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Surviving Doolittle Raiders mark 70 years

Apr. 19, 2012 - 09:48AM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 19, 2012 - 09:48AM  |  
Three surviving members of the Doolittle Raiders -- front row row from left: David J. Thatcher, Richard E. Cole and Edward J. Saylor -- watch a flyover of B-25 bombers at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday. The flyover commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo.
Three surviving members of the Doolittle Raiders -- front row row from left: David J. Thatcher, Richard E. Cole and Edward J. Saylor -- watch a flyover of B-25 bombers at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday. The flyover commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. (Mark Duncan / AP)
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Silver cups with the names of the Doolittle Raiders sit in a case with a bottle of cognac at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, on Wednesday. Four surviving crew members will toast their comrades in a private ceremony for the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. The upside down cups represent deceased members. (Mark Duncan / AP)
An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from the aircraft carrier Hornet at the start of the Doolittle raid on April 18, 1942. (Navy)

DAYTON, Ohio — A flyover by World War II bomber planes, Chinese visitors and a memorial ceremony with four Doolittle's Raiders helped mark the 70th anniversary of the daring U.S. air attack on Japan.

Thousands of people flocked to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton for the events, part of a four-day observance. The four Raiders looked up into blue skies Wednesday as 20 B-25 planes similar to the ones they used flew just before a memorial service that included the placing of a wreath at the memorial here to their mission and the playing of Taps.

Lt. Col. Richard Cole, at 96 the oldest surviving Raider, said all the attention surprises the Raiders, who earlier in the day gathered privately for their annual toast to those who have gone before them.

"We honor the people we lost, and we remember them, and then we enjoy the camaraderie of being together again," said Cole, a Dayton native who now lives in Comfort, Texas. He was the co-pilot for Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle in the first of the planes launched off an aircraft carrier deck off Japan for the raid.

"We don't like to be singled out," Cole said of the festivities. "We were just part of a big team."

Attending were Maj. Thomas Griffin, 95, of suburban Cincinnati; Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, 92, of Puyallup, Wash., and Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, 90 of Missoula, Mont.

The fifth surviving Raider of the original 80 was unable to attend because of health issues. Lt. Col. Robert Hite, of Nashville, Tenn., is 92.

The April 18, 1942, raid is credited with boosting American morale at a critical time, less than five months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and with Japan sweeping through the Pacific. The bombing run by 16 B-25s inflicted only scattered damage, but lifted spirits at home while shaking Japan's confidence.

"We were saying, ‘You started it, and we're going to finish it,' "Cole said.

The bombers launched more than 200 miles farther away from Japan than planned after the Navy task force was spotted by Japanese patrol boats. All planes survived the bombing runs, but none had enough fuel to reach friendly bases in China as planned. Three Raiders were killed trying to reach China, three were executed by a Japanese firing squad, and a seventh died in captivity.

Chinese villagers helped the Raiders reach safety. A delegation of 10 Chinese, three related to key benefactors of the Raiders, came to Ohio from China for the events.

He Shaoying, now 76, is the daughter of a Zhejiang Province official who helped hide and take care of Doolittle, Cole and other survivors. She presented Cole with a translated version of her late father's journal about helping them.

"My countrymen are very pleased that after all these years, the American people still remember us," she said through an interpreter. "They are pleased that we part of this 70th anniversary."

The Raiders' reunion events grew out of informal gatherings organized by Doolittle, who died in 1993.

"It's a great honor to be here for this," said Carolyn Davison, 81, who came with her husband Dick, 85 and an Army veteran, from Arcanum, Ohio.

"This is fantastic," Saylor said. "I've never seen so many people, so many cameras. I wish I was in the camera business."

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