Surviving "Doolittle Raiders" recount wartime bombing of Japan

Thu Apr 19, 2012 1:18am EDT
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By George Tanber

DAYTON, Ohio (Reuters) - Four of the last five survivors of a U.S. World War Two bombing mission over Japan reunited on Wednesday, 70 years after the "Doolittle Tokyo raiders" shocked Japan and lifted flagging American war morale with their daring attempt.

Only five of the 80 U.S. military members who participated in the raid are still alive and one could not attend the annual reunion at a Dayton, Ohio, military base because of ill health.

Air Force Staff Sergeant David Thatcher, 90, remembered April 18, 1942, like it was yesterday. His plane, a B-25 bomber, had just crossed Japan's coastline on its way to Tokyo as part of a surprise attack that helped change the outcome of World War Two in the Pacific. The earlier foul weather had cleared and Thatcher, a gunner, had a clear view of a crowded beach.

"There were hundreds of people," he said. "We were flying so low I could see them waving at us. They were cheering. I'm sure they thought we were Japanese planes."

Thatcher's bomber was one of 16 under the command of famed American aviator Lieutenant Colonel James "Jimmy" Doolittle.

Their mission: Bomb five Japanese cities. Collectively, the men became known as the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders. Over the years, the legend of their feat has grown, spawning books, a movie and recognized by military and history buffs.

The four survivors reminisced on Wednesday at the National Museum of the United States Air Force on the grounds of Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

The three-day reunion began with a flyover of 20 B-25s from across the country. Thousands of people filled the museum grounds and lined the roads around the air base to secure a view.   Continued...

(front row L -R) Maj. Thomas Griffin, Sgt. David Thatcher, Lt. Col. Richard Cole and Lt. Col. Edward Saylor sit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force as four of the last five survivors of the Doolittle Toyko Raid gather for their 70th anniversary reunion in Dayton, Ohio April 18, 2012. REUTERS/Skip Peterson