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Thousands honor Doolittle Raiders at the 67th Reunion
A 467-foot ribbon commemorating the take-off distance the Doolittle Raiders had on the USS Hornet, leads from a hangar door to a B-1 Lancer. It was part of the celebration at Columbia Metro Airport in Columbia, S.C., during the 67th Doolittle Raider Reunion. The 34th Bomb Squadron bomber was flown in from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Senior Airman William Coleman)
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Thousands honor Doolittle Raiders at the 67th Reunion

Posted 4/20/2009   Updated 4/20/2009 Email story   Print story


by by Navy Lt. Jennifer Cragg
Defense Media Activity

4/20/2009 - WASHINGTON (AFNS)  -- Thousands of people, young and old, gathered to honor five of the nine surviving Doolittle Raiders at the 67th Reunion in Columbia, S.C., April 16 to 18.

On April 18, 1942, the Doolittle Raiders, led by then-Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, became the first to bombard Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"Early on, everybody thought leaving the flight deck of the carrier was the biggest challenge of the trip," said retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, Colonel Doolittle's co-pilot. "As it turned out, it was the easiest thing, and I had a special advantage because I was sitting next to the best pilot in the world. I admire all of the guys; I especially admire the man I was sitting next to, a fine man and a great pilot."

Colonel Cole grew up idolizing Jimmy Doolittle and as a teenager watched him conducting flight testing. He was amazed at his luck to fly with his hero.

"I was amazed, dumbfounded and proud," said Colonel Cole. "I was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio where they had the first test base. I used to watch Colonel Doolittle."

Colonel Cole said that he doesn't consider himself a hero and was "just doing my job."

Of the thousands who gathered during the three-day event, many came to pay their respects for the raiders' symbolic act that took place only a few months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Some of the attendees commented that this would probably be the last time the raiders would participate in a reunion in Columbia. Previous reunions of the Doolittle Raiders in Columbia were organized by members of the Celebrate Freedom Foundation.

Ken Breivik, public affairs director for the Celebrate Freedom Foundation, who coordinated both the Doolittle Raiders' 67th "Where Victory Began" reunion, as well as the group's 60th reunion said, "We consider Columbia the home of the Doolittle Raiders."

To pay tribute to the raiders, a visible reminder of the length of the USS Hornet's flight deck was displayed from the doors of Columbia's Aeronautics Commission Hangar adjacent to an Air Force B-1 Lancer bomber, which displayed the official Doolittle Raider crest. The crest reads "Toujours au Danger" or "Always into Danger."

As hundreds of spectators gathered at the hangar April 17, four Doolittle Raiders -- Colonel Cole, retired Maj. Thomas C. Griffin, retired Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite and retired Lt. Col. Edward Saylor -- and retired Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher passed the official Doolittle Raider crest to the aircrew of the 34th Bomb Squadron's flagship B-1.

Participating in the official passing of the crest was Brig Gen. James Kowalski, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command (Provisional), who commented on the respect that these men receive.

"President Kennedy was quoted as saying that you can tell the character of the nation not only by the men that it produces, but by the men that it honors," said General Kowalski.

For the raid 67 years ago, the Doolittle Raiders were drawn from the World War II version of the 95th, 34th, 37th and the 89th reconnaissance squadrons of the 17th Bomb Group.

Col. Buck Shawhan, 28th Operations Group commander at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., oversees the present-day 34th and the 37th bomb squadrons.

"As Airmen, we understand the significance of the original acts the Doolittle Raiders performed in World War II," said Colonel Shawhan, "and the original Doolittle Raiders were the first airmen to strike against Japan in World War II, flying their B-25 in a surprise attack against Japanese mainland."

He said while it was a different time and era, he is awed by their ability to carry out such a bold raid 67 years ago.

"When they took off, they had no idea they would ever see their families again," said Colonel Shawhan. "They had no idea what kind of impact they would have."

He said this sneak attack had a substantial impact strategically on Japan's defenses and was an uplifting moment in U.S. history.

"Zoom forward to the future, 2001, after 9/11, when the United States was attacked, people were ... wondering about our ability to defend ourselves," said Colonel Shawhan.

He added that the modern-day Doolittle Raiders were one of the first to attack against the Taliban in Afghanistan a month after Sept. 11.

U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet Helen "Meg" Wildner, granddaughter of Doolittle Raider Lt. Carl Wildner, navigator on the second B-25, will graduate from the Academy in 2010. She reflected on the importance of the raid.

"Personally, the Doolitte Raid is definitely important to our history," she said. "It was a huge morale boost. Even after Pearl Harbor, it was an encouraging fact that we could stand up for ourselves and persevere.

"When you talk to the Doolittle Raiders, they don't necessarily consider themselves these huge heroes; they were just doing their jobs," said Cadet Wildner.

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