Doolittle Raiders’ Final Toast

Nov. 12, 2013—Three of the four surviving Doolittle Tokyo Raiders made their final toast to their deceased comrades during an invitation-only ceremony at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, on Nov. 9.

“Gentleman, I propose a toast to those we lost on the mission and those who have passed away since. Thank you very much, and may they rest in peace,” said retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole, one of the three Doolittle Raiders present, in delivering the toast.

Cole, retired Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, and retired SSgt. David Thatcher then drank from their silver goblets some of the 1896 cognac from the bottle that Cole had just opened.

Upon completing the toast, the three Raiders received a standing ovation from the hundreds gathered in the audience, which included many family members of the Doolittle Raiders.

The fourth surviving Raider, retired Lt. Col. Bob Hite, could not attend due to health issues, but held his own toast to his deceased colleagues last week at his home in Nashville, Tenn., reported Associated Press.

Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh spoke at the Nov. 9 ceremony, which the Air Force Association helped to sponsor. CMSAF James Cody also participated. At the beginning of the ceremony, Fanning escorted Cole onto the stage, while Welsh escorted Saylor and Cody escorted Thatcher.

During the ceremony, Fanning and Welsh presented each of the surviving Raiders with an eagle statuette as a token of their appreciation and gratitude.

“The Doolittle Raiders are the epitome of this innovation spirit of airmanship. We owe these 80 men as well as their Army and Navy teammates a debt of gratitude,” said Fanning in his remarks. “Gentlemen, once again, thank you for what you did for your country,” he said.

Speaking after Fanning, Welsh said the first book he read as a boy was “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo.” The 1943 work chronicled the Doolittle Raiders’ daring April 18, 1942, bombing strike against the Japanese homeland, just four months after Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Raiders, 80 in all and led by then-Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, carried out the top-secret mission in 16 carrier-launched B-25 bombers. The raid bolstered US morale after the shock of Pearl Harbor and showed the Japanese that their homeland was not invulnerable.

“Jimmy Doolittle and his Raiders are truly lasting American heroes, but they are also Air Force heroes,” said Welsh. “They pioneered the concept of global strike . . . the idea that no target on Earth is safe from American airpower,” he said.

Prior to the final toast, there was the roll call of the crews of each of the 16 B-25s, with Cole, Saylor, and Thatcher answering the roll when hearing their names.

Cole then opened the special bottle of cognac, which the Doolittle Raiders had saved for decades for the occasion of the final toast. Doolittle supposedly received the bottle on his 60th birthday in 1956. The year of the bottle, 1896, is Doolittle’s birth year.

For the toast, the Raiders’ 80 silver goblets were on display. Each silver goblet is engraved with the name of one of the Raiders. The goblets of the deceased Raiders are turned upside-down.

AFA President Craig McKinley and former Chairman of the Board Joe Sutter also attended the ceremony.

“AFA is honored to have had an opportunity to be a part of this monumental moment in airpower history,” said McKinley. “The men on stage were part of an extraordinary mission in the darkest days following Pearl Harbor when US morale was at its lowest. They took the battle to the enemy and gave us hope. They are indeed a part of the greatest generation and we owe them our deepest gratitude.”

Sutter said the final roll call was a “poignant reminder” that “we will not have these heroes with us much longer.”

(Click here for a video of the event.)

Earlier in the day on Nov. 9, Cole, Saylor, and Thatcher participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Doolittle Raider memorial at the museum’s Memorial Park. A flyover of B-25 aircraft followed.

“We all shared the same risk and had no realization of the positive effect on our effort and on the morale of the Americans at the time of great national peril,” said Cole at the wreath-laying. “We are grateful we had the opportunity to serve and are mindful that our nation benefited from our service,” he said.

The Raiders also gathered in April in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., for their final public reunion.

(Includes Dayton report by Desiree N. Palacios and wreath-laying report by Palacios) (For more on the historic mission, read Doolittle’s Raid from Air Force Magazine’s archives.) (AFA release)