DAYTON, Ohio — Doolittle’s Tokyo Raid left a legacy of bravery that, even 70 years later, continues to inspire.
Four of the five surviving Raiders, reunited this week at the National Museum of the United States Air Force for the 70th anniversary celebration of the famous April 18, 1942, mission, are giving younger Americans an up-close-and-personal look at what heroes look like.
“It’s inspiring. I just don’t feel like people know enough about it,” said Joe Sattler, a 15-year-old high school student from Dayton. Joe’s grandfather, Thomas Klepper, served in the Air Force in the 1950s and 1960s, and his stories inspired his grandson to learn more about the Doolittle Raid and other milestones in U.S. military history.
“It’s often taught as a side story” in school, Joe said. “But it’s an important one. It’s fascinating to me.”
Dozens of young people, from elementary students to high school seniors, attended Thursday’s events, which included private autograph sessions with the Raiders in attendance: Richard E. Cole, Edward J. Saylor, Thomas C. Griffin and David J. Thatcher. The fifth survivor, Robert L. Hite, 92, was too ill to make the trip to Dayton.
The Air Force museum, located on the grounds of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, was packed again as fellow veterans, history lovers, members of the media and hundreds of others descended on Dayton to catch a glimpse of living history.
“We’re coming back [Friday] for an autograph session with the Raiders,” said Geoff Gallant, who brought his Boy Scout troop all the way from Billerica, Mass., for the reunion. The raid “is an important part of our history. It was a turning point in [World War II].”
Led by then-Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, the mission did little damage to Japanese infrastructure, but dealt a stunning psychological blow to that nation’s people, who had been told by political and military leaders that their island could never be bombed.
The 80 Raiders, divided into crews of five men on 16 planes, risked their lives to shatter that notion, and to boost the sagging morale of the American people, who had been waiting more than four months for a response to the brazen attack on Pearl Harbor.
The Raiders never expected the mission, which they considered just another job they had been chosen to do, to make them legends. In a brief address Wednesday, Mr. Cole, 96, the co-pilot of the first B-25 bomber off the deck of the USS Hornet, said he had “no realization of the positive effect” the raid had until years later.
While they now accept the spotlight and regularly accept invitations to speak about the mission, the surviving Raiders, to those who know them best, remain humble.
“He’s such a great inspiration, such a down-to-earth guy,” said Steve Murray, speaking of survivor Mr. Griffin, 95. The two men are both members of Cincinnati’s VFW Post 10380.
To help keep the legacy alive, the American Veterans Center last year began giving out an annual Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Award, the first of which went to Air Force Gen. B. Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Jim Roberts, the Veterans Center president, said the award is an opportunity to honor brave military men like Gen. Myers and to keep the Doolittle story alive in the minds of the American people.
“People just have a natural affinity for the Doolittle Raiders. It’s amazing,” Mr. Roberts said. “This award is going to go on for years after they’ve gone, and we feel honored and privileged by that.”