surprising that the public would remember a raid like that so many years ago, because it was just a part of the war effort.

KENNEY: But the Doolittle raid is seen as a turning point in the war. The raid on Japan itself boosted the low morale of Americans and forced the Japanese to reevaluate their strategy. Thatcher's son Jeffrey says his father has always been humble about the part he played in that.

JEFFREY THATCHER: You know, they didn't brag about their exploits. They just felt like it was their duty, and they went and did it and, you know, just moved forward with their lives.

KENNEY: In 1959, the city of Tucson, Arizona presented the Raiders with a set of 80 name-engraved silver goblets. They're kept in a velvet-lined box, and after each year's toast, the goblets of those who have died are turned upside down. Four remain upright. This time, the raiders bring out an 1896 vintage bottle of Hennessey cognac. It was given to Jimmy Doolittle on his 60th birthday, and has been kept unopened by the Raiders ever since. Lieutenant Colonel Cole is asked to break the wax seal, not an easy task.

COLE: This is a tough one. It's a tough one.



KENNEY: The 98-year-old finally succeeds, and the solemn final toast is made.

COLE: Gentlemen, I propose a toast to those we lost on the mission, and those that have passed away since. Thank you very much, and may they rest in peace.


KENNEY: More than 71 years of tragedy, bravery and inspiration have led to this moment, and finally, the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders declare their mission is over. For NPR News, I'm Jerry Kenney.

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