Published in Midwest Flyer – August/September 2017 issue
DAYTON, OHIO – On April 18, 1942, 80 men achieved the unimaginable when they launched 16 B-25B Mitchell medium bombers – without fighter escort – from the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) deep in the Western Pacific Ocean, each with a crew of five men. The plan called for them to bomb military targets in Japan, and to continue westward to land in China (landing a medium bomber on the Hornet would have been impossible). Fifteen aircraft reached China, but all crashed, while the 16th aircraft landed at Vladivostok in the Soviet Union. All but three of the 80 crewmembers initially survived the mission. Eight airmen were captured by the Japanese Army in China; three of those were later executed. The B-25 that landed in the Soviet Union was confiscated and its crew interned for more than a year. Fourteen complete crews, except for one crewman who was killed in action, returned either to the United States or to American forces.
Today, just one of the men survives: Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” E. Cole, who served as Doolittle’s co-pilot on Crew Number 1. Cole, now 101 years old, returned to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, April 17-18, 2017, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the raid, and to pay tribute to fellow Raider SSgt. David Thatcher, who passed away in 2016.
Eleven B-25 Mitchell bombers were on static display on the runway behind the museum. There was a B-25 formation flyover prior to the start of a memorial service on April 18. There was also a “Missing Man” formation and finally two B-1 bombers from Ellsworth AFB flew over at the conclusion of the memorial service. In addition, there were book signings by several authors, and a special film screening on the evening of April 18th of “Doolittle’s Raiders: The Final Toast.”
Each year since the end of World War II, with the exception of 1951, the Doolittle Raiders held an annual reunion. The museum had the privilege of hosting the Raiders in April 1965 (23rd), 1999 (57th), 2006 (64th), 2010 (68th) and 2012 (70th), before Cole, Thatcher and Lt. Col. Ed Saylor had a final toast to their fallen comrades on Nov. 9, 2013. On April 18, 2015, Cole and Thatcher returned to the museum and were presented with the Congressional Gold Medal, which is now on display as part of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders exhibit in the museum’s World War II Gallery.
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is the world’s largest military aviation museum. With free admission and parking, the museum features more than 360 aerospace vehicles and missiles and thousands of artifacts amid more than 19 acres of indoor exhibit space. Each year about one million visitors from around the world come to the museum (www.nationalmuseum.af.mil).