On April 18th, 1942 the United States launched the first attack that hit mainland Japan. It was a much needed morale boost for the United States. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was only 5 months before, and the U.S. was not doing well in the war. Something had to be done.
Enter Navy Captain Francis Low, Assistant Chief of Staff for anti-submarine warfare. Most believe that Lieutenant Colonel James "Jimmy" Doolittle of the U.S. Army Air Forces came up with the plan. He did not, he hammered out the detail and MADE the idea work.
The plan? To fly Army Air force (The U.S. Air Force was not a separate branch of the military until September 18, 1947) medium bombers off of carriers and strike mainland Japan at the extreme limit of the bombers range, landing at bases in China (The bombers were MUCH too heavy to land on a carrier). Doesn't sound like that big a deal, does it? Well the heavy U.S. Navy planes that routinely took off from carriers weighed in at less than 9,500 pounds fully loaded. The medium bombers that were used (The B-25 Mitchell) weighed in at 19,500 pounds EMPTY!
Add to this, the task force being sighted by a Japanese patrol craft, which radioed an attack warning to Japan. This meant that the raid was either going to launch 10 hours early and 170 nautical miles farther from Japan than planned or be aborted. 170 nautical miles farther than their planes range. They could hit the targets, but probably would not reach China. They went anyway.
Somehow, they made it work.
And after the war the surviving heroes from this raid made a pact. They have held a reunion each April, in a different city, to commemorate the mission. In 1959, the city of Tucson, Arizona, as a gesture of respect and gratitude, presented the Doolittle Raiders with a set of 80 silver goblets. Each goblet was engraved with the name of a Raider. Every year, a wooden display case bearing all 80 goblets is transported to the reunion city. Each time a Raider passes away, his goblet is turned upside down in the case at the next reunion, as his old friends bear solemn witness.
Also in the wooden case is a bottle of 1896 Hennessy Very Special cognac. The year is not happenstance: 1896 was when Jimmy Doolittle was born.
When only two were left, they would open it and drink to their friends.
As of right now, only four remain. Dick Cole (Doolittle's co-pilot on the Tokyo raid), Robert Hite, Edward Saylor and David Thatcher. All are in their 90s. They have decided that there are too few of them for the public reunions to continue.
The town of Fort Walton Beach (They train for the mission at nearby Eglin Field) is planning to do all it can to honor the men, a six-day celebration of their valor. At the end of which, they will fill the four remaining upturned goblets.
And toast the comrades that have gone to their rest.
Dan Emplit WBFD
USN 1986 - 1992