DAYTON, Ohio —
Three crew members died as Raiders bailed out or crash-landed their planes in China, but most were helped to safety by Chinese villagers and soldiers.
Three of the four surviving Raiders were greeted by flag-waving well-wishers ranging from small children to fellow war veterans. The fourth couldn’t travel because of health problems.
Twelve-year-old Joseph John Castellano’s grandparents brought him from their Dayton home for Saturday’s events.
“This was Tokyo. The odds of their survival were 1 in a million,” the boy said. “I just felt like I owe them a few short hours of the thousands of hours I will be on Earth.”
More than 600 people, including Raiders widows and children, descendants of Chinese villagers who helped them, and Pearl Harbor survivors, were expected for the invitation-only ceremony Saturday evening.
After Thomas Griffin of Cincinnati died in February at age 96, the survivors decided at the 71st anniversary reunion in April in Fort Walton, Beach, Fla., that it would be their last and that they would gather this autumn for one last toast together instead of waiting, as had been the original plan, for the last two survivors to make the toast.
“We didn’t want to get a city all excited and plan and get everything set up for a reunion, and end up with no people because of our age,” explained Lt. Col. Richard Cole, the oldest survivor at 98. The Dayton native, who was Doolittle’s co-pilot, lives in Comfort, Texas.
Lt. Col. Robert Hite, 93, couldn’t come. Son Wallace Hite said his father, wearing a Raiders blazer and other traditional garb for their reunions, made his own salute to the fallen with a silver goblet of wine at home in Nashville, Tenn., earlier in the week.
Hite is the last survivor of eight Raiders who were captured by Japanese soldiers. Three were executed and another died in captivity.