Sunday, April 24, 2016

THE FINAL TOAST! When they bombed Tokyo 73 years ago. ...

They once 
were among the most universally admired and revered men in the 
United States .. There were 80 of the Raiders 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 grateful Americans.

Now only four survive.
Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, with the United States reeling 
and wounded, something dramatic was needed to turn the war effort 
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 
were modified so that they could take off from the 
deck of an aircraft carrier. This had never before been tried -- 
sending such big, heavy bombers from a carrier. 
The 16 five-man crews, under the 
command of Lt. Col. James Doolittle, who himself flew the lead plane 
off the USS Hornet, knew that they would not be able to return to the 
They would have to hit Japan and then hope to 
make it to China for a safe landing. 
But on the day of the raid, the 
Japanese military caught wind of the plan. The Raiders were told that 
they would have to take off from much farther out in the Pacific Ocean 
thanthey had counted on. They were told that because of this they 
would not have enough fuel to make it to safety.
And those 
men went anyway. 
They bombed Tokyo and then flew 
as far as they could. Four planes crash-landed; 11 more crews bailed 
out, and three of the Raiders died. Eight more were captured; three 
were executed. 
died of starvation in a Japanese prison camp. One crew made it to 
The Doolittle Raiders sent a 
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 
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, to commemorate the mission. 
The reunion is in a different city each year. In 1959, the city of 
Arizona, as a gesture of respect and gratitude, 
presented the Doolittle Raiders with a set of 80 silver goblets. Each 
goblet was engraved with the name of a Raider. 
Every year, a wooden display case 
bearing all 80 goblets is transported to the reunion city. Each time a 
Raider passes away, his goblet is turned upside down in the case at 
next reunion, as his old friends bear solemn 
Also, 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 would open the bottle 
at last, drink from it and toast their comrades who preceded them in 
As 2013 
began, there were five living Raiders; then, in February, Tom Griffin 
passed away at age 96. 
What a man he 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 was
sent to Europe to fly more combat missions. He 
was shot down, captured, and spent 22 months in a German prisoner of 
war camp. 
The selflessness of these men, 
the sheer guts ... 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 was emblematic of the depth of his 
sense of duty and devotion:
"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 
So now, out of the original 80, 
only four Raiders remain: Dick Cole (Doolittle's co-pilot on the Tokyo 
raid), Robert Hite, Edward Saylor and David Thatcher. All are in their 
They have decided that there are too few of them 
for the public reunions to continue. 
The events 
in Fort Walton Beach marked the end. It has come full circle; 
Florida's nearby Eglin Field was where the Raiders trained in secrecy 
for the Tokyo mission. The town planned to do all it can to honor the 
men: a six-day celebration of their valor, including luncheons, a 
dinner and a parade. 
Do the 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 
not around other people. But if you find yourself 
near Fort Walton Beach this week, and if you should encounter any of 
the Raiders, you might want to offer them a word of thanks. I can tell 
you from first hand observation that they appreciate hearing that
they are remembered. 
The men 
have decided that after this final public reunion they will wait until 
a later date -- sometime this year -- to get together once more, 
and in absolute privacy. That is when they 
will open the bottle of brandy. The years are flowing by too swiftly 
now; they are not going to wait until there are only two of 
They will 
fill the four remaining upturned goblets. And raise them in a toast to 
those who are gone.  
Their 70th Anniversary