This week marks the 71st anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Japan. Of the 80 men who took off in their B-25 bombers from an aircraft carrier far off the coast of Japan, only four now remain. Three of the four are meeting this week in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, not far from Eglin Field, where they trained for their heart-stopping mission. This will be their last official public reunion, but they plan to meet one more time later this year with a more private mission.
For those not familiar with the raid, it came just months after the U.S. was devastated by the attack on Pearl Harbor. American forces were reeling from defeats in the Philippines, Wake Island and throughout the Pacific. Trained in secret by Jimmy Doolittle — already an aviation legend for his air racing, blind-flying research and other feats — the crews took off from an aircraft carrier in their B-25s, never designed for carrier duty, bombed Japan, and flew on to China where many crash-landed. Though little physical damage was done, it was a devastating blow to the confidence of the Japanese people.
Sixty-two raiders survived the war, and in 1959 the city of Tucson, Arizona, presented the surviving raiders with 80 engraved goblets and a bottle of 1896 Hennessy Very Special cognac (1896 was the year of Doolittle’s birth). Like a plot from a Hollywood movie, the understanding was that each year, the surviving raiders would meet and turn over the goblets of those who had passed away the previous year. When only two remained, they would toast each other, and their comrades, from the bottle.
This year, Dick Cole (Doolittle’s copilot), Robert Hite, Edward Saylor and David Thatcher turned over the goblet with Tom Griffin’s name on it. All in their 90s, the four also decided that they would not wait until only two remained. Sometime, somewhere later this year, they plan to meet in private and raise their goblets in honor of their mission, their leader and in memory of those 76 heroes who have gone before them.
For more information about the 71st Doolittle Raiders Anniversary Reunion and a full event schedule, visit fwbchamber.org.