DAYTON, Ohio —
—Of the 80 members of Doolittle’s Raiders who set out on their daring attack on Japan in 1942, 73 survived. Seventy-one years later, only four remain; they decided this year’s April reunion in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., would be their last, though they met Saturday for a final toast in honor of those who have gone before them.
A half-century ago, when retired Army First Lt. Frank Towers went to his first reunion of the 30th Infantry Division — soldiers who landed at the beaches of Normandy and fought across France and Germany — he was surrounded by 1,000 other veterans.
“Now if I get 50, I’m lucky,” said Towers, who is working on plans for a reunion next February in Savannah, Ga. “Age has taken its toll on us. A lot of our members have passed away, and many of them who are left are in health situations where they can’t travel.”
So why persist?
“It’s a matter of camaraderie,” Towers said. “We spent basically a year or more together through hell or high water. We became a band of brothers. We can relate to each other in ways we can’t relate to (anyone else). You weren’t there. These guys were there. They know the horrors we went through.”
As many as 11,000 people served in the 57th Bomb Wing that flew missions over German-held Europe from North Africa and the island of Corsica during most of the war. Hundreds survive, according to wing historians and reunion organizers. Only nine veterans made it to this fall’s event.
George Williams, 90, recalled earlier reunions with his comrades, “having a great time yukking it up and talking about things.” No one else from his squadron came to this one.
“All of a sudden, it’s lonesome,” said Williams, a native of Visalia, Calif., who moved after his wife’s death to Springfield, Mo., where his son lives. “All of the people you ran around with are on the wrong side of the grass. You wonder why you’re so lucky.”