April 21, 2009
By Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON (AFRNS) -- Thousands of people, young and
old, gathered to honor five of the nine surviving Doolittle Raiders at the 67th
Reunion in Columbia, S.C., April 16 to 18.
On April 18, 1942, the Doolittle Raiders, led by
then-Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, became the first to bombard Japan following the
attack on Pearl Harbor.
"Early on, everybody thought leaving the
flight deck of the carrier was the biggest challenge of the trip," said
retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, the late General Doolittle's
co-pilot "As it turned out, it was the easiest thing, and I had a
special advantage because I was sitting next to the best pilot in the
world. I admire all of the guys; I especially admire the man I was sitting
next to, a fine man and a great pilot."
Colonel Cole said he grew up idolizing General
Doolittle. As a teenager, he added, he watched General Doolittle conduct
flight testing, and was amazed at his luck to fly with him.
"I was amazed, dumbfounded and proud,"
Colonel Cole said. "I was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, where they
had the first test base. I used to watch Colonel Doolittle."
Colonel Cole said he does not consider himself a
hero, but rather was "just doing my job" when he participated in the
raid on Japan.
Of the thousands who gathered during the three-day
reunion, many came to pay their respects for the Raiders' symbolic act only a
few months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Some of the attendees
commented that this would probably be the last time the raiders would
participate in a reunion in Columbia. Previous reunions of the Doolittle
Raiders in Columbia were organized by the Celebrate Freedom Foundation.
"We consider Columbia the home of the
Doolittle Raiders," said Ken Breivik, public affairs director for the
Celebrate Freedom Foundation, who coordinated both the Doolittle Raiders' 67th
"Where Victory Began" reunion, as well as the group's 60th
To pay tribute to the raiders, a visible reminder
of the length of the USS Hornet's flight deck was displayed from the mouth of
Columbia's Aeronautics Commission Hangar doors adjacent to a U.S. Air Force B-1
bomber, which displayed the official Doolittle Raider crest and the
inscription, "Toujours au Danger" -- "Always into Danger."
As hundreds of spectators gathered at the hangar,
four Doolittle Raiders – Colonel Cole, retired Maj. Thomas C. Griffin, retired
Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite, retired Lt. Col. Edward Saylor and retired Staff Sgt.
David J. Thatcher -- passed the official Doolittle Raider crest to the 34th
Bomb Squadron's flagship B-1 bomber's crew April 17 at the hangar.
Participating in the official passing of the crest
was Brig. Gen. James Kowowski, commander of the provisional Air Force Global
"President [John F.] Kennedy was quoted as
saying that you can tell the character of the nation not only by the men that
it produces, but by the men that it honors," General Kowowski said.
For their raid 67 years ago, the Doolittle Raiders
were drawn from the World War II versions of the 95th, 34th, 37th and the 89th reconnaissance
squadrons of the 17th Bomb Group. Col. Carl "Buck" Shawhan, 28th
Operations Group commander at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., oversees the
present-day 37th and the 34th bomb squadrons.
"As airmen, we understand the significance of
the original acts the Doolittle Raiders performed in World War II, and the
original Doolittle Raiders were the first Airmen to strike against Japan in
World War II, flying their B-25 in a surprise attack against the Japanese
mainland," Colonel Shawhan said. While it was a different time and
era, the colonel said, he is awed by their ability to carry out such a bold
raid 67 years ago.
"When they took off, they had no idea they
would ever see their families again," he said. "They had no idea
what kind of impact they would have." The attack had a substantial
impact strategically on Japan's defenses, Colonel Shawhan said, and was an
uplifting moment in U.S. history.
"Zoom forward to the future: 2001, after
9/11, when the United States was attacked, people were ... wondering about our
ability to defend ourselves," Colonel Shawhan said.
He added that the modern day Doolittle Raiders were
one of the first to attack against the Taliban in Afghanistan a month after the
Sept. 11 attacks.
U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet Helen "Meg"
Wildner, granddaughter of Doolittle Raider Lt. Carl Wildner, navigator of the
raid's second B-25, will graduate from the academy in 2010, and reflected on
the importance of the raid.
"Personally, the Doolitte Raid is definitely
important to our history" she said. "It was a huge morale
boost. Even after Pearl Harbor, it was an encouraging fact that we could
stand up for ourselves and persevere. When you talk to the Doolittle
Raiders, they don't necessarily consider themselves these huge heroes. They
were just doing their jobs." (Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg serves in the
Defense Media Activity's emerging media directorate.)