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“I guess it calmed my nerves a little. Whiskey will do that to you,” he said. “That was the only time I ever drank on duty, and nobody cared.”

Avoiding capture, staying alive

For the 80 Raiders, the most harrowing and memorable experiences came in the hours, days, weeks and months after the bombing run had ended. One raider died while bailing out from his plane. Two drowned in the waters off the China coast. Another crew crash-landed in the Soviet Union.

Eight raiders — including 92-year-old survivor Robert L. Hite, co-pilot on plane No. 16 — were captured by Japanese forces. Three of those men were executed by firing squad, and another died of malnutrition.

“They treated us pretty rough,” Mr. Hite said of his time in captivity. “We were in solitary confinement. Each person was in a cell by himself. We couldn’t speak to one another. We didn’t know for sure what would happen. Then they condemned us all to death.”

Mr. Hite and his three comrades avoided that fate, surviving more than three years in the Japanese prison before eventually being liberated by Allied forces as the war came to a close.

Mr. Cole’s crew members made it into China and were rescued. Mr. Griffin and the rest of the crew on plane No. 9 safely bailed out over China.

Mr. Thatcher pulled his four fellow crew members from the wreckage of plane No. 7, which had come to rest in waist-deep water. He spent the night bandaging the other men, all of whom had suffered cuts, gashes and other minor injuries. He later was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in the line of duty.

Each of the 80 men received the Distinguished Flying Cross for their parts in the raid. Doolittle, eventually promoted to the rank of general, was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Due recognition

Yet the Raiders received little credit during the immediate aftermath of the mission.

“There was no victory parade or bond drive, or effort to capture all of them together and have a public display,” Mr. Anderegg said. “There was a war on, and they had their jobs to do. Reading the press releases [about the mission] was probably not high on their list of things to do.”

Confirmation of the daring raid first leaked out not from American press accounts but via Japanese newspapers. Many American media outlets on April 18 reported that the raid had taken place but that it had not yet been confirmed by either political or military leaders. The location from which the Raiders launched was shrouded in mystery, and FDR, questioned by reporters three days later, refused to shed light on the situation.

The war raged on for another three years, and it was only after it ended, in 1946, that the survivors began their annual reunion ceremony. Mr. Hite, Mr. Thatcher, Mr. Griffin, Mr. Cole and Mr. Saylor will gather next week in Dayton, Ohio, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for the events marking the 70th anniversary of the raid. It’s expected to be the last time the five men will come together.

On display at the base, which houses the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, are 80 goblets, one representing each Raider, and a bottle of Hennessy Very Special Cognac, a gift from Doolittle to be opened by the final two living Raiders.

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