By Diana Bachert, National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
Seventy-three years ago, 80 men achieved the unimaginable when they took off from an aircraft carrier on a top secret mission to bomb Japan. These men, led by Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, came to be known as the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders.
In recognition of their outstanding heroism, valor, skill and service to the U.S. military service during World War II, the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders will be awarded a Congressional Gold Medal on April 15, by leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate.
The medal, the highest civilian honor that Congress can bestow, will be presented to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force by Raider, Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” E. Cole, during a ceremony at the museum on April 18, the 73rd anniversary of the raid. Raider Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher is also planning to attend.
Today, just three of the men survive: Cole, a co-pilot of Crew No. 1; Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite, a co-pilot of Crew No. 16; and Thatcher, an engineer-gunner of Crew No. 7.
The medal will be on permanent display at the museum following the ceremony as part of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders diorama which features a North American B-25B Mitchell on the simulated deck of the USS Hornet.
Each year since the end of World War II, with the exception of 1951, the Doolittle Raiders have held an annual reunion. The museum had the privilege of hosting the Raiders in April 1965 (23rd), 1999 (57th), 2006 (64th), 2010 (68th) and 2012 (70th) and also hosted Cole, Thatcher and Lt. Col. Edward J. Saylor, during their final toast to their fallen comrades on Nov. 9, 2013.
“Given our mission, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force provides the most appropriate home for the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Congressional Gold Medal,” said retired Lt. Gen. Jack Hudson, the museum director. “It is important to pay tribute to the Doolittle Raiders for uplifting the spirits of all Americans and for their supreme example of courage, professionalism, creativity, leadership and patriotism. Here at the museum, their story will live on to continue to educate and inspire future generations of Airmen and visitors from around the world.”
The raid, which took place April 18, 1942, was an extremely important event in the development of American air power. It marked the first combat use of strategic bombardment by the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II. While the attack itself caused little actual damage to Japanese war industry, the psychological impact on the Japanese military and the American public proved to be immense. It forced the Japanese military to pull forces back from the front lines to protect the home islands and showed Americans that the war could be won. The U.S. Air Force has drawn upon the Doolittle Raiders for inspiration ever since.
In honor of these World War II aviation heroes, the Air Force Museum Theatre will show “The Doolittle Raid: A Mission that Changed the War,” with guest speaker Cindy Chal, daughter of Cole, on April 17 and 18. For more information about the April 15 reception or the shows on April 17 and 18, visit the museum’s website.