The sound of 11 North American B-25 Mitchell Bombers starting their engines, plus the smell of oil and gasoline as the props began to turn, was exciting to the watching spectators. This was the largest gathering of B-25s at one time since World War II.
The famous bombers were preparing to take off and fly over the Memorial Park at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. This fly-over was part of the 75th anniversary remembrance of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo.
The Doolittle Raid, which happened on April 18, 1942, was the first response by the United States on the Japanese for their deadly Pearl Harbor attack five months earlier. The Doolittle Raid consisted of 16 B-25 bombers, each with a crew of five, and took off from an aircraft carrier the USS HORNET.
The USS HORNET and other ships in the task force were spotted by a Japanese picket boat who radioed the sighting back to Japan. This forced the B-25s to launch sooner than planned. They used up valuable gas needed to fly to airfields in China following the bombing of Japanese targets.All the bombers ran out of gas and crashed along the China coast and in the mountains. One bomber landed in Vladivostok, Russia, where the crew was interned for almost a year.
Eight Raiders, as they became known, were captured by the Japanese. Three were executed, one died of malnutrition, and four spent the duration of the war in POW camps.
The raid did little strategic damage to the Japanese, but it proved they were vulnerable to an attack, and it boosted American morale. The Japanese had to recall several combat units to protect the homeland.
On April 18, 2017, the 75th anniversary of that famous raid, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force hosted a special ceremony in its Memorial Park by placing a wreath by the Doolittle Raid granite marker.
The featured guest was the last survivor of the 80 men on that historic mission: Lt. Col. Dick Cole, USAF, Ret. Cole flew as co-pilot on plane #1 with Col. Jimmy Doolittle.
Cole, who is 101, smiled at the large crowd as he was escorted to a special seating area near the Doolittle granite marker.
The public affairs office at the museum estimated 15,000 people witnessed the wreath laying and the B-25 fly-over. They came from all around the country to catch a glimpse of this one remaining hero and to be part of the 75th anniversary observance.
The B-25 fly-over was impressive. They came in two groups of four and then the three remaining. After they all flew overhead and passed over Memorial Park, four B-25s came back and flew a “Missing Man Formation” to honor those Raiders who have died.
Cole did not speak, but listened attentively as the keynote speaker Air Force General and Chief of Staff David Goldfein talked about the mission and what it meant to our country at that time.
Earlier that morning Cole, in a private ceremony, overturned the silver goblet in memory of Sgt. David Thatcher, who died last year.
The story of the goblets is unique. When the Raiders held their reunion in Tucson, Arizona, in 1959, the City of Tucson presented them with 80 sterling silver goblets. Each goblet had a Raider’s name engraved right side up and also upside down. Then at each future reunion the Raiders would toast those who had died since their last reunion and turn that person’s goblet upside down. Now the only upright goblet belongs to Cole, the last survivor.
Now all visitors to the museum can see the beautiful goblets in a display case along with the Congressional pure gold medal presented to the Raiders in 2015 in Washington, D.C. These items are near the B-25 on a simulated carrier deck to complete the Doolittle Raid exhibit.
One can only reflect on the dedicated young men who volunteered for an unknown dangerous mission that paved the way for victory in the Pacific in World War II.
We still remember 75 years later.