L1/Japan, Tokyo Raid/1942/pho 2

Air Force Museum honors 75th anniversary of WWII Tokyo Raid with last crewmember

By Karen Ander Francis

Photo: A tag-team effort of the Army Air Forces and U.S. Navy carried 16 B-25 bombers aboard the USS Hornet to within take-off distance of the Japanese islands


When his eponymous bombing raid over the Japanese homeland ended, Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle parachuted into China from his disabled aircraft and fully expected to be court-martialed—because all 16 aircraft were lost and several members of the 80-man crew were missing or captured. Yet, at home, Doolittle’s Tokyo Raid was seen as a pivotal point in the eventual outcome of the war in the Pacific. So much so that President Franklin D. Roosevelt awarded him the Medal of Honor while he still was in China, deeming the mission a success for uplifting American morale and instilling a sense of vulnerability among the Japanese people.

The National Museum of the United States Air Force (NMUSAF) will pay tribute to the 75th anniversary of Doolittle Tokyo Raid, with a two-day event, Monday and Tuesday, April 17 and 18. Doolittle’s copilot and the last surviving member, Dayton native Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole, will return to his hometown for a private, solemn farewell toast to the fellow crewmember who passed this year. Two WWII B-25 and B-1 bomber flyovers will also honor the fallen.

Doolittle’s famous retaliatory raid on the Japanese homeland on April 18, 1942—payback for Pearl Harbor only four months before—had been dicey from the outset. Sixteen B-25s, untested in combat, had been hurriedly refitted with larger gas tanks for the long distance flight over open ocean. All either ditched or crash-landed after crews bailed. One aircraft landed in the Soviet Union (a neutral neighbor of Japan), where the plane was confiscated and the crew interned. A single raider was killed in action and eight were captured in China by the Japanese, three of whom were ultimately executed. Ten men were unaccounted for.

Despite minimal damage to the enemy and a significant loss of American men and materiel, the mission had been accomplished. After the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Roosevelt knew the American people needed a morale boost, resulting in the two-pronged aim of the Doolittle mission. “The raid not only created American heroes,” says Doug Lantry, Ph.D. and NMUSAF historian. “It also caused the Japanese to adjust some of their forces to protect the home island, despite the very minor physical damage it caused.”  The shock to the Japanese people led the military to extend “its vast protective perimeter as far as Midway Island, a move which ultimately resulted in a significant Japanese defeat and eventually turned the tides of war against Japan,” he adds.

The Raiders and their story have come to “signify courage, ingenuity, teamwork, and unity of purpose,” Lantry says. After suffering successive Japanese defeats in the Pacific, the U.S. had heroes to celebrate. Meanwhile, Japanese generals were forced to re-evaluate their war plan. Even Hollywood joined the war effort, rushing to produce several fictionalized movie versions of the raid in 1943 and ’44, adding to American fervor for victory.

Every year since the end of World War II (except for 1951) the Doolittle Raiders have held a reunion where the surviving members read roll call, then toast comrades who had fallen the previous year. This year, only one Raider remains, 101-year-old Lt. Col. Cole. On Tuesday, he will toast the memory of Staff Sgt. David Thatcher who died in 2016. Special silver goblets are used for the toast, each engraved twice with that man’s name, once right-side-up and once inverted. As custom dictates, Thatcher’s goblet will be placed to rest in the case that holds all 80. From his home in Comfort, Texas, Cole says of Thatcher, “He was a very good friend and I was happy, lucky, to have known him.” And when asked how he feels about being the last remaining survivor of the crew, Cole simply responds, “Time moves on—there’s no turning back the clock of time.”

Seventeen B-25s, symbols of historic American ingenuity, courage, and determination, will land on the runway behind the museum and remain on display from Monday until noon Tuesday, when they will take to the sky. The ceremony will conclude with a flyover of two B-1 bombers. These aircraft are from the 34th and 37th Bomb Squadrons at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota, training site for the original Doolittle aircrews.

Throughout both days in the museum store, several authors will be available to sign their books about the raid: Stan Cohen, (“Destination Tokyo”), Frank Goldstein (“The Last Reunion: A Salute to the Jimmy Doolittle Tokyo Raiders”), and Dennis Okerstrom (“Dick Cole’s War: Doolittle Raider, Hump Pilot, Air Commando”).

Wrapping up Tuesday evening in the Air Force Museum Theatre, the museum foundation’s yearlong Living History Film series will present “Doolittle’s Raiders: The Final Toast.” Cole will open the event and, following the movie, answer questions, along with his daughter Cindy Chal and Jim Bowers, son of Lt. William “Bill” Bower.

NMUSAF houses the most extensive collection of Doolittle artifacts in the country. The centerpiece of the exhibit is a B-25 airplane, rebuilt by Northrup American Aviation to the WWII specifications for Doolittle’s Raid. Other objects on display are the silver goblets, a parachute recovered from the China bailout, as well as clothing, munitions, and group photos of all 16 aircraft crews. The rebuilt B-25 sits on a replica of the flight deck of the USS Hornet, the Navy vessel that launched the Raiders.

History not only chronicles events; it provides a long view of the collective values that undergird a specific culture at a specific moment, helping people remember who they are. Doolittle’s Raid is such a moment. As historian Lantry points out, “The Doolittle Tokyo Raid…represents a historic moment of national unity and selfless determination in a conflict that has become a touchstone for heroism in American public memory.”


The 75th Anniversary of the Doolittle Tokyo Raid takes place Monday and Tuesday, April 17 and 18 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, 1100 Spaatz St. in Dayton. For the complete schedule of anniversary events and Living History Films, please visit www.nationalmuseum.af.mil.

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About Karen Ander Francis

View all posts by Karen Ander Francis
Reach DCP Freelance writer Karen Ander Francis at KarenAnder@DaytonCityPaper.com

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