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When asked to identify the base from which they flew, President Franklin Roosevelt replied, "Shangri-La."
Recently, in Fort Walton Beach , Florida , the surviving Doolittle Raiders gathered publicly for the last time. They were among the most universally admired and revered men in the United States. There were 80 Raiders who, in April of 1942, just four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, embarked on one of the most courageous and heart-stirring military operations in this nation's history. The mere mention of their unit's name, in those years, would bring tears to the eyes of grateful Americans.
After Japan 's sneak attack on Hawaii , with the United States still licking its wounds, something dramatic was needed to turn the war effort around.Even though there were no friendly airfields close enough to Japan for the United States to retaliate, a daring plan was devised. Sixteen North American B-25s, twin-engine "Billy Mitchells," were modified so that they could take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier. This had never before been tried -- sending Army Air Corps medium bombers from the deck of a ship at sea.
The 16 five-man crews, under the command of then Lt. Col. James Doolittle, (he retired as a brigadier general) who himself flew the lead plane off USS Hornet, knew that they would not be able to return to the carrier. They would have to hit Japan and then hope to make it to China for a safe landing. On the day of the raid, the Japanese military caught wind of the plan. The Raiders were told that they would have to take off from much farther out in the Pacific Ocean (more than 600 miles) than they had counted on. They were told that because of this they would not have enough fuel to make it to safety.
They went anyway. They bombed Tokyo, then flew as far as they could. Four planes crash-landed in China ; 11 crews bailed out, and three Raiders died. Eight more were captured; three were executed. Another died of starvation in a Japanese prison camp. One crew made it to Russia. The Doolittle Raid sent a message from the United States to its enemies, and to the rest of the world: We will fight. And, no matter what it takes, we will win.
Of the 80 Raiders, 62 survived the war. They were celebrated as national heroes, models of bravery. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a motion picture based on the raid. "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo ," starring Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson, was a patriotic and emotional box-office hit, and the phrase became part of the national lexicon. In the movie-theater previews for the film, MGM proclaimed that it was presenting the story "with supreme pride."
Beginning in 1946, the surviving Raiders have held a reunion each April, to commemorate the mission. The reunion is in a different city each year. In 1959, the city of Tucson, Arizona, as a gesture of respect and gratitude, presented the Doolittle Raiders with a set of 80 silver goblets. Each goblet was engraved with the name of a Raider. Every year, a wooden display case bearing all 80 goblets is transported to the reunion city. Each time a Raider passes away, his goblet is turned upside down in the case at the next reunion, as his old friends bear solemn witness. Also in the wooden case is a bottle of 1896 Hennessy Very Special cognac. The year is not happenstance: It was Jimmy Doolittle's birth year.
There has always been a plan: When there are only two surviving Raiders, they would open the bottle, at last drink from it, and toast their comrades who preceded them in death. As 2013 began, there were five living Raiders. Then, in February, Tom Griffin passed away at age 96. What a man he was. After bailing out of his plane over a mountainous Chinese forest, he became ill with malaria and almost died. When he recovered, he was sent to Europe to fly more combat missions. He was shot down, captured, and spent 22 months in a German prisoner of war camp.
Out of the original 80, only four Raiders remain: Dick Cole (Doolittle's co-pilot on the raid), Robert Hite, Edward Saylor, and David Thatcher. All are in their 90s. They have decided that there are too few of them for the public reunions to continue. The men have decided that after this final public reunion they will wait until a later date -- sometime this year -- to get together once more, informally and in absolute privacy. That is when they will open the bottle of brandy. The years are flowing by too swiftly now; they are not going to wait until there are only two of them. They will fill the four remaining upturned goblets, and raise them in a toast to those who are gone.
I received this historic footnote in an email... source unknown... it is worth passing on to my Readership. MARILYN