16 B-25s Go To Tokyo

Posted: Monday, April 18, 2016 by Travis Cody in

On 18 April 1942, 74 years ago today, Lt Col Jimmy Doolittle led 16 B-25 Mitchell medium bombers off the carrier deck of USS Hornet in a raid against Tokyo.  Although damage was modest, the impact on American morale was immense.

When I was blogging regularly, I re-posted my commemoration to honor the men who flew those bombers to Tokyo to prove that the Japanese homeland was vulnerable, and to give the US a morale boost after a series of devastating defeats in the Pacific to mark its entry into World War II.  You can read my post from 2013 here.  

When I made that post, there were only four surviving Raiders.  At each reunion, the surviving crew members performed a roll call and then drank a toast to the Raiders who passed since they last met.  Each man has a special silver goblet engraved with his name.  The goblets of those Raiders who have passed are turned down.

A final toast was to be between the last two surviving Raiders, with a bottle of vintage Hennessy cognac from the year of Colonel Doolittle's birth, 1896.  The bottle and the goblets have traveled to each reunion since 1960.

On 9 November 2013, at the National Museum of the US Air Force near Dayton OH, the four surviving Raiders made the Final Toast, knowing that this would be the last time they would be able to travel.  They saluted their brothers who have passed before them, and declared the mission over.  The goblets remain on display at the museum.

And now only two surviving Raiders remain.

  • Sgt Edward J Saylor was born 15 March 1920.  He was a flight engineer and gunner on aircraft 15.  He retired from the Air Force in 1967 as a Lt Colonel.  He passed on 28 January 2015, just a few weeks short of his 95th birthday.
  • Lt Robert L Hite was born 3 March 1920.  He was co-pilot on aircraft 16 and survived his war in a Japanese POW camp.  After leaving the service at the end of the war, he returned to active duty in 1951.  He left the Air Force finally in 1955 as a Lt Colonel.  He passed on 29 March 2015 at the age of 95.
  • Lt Richard E Cole (born 7 Sept 1915) turned 100 last year.  He was co-pilot on Doolittle's aircraft.
  • Sgt David J Thatcher (born 31 July 1921) turns 95 this summer.  He was a flight engineer and gunner on aircraft 7.

On 15 April 2015, the Doolittle Raiders were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for "outstanding heroism, valor, skill, and service to the United States". 

It is the nature of time that they leave us.  One day, all the goblets will be turned down.  The deed will live on as we choose to remember it.

Gentlemen, you have my profound gratitude for your service and your sacrifice.

Let me also recognize the 57 US Army maintenance crew, without whom the planes could not have been properly prepared to succeed.

And lest we forget...the crews of USS Hornet, USS Enterprise, and Task Force 18 cruised into harm's way with the precious tonnage of an American Navy still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor just a few short months before.

I also recognize the Chinese citizens who assisted the Raiders, at great personal risk.  I thank those people for their courage and sacrifice.


  1. I guess when you've been hit hard, hitting back feels pretty good.

  1. Anonymous says:

    The photo of the four remaining soldiers is quite a ditnified image. I have alwqys enjoyed your military/historical posts.

  1. Anonymous says:

    That should say *dignified*.

  1. As A Member of the USAF (1971-1974) I am honored to say I walk in their footsteps as well as my Late Dad who wus USAAF as well and ended his service as part of the Occupational forces in Japan at the end of the war.