DAYTON, Ohio – The few surviving Doolittle Raiders are making their final toast to comrades who died in or since their World War II bombing attack on Japan.
The toast grew from reunions led by James “Jimmy” Doolittle, who commanded the daring mission credited with boosting American morale and throwing the Japanese off balance after a string of military successes.
Officials at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton say more than 600 people, including Air Force leaders and Raiders widows and children, planned to attend the invitation-only ceremony Saturday evening. Also expected were relatives of Chinese villagers who helped Raiders elude capture.
After Thomas Griffin of Cincinnati died in February at age 96, the survivors decided they would gather this autumn for one last toast together. Only four of the 80 Raiders are still alive, and one wasn’t able to travel because of his health.
Raiders expected to attend were Richard Cole, Doolittle’s co-pilot, of Comfort, Texas; David Thatcher of Missoula, Mont., and Edward Saylor of Puyallup, Wash.
Fourth surviving Raider, Robert Hite, 93, won’t make it but his son and other family members from Nashville, Tenn., planned to be there. Hite is the last alive of eight Raiders who were captured by Japanese soldiers. Three were executed; another died in captivity.
The goblets, presented to the Raiders in 1959 by the city of Tucson, Ariz., have the Raiders’ names engraved twice, the second upside-down. During the ceremony, white-gloved cadets pour cognac into the participants’ goblets. Those of the deceased are turned upside-down.
The cognac will be from 1896, Doolittle’s birth year.
The Air Force planned to live-stream the traditionally closed ceremony.
Many more people were expected to greet the Raiders at public events Saturday and see a B-25 bomber flyover.