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Doolittle Raider and WWII hero Thomas Griffin dies; four survivors of historic mission remain

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Maj. Thomas Griffin, a navigator during the historic Doolittle Raid of World War II who later survived nearly two years in a Nazi prison camp, died Tuesday at a Veterans Administration nursing home in Cincinnati. He was 96 and is survived by two sons.

Mr. Griffin was one of 80 men who volunteered for the bombing run on mainland Japan just four months after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. It's credited for helping to boost American morale when it was at its lowest point.

Mr. Griffin's passing leaves just four survivors of the mission: Edward Saylor, Richard Cole, Robert Hite and David Thatcher. The five men were profiled by The Washington Times last year, the 70th anniversary of the famous mission.

The raid was planned and carried out in extreme secrecy. Mr. Griffin and his fellow Raiders understood that it was possible, even likely, that some of them wouldn't make it back.

Despite that, Mr. Griffin said the risks were well worth it.

"It was the beginning of the end for them," he said of the effect on the psyche of the Japanese military and public, which had been told their country could never be attacked.

"It gave the initial warning to them that we were coming, and they had more than they could handle," he said.

In the years since the mission, the surviving Raiders have reunited each April 18. Last year, Mr. Griffin joined three of them — Mr. Hite was too ill to attend — at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, as part of a dazzling 70th anniversary celebration that drew thousands of friends, family, military veterans and others who wished to honor the brave men.

Before dying in 1993, Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle, who led the raid and flew the first of 16 B-25 bombers that took off from a Navy aircraft carrier, gave the surviving Raiders a bottle of Hennessy Very Special Cognac.

The bottle is to be opened by the final two living Raiders.

While the Raiders found fame and recognition for their bombing of Japan, some of Mr. Griffin's most trying moments came years later. His plane was shot down in 1943 and he was taken captive by the Nazis. He remained in Germany until being freed by Allied forces in 1945.

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