For those who lived through it, Hollywood’s most recent depiction of the Doolittle raid completely bombed.
The 2001 flick “Pearl Harbor,” directed by Michael Bay, focuses heavily on the April 18, 1942, mission during the latter half of the movie. Alec Baldwin portrayed raid leader Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, and the film also stars Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett as two Army Air Corps officers who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and went on to join the Doolittle Raiders.
In reality, all of the Raiders were elsewhere on Dec. 7, 1941, and that inaccuracy — one of many in the film, veterans and historians say — still doesn’t sit well with the five living members of the famous mission.
“That was a horrible movie,” said David Thatcher, 91, who served as an engineer-gunner on Crew No. 7. Mr. Thatcher was later awarded the Silver Star for gallantry for pulling the rest of his crew from the wreckage of their plane after it crashed in waist-deep water off the coast of China.
Mr. Thatcher said he, along with dozens of other World War II veterans, were invited to a private screening of “Pearl Harbor” in Hawaii just before its release. They were not impressed.
“That was one of the worst movies they’ve made. That’s all Hollywood,” Mr. Thatcher said. “They invited us over to Pearl Harbor to see the premiere showing on board an aircraft carrier. They had a 60-by-90-foot screen on that thing to show it. The Pearl Harbor survivors, about 50 of them, said it was nothing like that. They just blew it out of proportion.”
While the movie was a box office success, most film scribes shared Mr. Thatcher’s disdain. Noted film critic Roger Ebert said the movie lacked any “sense of history, strategy or context.”
“If you have the slightest knowledge of the events in the film, you will know more than it can tell you,” he wrote in his 2001 review of the three-hour movie.
In contrast, Mr. Thatcher and other veterans admire the 1944 film “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.” Actor Robert Walker portrayed Mr. Thatcher on the silver screen, and many military men, historians and critics have lauded the movie for its accuracy and attention to detail, which included the use of actual wartime B-25 bomber footage for several scenes.
A number of books and documentaries, Mr. Thatcher said, have also gotten it right. But rather than rely on the entertainment world to tell their story, the five remaining Doolittle Raiders prefer to do it themselves.
“I like to talk about it. There’s a few listeners around,” said Edward Saylor, 92, the engineer-gunner on plane No. 15, the second-to-last to take off from the deck of the USS Hornet. Mr. Saylor said he regularly accepts invitations to speak to civic groups and high school assemblies about the mission.
“It’s kind of an ego builder,” he said. “Here I am telling them all about the war. I must be important. We get such acclaim these days. You start believing the publicity.”
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Ben Wolfgang is a national reporter for The Washington Times. Before coming to the Times, he spent four years as a political reporter in Pennsylvania. His focus is on education and science policy. Ben lives in southeast D.C. and has played guitar in several bands while still in Pennsylvania. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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