By ROBERT JAQUES
For three of the four surviving Doolittle Raiders, the time finally came to offer a final toast to the memories of their comrades on Nov. 9 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
The three Raiders in attendance were Lt. Col. Richard Cole, the co-pilot on plane #1 with Jimmy Doolittle as pilot; Lt. Col Richard Saylor, the engineer-gunner on plane #15; and Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, engineer-gunner on plane #7. The fourth surviving Raider, Lt. Col Robert Hite, the co-pilot on plane #16, could not make the trip due to health reasons.
On April 18, 1942, 80 men and 16 B-25 bombers took off from an aircraft carrier and flew over Tokyo and four other cities, dropping bombs on pre-selected military targets. The raid in itself did very little strategic damage, but the psychological damage was devastating to the Japanese people. And the morale of Americans was uplifted as these men responded to the terrible attack on Pearl Harbor.
The day of the final toast started with a Grand Arrival of the three Raiders at the museum. Enthusiastic people lined both sides of the entrance road waving flags, waving their arms, cheering, and holding welcome signs. As the Raiders motorcade moved slowly along the road, you could see each Raider smiling and waving to the crowd.
Although the actual final toast was closed to the public, more than 5,000 people flooded the museum grounds hoping to catch a glimpse of these three heroes.
Following their grand entrance, the remaining Raiders were escorted to the museum’s Memorial Park. There, a beautiful large granite marker stood engraved with the words “Doolittle Raiders.” At this site, a wreath-laying ceremony took place in front of the marker. From behind a roped-off area, the crowd pushed tight together and strained to see the ceremony.
Immediately following the wreath-laying ceremony, the roar of the engines on five B-25 bombers in formation could be heard as they approached Memorial Park. As the bomber formation flew overhead, one B-25 could be seen pulling up in a “missing man” tribute to the Raiders. This flyover was the last opportunity for public participation in the Raider events.
The three Raiders then went into a special room in the museum, where they were available to the media for interviews. I asked Cole how he became involved in the Raiders. He replied, “They had a note on the bulletin board that they were looking for volunteers for a dangerous mission. I signed my name.”
As the time approached for the final toast, about 630 Raider family members and special invited guests sat quietly inside the museum surrounded by static airplane relics of Air Force history.
Following a short video about the Doolittle Raid, several dignitaries made remarks about the significance of this mission to American history, including Lt. Gen. Jack Hudson, the director of the museum; Gen. Mark Welsh III, the Air Force Chief of Staff; Eric Fanning, Acting Secretary of the U.S. Air Force; and Carroll Glines, the Raiders official historian.
The ceremony featuring the goblets has a unique history. In 1959, the City of Tucson, Ariz., made 80 silver goblets for the 80 men who flew the mission. Each man’s name is engraved twice so it can be read upright or upside down. With each man’s passing his goblet is turned upside down and placed in a special wooden case.
With the goblets there is a special bottle of Hennessy Cognac from 1896, the birth year of Gen. Doolittle. It was decided many years ago that the two remaining Raiders would open the bottle and offer a toast to all those who had passed before them.
But in April at the last public Raider’s reunion in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida, it was decided that the four survivors would open the bottle and have the final toast.
When time for the final toast was at hand, Cole took the bottle from its case and cut the seal. Then an Air Force Academy cadet took the bottle, poured its contents into three goblets, and handed a goblet to each survivor. Cole then stood up and offered a toast to all their deceased comrades. When the toast was over, the audience broke into a spontaneous standing ovation.
Glines ended this historic final toast by going to the podium, looking at the three survivors, and declaring, “Now the mission is completed.”
And so, 71 years following their historic raid on Tokyo, the final toast has been made, but their legacy will long remain.
You can see an Air Force video of the final toast here.