Wright-Patterson, NMUSAF pay tribute to Doolittle Raid 75th Anniversary

Friends, family and fans from around the country came together to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Tokyo Raid April 17-18 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. The April 18, 1942 Doolittle Raid on Tokyo was an important event in the development of American air power as it was the first combat use of strategic bombardment by the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II.

Led by Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle, the Raiders consisted of 16 B-25 bombers and 80 Airmen, all volunteers from the 17th Bombardment Group (Medium). They bombed military targets in five Japanese cities, causing only minimal physical damage, but huge psychological damage to Japanese military leaders and civilians, according to historians. The actions of the Raiders forced Japanese combat units to withdraw from the frontline to defend their homeland and cast doubt upon the ability of Japan’s military leadership. It became a huge psychological boost for the American people.

Of the 80 Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, more than half survived WWII. Three lost their lives when their aircraft crashed during the raid, three were executed, and one died as a POW. Twelve more Raiders died during WWII, with 10 of them killed in action.

Early Air Force pioneers like the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders represent a generation of proud Americans who saw the United States through one of the most difficult times in its history. The Raiders represent the spirit of creativity and innovation, progressively growing the service into the modern day Air Force of today, according to Dr. Doug Lantry, NMUSAF Historian.

The two-day tribute began the morning of April 17 with 11 B-25 aircraft arriving from around the country and being placed on static display on the grounds of the museum for public viewing. The event continued on the Wright-Patterson flight line as two B-1B Lancer aircraft from the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth AFB, South Dakota were positioned on static display outside the base operations building for a nose art unveiling ceremony and christening of one of the aircraft as the “Ruptured Duck” – in honor of one of the B-25B aircraft that took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet during the Doolittle Raid.   

On the morning of the second day of the event, Lt. Col. Cole was joined by members of his family, members of the Thatcher family, honorary Raiders and senior AF leaders for a private Goblet turnover ceremony in the Arnold Room of the museum where Cole turned over Thatcher’s goblet in honor of his fellow Airman who passed away June 22, 2016.

“The Raiders never felt like they were any more important than the other WWII personnel. They were amazed to be singled out and treated with such honor. They never looked at the mission as any type of a one-way, or suicide mission,” said Cindy Chal, Cole’s daughter.

Later that afternoon, friends and family members, as well as thousands of spectators, gathered at the museum’s Memorial Park to honor the 79 members of the original Raiders who had passed.  The B-25s performed two flyovers prior to the start of the service, one in the mission man formation.  Guest speakers included Gen. David L. Goldfein, Air Force Chief of Staff, Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, now 101, and the only remaining survivor of the original 80 Doolittle Raiders who flew as Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot, Jeff Thatcher, son of former Doolittle Tokyo Raider, Staff Sgt. David Thatcher; and National Museum of the United States Air Force Director, retired Lt. Gen. Jack Hudson.

"Today we observe the 75th anniversary of a mission that electrified our nation and raised its morale during a time of dire need. A mission consisting of 80 volunteer Airmen - enlisted men and officers alike, led by Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle, a man small in physical stature, but a giant in terms of leadership and courage. A mission known as Special Aviation Project Number One, the first major Joint operation since the Civil War,” said Thatcher during the ceremony.

At the conclusion of the memorial service, two B-1 bombers flew over Memorial Park at a speed of 0.9 Mach and ascended into an unrestricted climb as a tribute to the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, who pioneered the concept of Global Strike, the idea that no target on earth is safe from American airpower.