DAYTON, Ohio — The surviving Doolittle Raiders, all in their 90s, considered their place in history for their daring World War II attack on Japan amid thousands of cheering fans, as they prepared for a final ceremonial toast Saturday to their fallen comrades.
A B-25 bomber flyover helped cap an afternoon memorial tribute in which a wreath was placed at the Doolittle Raider monument outside the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton. Museum officials estimated some 5,000 people turned out for Veterans Day weekend events honoring the 1942 mission credited with rallying American morale and throwing the Japanese off balance.
Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said America was at a low point, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other Axis successes, before “these 80 men who showed the nation that we were nowhere near defeat.” He noted that all volunteered for a mission with high risks throughout, from the launch of B-25 bombers from a carrier at sea, the attack on Tokyo, and lack of fuel to reach safe bases.
Only four of the 80 are still alive. The Raiders said, at the time, they didn’t realize their mission would be considered an important event in turning the war’s tide. It inflicted little major damage physically, but changed Japanese strategy while firing up Americans.
“It was what you do ... over time, we’ve been told what effect our raid had on the war and the morale of the people,” Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, 93, said in an interview.
The Brusset, Mont. native, who now lives in Puyallup, Wash., said he was one of the lucky ones.
“There were a whole bunch of guys in World War II; a lot of people didn’t come back,” he said.
Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, 92, of Missoula, Mont., said during the war, the raid seemed like “one of many bombing missions.” The most harrowing part for him was the crash-landing of his plane, depicted in the movie “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo.”