WASHINGTON, April 20, 2009 - Thousands of people, young and old, gathered to honor five of the nine surviving Doolittle Raiders at the 67th Reunion in Columbia, S.C., April 16-18.
On April 18, 1942, the Doolittle Raiders, led by then-Lt. Col.
Jimmy Doolittle, became the first to bombard Japan following the attack on Pearl
"Early on, everybody thought leaving the flight deck of the carrier
was the biggest challenge of the trip," retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole,
Doolittle's co-pilot, said. "As it turned out, it was the easiest thing, and I
had a special advantage because I was sitting next to the best pilot in the
world. I admire all of the guys; I especially admire the man I was sitting next
to, a fine man and a great pilot."
Cole said he grew up idolizing Doolittle.
As a teenager, he added, he watched Doolittle conduct flight testing, and was
amazed at his luck to fly with him. "I was amazed, dumbfounded and proud," Cole
said. "I was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, where they had the first test
base. I used to watch Col. Doolittle."
Cole said he doesn't consider himself
a hero, but rather was "just doing my job" when he participated in the raid on
Of the thousands who gathered during the three-day reunion, many came
to pay their respects for the raiders' symbolic act only a few months after the
attack on Pearl Harbor. Some of the attendees commented that this would probably
be the last time the raiders would participate in a reunion in Columbia.
Previous reunions of the Doolittle Raiders in Columbia were organized by the
Celebrate Freedom Foundation.
"We consider Columbia the home of the
Doolittle Raiders," said Ken Breivik, public affairs director for the Celebrate
Freedom Foundation, who coordinated both the Doolittle Raiders' 67th "Where
Victory Began" reunion, as well as the group's 60th reunion.
To pay tribute
to the raiders, a visible reminder of the length of the USS Hornet's flight deck
was displayed from the mouth of Columbia's Aeronautics Commission Hangar doors
adjacent to a U.S. Air Force B-1 bomber, which displayed the official Doolittle
Raider crest and the inscription, "Toujours au Danger" -- "Always into Danger."
As hundreds of spectators gathered at the hangar, four Doolittle Raiders --
Cole, retired Maj. Thomas C. Griffin, retired Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite, retired
Lt. Col. Edward Saylor and retired Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher -- passed the
official Doolittle Raider crest to the 34th Bomb Squadron's flagship B-1
bomber's crew April 17 at the hangar.
Participating in the official passing
of the crest was Brig. Gen. James Kowowski, commander of the provisional Air
Force Global Strike Command. "President [John F.] Kennedy was quoted as saying
that you can tell the character of the nation not only by the men that it
produces, but by the men that it honors," Kowowski said.
For their raid 67
years ago, the Doolittle Raiders were drawn from the World War II versions of
the 95th, 34th, 37th and the 89th reconnaissance squadrons of the 17th Bomb
Group. Air Force Col. Carl "Buck" Shawhan, 28th Operations Group commander at
Nellis Air Force Bas, Nev., oversees the present-day 37th and the 34th bomb
"As airmen, we understand the significance of the original acts
the Doolittle Raiders performed in World War II, and the original Doolittle
Raiders were the first airmen to strike against Japan in World War II, flying
their B-25 in a surprise attack against the Japanese mainland," Shawhan said.
While it was a different time and era, the colonel said, he is awed by their
ability to carry out such a bold raid 67 years ago.
"When they took off,
they had no idea they would ever see their families again," he said. "They had
no idea what kind of impact they would have." The attack had a substantial
impact strategically on Japan's defenses, Shawhan noted, and was an uplifting
moment in U.S. history.
"Zoom forward to the future: 2001, after 9/11, when the United States was attacked, people were ... wondering about our ability to defend ourselves," Shawhan said. He added that the modern day Doolittle Raiders were one of the first to attack against the Taliban in Afghanistan a month after the Sept. 11 attacks.
U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet Helen "Meg" Wildner,
granddaughter of Doolittle Raider Lt. Carl Wildner, navigator of the raid's
second B-25, will graduate from the academy in 2010, and reflected on the
importance of the raid.
"Personally, the Doolitte Raid is definitely
important to our history" she said. "It was a huge morale boost. Even after
Pearl Harbor, it was an encouraging fact that we could stand up for ourselves
and persevere. When you talk to the Doolittle Raiders, they don't necessarily
consider themselves these huge heroes. They were just doing their jobs."
(Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg serves in the Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate.)