WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE – Seventy five years ago, 80 airmen took to the skies in B-25B Mitchell bombers to conduct the first World War II air strikes against Japanese Home Islands, which would become known as the Doolittle Raid.
The National Museum of the United States Air Force recognized the historic happening April 17-18 during the 75th Anniversary of the Doolittle Tokyo Raid events, displaying 13 B-25 bombers, hosting B-25 and B-1 flyovers, inviting Air Force officials to speak and honoring the 79 “Raiders” who have passed, as well as the single individual alive with first-hand memories of the Doolittle Raid, Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” E. Cole.
Cole, 101, served as Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle’s co-pilot on Crew No. 1, and attended the anniversary event. The Raiders would annually reunite after WWII at varying locations across the nation (except in 1951), in which living Raiders would call out the names of all 80 individuals, answering “here” for those who did not make it to the reunion. They would also toast to their fellow Raiders and turn over personalized silver goblets belonging to those who passed, which are displayed at the museum.
That tradition continued in a private event during the morning hours of April 18, in which Cole called out the names of all 80 of his fellow Raiders and turned over the second-to-last goblet belonging to SSgt. David Thatcher, who passed away June 22, 2016, leaving one goblet upright.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein witnessed the touching event.
“There are moments in my career where the whole idea of service in the long, blue line just washes over you,” Goldfein said during a memorial service ceremony. “For me, today is one of those unforgettable moments.”
The 75th Anniversary of the Doolittle Tokyo Raid also invited Raider family members, including Jeff Thatcher, son SSgt. David Thatcher.
“Today (April 18), on the 75th-anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, we remember the Doolittle Raiders – our fathers, our countrymen, our heroes,” Jeff Thatcher said. “We thank God that this modest force of 80 men and their 16 planes were so willing to step up, shoulder the weight of a wounded nation and strike back with a mighty blow for America and freedom, and we recognize and honor the Doolittle Raiders for their courage in helping bring our great country back from the [feeling] of uncertainty, hopelessness and fear.”
The ceremony started with 13 B-25 Mitchell Bombers flying overhead, representing the aircraft that originally utilized to conduct the air strikes. Each of the 80 Raiders names was called and individuals attending on their behalf at that time were invited to stand and a wreath was laid and presented. It concluded with two B-1 bombers shaking the earth below the planes’ paths at a speed of 0.9 Machs.
“One cannot help but feel inspired by the 80 airman who flew in the raid by their bravery and determination,” said Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Jack Hudson, director of the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
David Kantenberger, grandson of Col. Rodney Ross “Hoss” Wilder, also attended the event and was touched by the amount of appreciation and respect he felt at the event.
“It means a lot,” Kantenberger said. “It means people remember and show a lot of respect for the Raiders and what they did. As a family member, it’s very-much appreciated to see such a big crowd.”
Meanwhile, some guests travelled from afar to pay their respects. Patricia Williams, who grew up in Dayton, headed south from Michigan.
“It means a great deal because I remember when it happened,” Williams said. “I always admired James Doolittle because he was in Michigan for a while and that’s where I grew up … I flew here just for today.”
Other guests, such as Laura Martin, took away a sense of pride in being an American after attending the event. To her, the Air Force is “in her blood” as her father was an airman and her nephew, Capt. Alex Baker, currently serves as a C-17 pilot.
“This is my blood, my heart, my soul,” Martin said. “When I get around aviation, aircraft, military or airman – this is as American as it gets … I’m proud to be an American.”
Reach Whitney Vickers at 937-502-4532.