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Final toast to WWII Doolittle Raiders

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WWII Doolittle Raiders Gather At Weekend Ceremony

DAYTON, Ohio (AP) - Known as the Doolittle Raiders, the 80 men who risked their lives on a World War II bombing mission on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor were toasted one last time by their surviving comrades and honored with a Veterans Day weekend of fanfare shared by thousands.

Three of the four surviving Raiders attended the toast Saturday at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Their late commander, Lt. Gen. James "Jimmy" Doolittle, started the tradition but they decided this autumn's ceremony would be their last.

"May they rest in peace," Lt. Col. Richard Cole, 98, said before he and fellow Raiders - Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, 93, and Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, 92 - sipped cognac from specially engraved silver goblets. The 1896 cognac was saved for the occasion after being passed down from Doolittle.

Hundreds invited to the ceremony, including family members of deceased Raiders, watched as the three each called out "here" as a historian read the names of all 80 of the original airmen.

The fourth surviving Raider, Lt. Col. Robert Hite, 93, couldn't travel to Ohio because of health problems.

But son Wallace Hite said his father, wearing a Raiders blazer and other traditional garb for their reunions, made his own salute to the fallen with a silver goblet of wine at home in Nashville, Tenn., earlier in the week.

Hite is the last survivor of eight Raiders who were captured by Japanese soldiers. Three were executed; another died in captivity.

A B-25 bomber flyover helped cap an afternoon memorial tribute in which a wreath was placed at the Doolittle Raider monument outside the museum. Museum officials estimated some 10,000 people turned out for Veterans Day weekend events honoring the 1942 mission credited with rallying American morale and throwing the Japanese off balance.

Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said America was at a low point, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other Axis successes, before "these 80 men who showed the nation that we were nowhere near defeat." He noted that all volunteered for a mission with high risks throughout, from the launch of B-25 bombers from a carrier at sea, the attack on Tokyo, and lack of fuel to reach safe bases.

The Raiders have said they didn't realize at the time that their mission would be considered an important event in turning the war's tide. It inflicted little major damage physically, but changed Japanese strategy while firing up Americans.

"It was what you do ... over time, we've been told what effect our raid had on the war and the morale of the people," Saylor said in an interview.

The Brussett, Mont., native who now lives in Puyallup, Wash., said he was one of the lucky ones.

"There were a whole bunch of guys in World War II; a lot of people didn't come back," he said.

Thatcher, of Missoula, Mont., said the raid just seemed like "one of many bombing missions" during the war. The most harrowing part for him was the crash landing of his plane, depicted in the movie "Thirty Seconds over Tokyo."

Cole, of Comfort, Texas, was Doolittle's co-pilot that day. Three crew members died as Raiders bailed out or crash-landed their planes in China, but most were helped to safety by Chinese villagers and soldiers.

Cole, Saylor and Thatcher were greeted Saturday by flag-waving well-wishers ranging from small children to fellow war veterans. Twelve-year-old Joseph John Castellano's grandparents brought him from their Dayton home.

"This was Tokyo. The odds of their survival were one in a million," the boy said. "I just felt like I owe them a few short hours of the thousands of hours I will be on Earth."

Organizers said more than 600 people, including descendants of Chinese villagers who helped the Raiders and Pearl Harbor survivors, were invited to the final-toast ceremony.

The 80 silver goblets in the ceremony were presented to the Raiders in 1959 by the city of Tucson, Ariz. The Raiders' names are engraved twice, the second upside-down. During the ceremony, white-gloved cadets presented each of the three with their personal goblets and their longtime manager poured the cognac. The deceased's glasses are turned upside-down.

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grannypants32 November 11 2013 at 10:50 AM

My grandfather was a Doolittle. To my understanding. It was a Doolittle tredition to have a Family reunion. as all the Doolittle in the US are related. I know my Unckle and Brother went to at least one of the reunions in Lorain, Ohio. If there any Doolittles reading this, please let me know.

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ckevinbaldwin November 11 2013 at 11:08 AM

Imagine 80 men volunteering for a mission with little to no hope of coming back . .. they don't make men like this anymore . . . .

Wish there would have been some pictures and with all of the reality TV BS . . . why couldn't this have been covered by the History Channel or A&E? The last call would have been a great event to see.

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1 reply
Greenmmgten ckevinbaldwin November 11 2013 at 11:29 AM

Great comment Kevin.
That would have been great if they did, but they had a lot of great Veterans tribute's and movie's during the
weekend. I always feel humbled by their great courage every time I watch it.

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dlabram53 November 11 2013 at 11:09 AM

I am 60 years old and have been a military aviation history buff as long as I can remember. The very first book I can remember reading was "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" by Captain Ted Lawson. I was in the fourth or fifth grade and I could not put it down until I was finished. Since then that great crew has held a special place in my heart. Outside of my Dad, they were my first heros. It brings tears to my eyes knowing that their very special reunions are now over. I hope America does not forget these very special men!

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grizjm November 11 2013 at 11:09 AM

To the Raiders and all of my fellow veterans, those past, those now and for those to carry on our traditions, I and we sulute each and everyone of you. God Bless.

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extet November 11 2013 at 11:10 AM

These men are the blood and guts of our country.

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wntmoretime November 11 2013 at 11:10 AM

Thank you to all who have served our Country valiantly and to those who lost their lives in the effort you are not forgotten...

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robertaflyme November 11 2013 at 11:12 AM

God Bless these men and all the men who served our country so bravely!

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lylenpat November 11 2013 at 11:13 AM

My hat is off and I salute them all. The bravest of the brave did what was unexpected, but did the expected. Honored their country and sacrified themselves to rally our country in the face of dispair. Long live the Raiders. Hoooorah

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Toprecruiter318 November 11 2013 at 11:19 AM

These men are TRUE AMERICAN HEROES!

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sjesup1 November 11 2013 at 11:07 AM

We all can complain about how things are now and how they should have been. Mistakes, poor judgement, selfishness and self-serving purpose are some of the accusations for the condition we find ourselves in today. But folks, please! Lets save the negative comments for another day. Lets not allow them to over-shadow the sacrifices of our fallen and unfallen brothers and sisters. Lets at least try to honor their sacrifice by honoring this day. Semper Fi.

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1 reply
mercedes71515 sjesup1 November 11 2013 at 11:32 AM

Well said! If only we could learn to stand together all the time.... not just in times of war. When I think of men like these, Im am so very proud to be an American!

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