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Ellsworth aviators partake in final Doolittle Raid reunion

The past and Present Doolittle Raiders pose for a photo during a reception, April 19, 2013. (Left top) 1st Lt. Arman Olgun, Maj. Donavon Davis, Lt. Col. John Martin, (bottom left) David Thatcher, Dick Cole and Ed Saylor. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Carlin Leslie)

The past and Present Doolittle Raiders pose for a photo during a reception, April 19, 2013. Top left, U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Arman Olgun, Maj. Donavon Davis, Lt. Col. John Martin, bottom left, David Thatcher, Dick Cole and Ed Saylor. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Carlin Leslie/Released)

(Left to right) Lt. Col. John Martin, 28th Operations Group deputy commander, Lt. Col. Dick Cole, retired, Doolittle Raider co-pilot crew 1, Maj. Donavon Davis, 34th Bomb Squadron and 1st Lt. Arman Olgun, 34th Bomb Squadron, pose for a photo during a reception, April 19, 2013. Martin, Davis and Arman are from Ellsworth Air Force Base, SD and are part of the present Doolittle Raiders. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Carlin Leslie)

Left to right, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. John Martin, 28th Operations Group deputy commander, Lt. Col. Dick Cole, retired, Doolittle Raider co-pilot crew 1, Maj. Donavon Davis, 34th Bomb Squadron and 1st Lt. Arman Olgun, 34th Bomb Squadron, pose for a photo during a reception, April 19, 2013. Martin, Davis and Arman are from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., and are part of the present Doolittle Raiders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Carlin Leslie/Released)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- It has been nearly a month since three Ellsworth aviators traveled to Fort Walton Beach, Fla., to share a historic moment with the surviving members of the Doolittle Raid, but the memories forever engrained in their minds are as vivid as if they just occurred.

The trio arrived April 18, eager to celebrate the final reunion of their unit's forefathers - Ellsworth is now home to three of the four original squadrons that participated in the historic mission.

"The turn out of the event made me realize just how big of a deal it was," said 1st Lt. Arman Olgun, 34th Bomb Squadron officer in charge of ground scheduling. "The line to meet the Raiders was wrapped around the inside of the entire Air Force Armament Museum."

Olgun, who was accompanied by Lt. Col. John Martin, 28th Operations Group deputy commander, and Maj. Donavon Davis, 28th Operations Support Squadron assistant director of operations, said due to the large number of people in attendance, their first encounter with three of the four remaining Doolittle Raiders - retired Lt. Cols. Richard Cole, 97, Edward Saylor, 93, and former Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, 91 - was brief, but memorable.

"We were only able to talk to them for a couple minutes and get some memorabilia autographed," Olgun said. "I wasn't too upset since we were attending a reception with them later in the evening. Eventually, when we got to the reception, we found out people ranging from local and state elected officials to retired general officers would be joining us in celebrating the reunion."

Davis emphasized it was a distinct privilege to meet the Raiders, adding that their innovation and courage gave confidence to our nation and put the enemy on their heels.

"I just wanted to shake their hands and personally thank them for what they did," said Davis. "These gentlemen turned the tides of World War II and inspired future generations of warfighters."

When the Raiders arrived, they were greeted with a warm welcome and proceeded to sit and enjoy their dinner, Olgun explained.

"We took some time to talk and get to know everyone," said Olgun. "As the night went on, we had the awesome opportunity to present our squadron patches to the Raiders. They expressed their appreciation for us, which was humbling."

He added that he and his fellow aviators also exchanged war stories. Olgun, Martin and Davis have flown combat missions as part of the nation's war on terror. The trio agreed that hearing the Raiders tell their own stories was quite moving.

"It was cool to hear the stories I read about in books come directly from the mouths of those who lived it," said Olgun.

The next day, the Ellsworth aviators spent the afternoon touring a B-25 Mitchell - the same type of aircraft used during the infamous raid - with the Raiders at Destin Airport, Fla.

Olgun said it was a remarkable feeling to watch Cole fire up the aircraft, dubbed Special Delivery. He added that he could imagine him doing the same thing on April 18, 1942 aboard the USS Hornet.

After taking time for a few photos and touring the aircraft, the trio was hit with an announcement they could never imagine receiving: they would be aboard the B-25 above the parade, not riding in a car as part of it.

"Truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," explained Olgun. "Being in a WWII era plane is something that I never thought I would experience. Just sitting in it made me appreciate the work that these men did. We flew over the parade, knowing that the Doolittle Raiders in attendance were down by the parade looking up at their aircraft. That was one of the most inspirational and touching moments of my life."

Just as they thought the event could not get any better, Davis and his fellow aviators received a special invite to attend the Raiders' Farewell Banquet.

Those who attended recalled every aspect of the raid, from the planning stage to the execution of the raid itself.

"When they turned down the lights, glasses of Hennessy were passed out to everyone in attendance," noted Davis. "At the end, a spotlight was turned on Cole who gave the final toast."

Olgun said that the entire reunion was inspirational, adding that he feels lucky to have had such an amazing experience early in his career.

"I am so grateful," Olgun said. "These men, alive and deceased, are legends. It is an incredible feeling to have touched these gentlemen's lives as they have touched all of ours. It was a true honor to be a part of this event that will forever live in my memory."