Ellsworth Airmen part of Doolittle Raiders final toast

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alystria Maurer
  • 28th Bom Wing Public Affairs
More than a month has passed, but the thrill of sharing a once-in-a-lifetime moment with their heroes has not lowered for two B-1 aviators from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D.

Last month, the pair had the privilege of being with the remaining members of the Doolittle Raid during their final toast at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

"As a young officer I was amazed that I was given this opportunity," said 1st Lt. Arman Olgun, 34th Bomb Squadron B-1 weapons systems operator. "It was unforgettable. I feel that I have to share their story with younger generations that come after me, ensuring that the Doolittle Raiders' legacy continues on."

Ellsworth has a distinct connection with the famed raid on Japan April 18, 1942. The base is home to three of units that conducted the raid - the 34th BS, 37th Bomb Squadron, and the 432nd Attack Squadron.

After attending a reunion in April 2013, Olgun and Maj. Donovan Davis, 28th Operations Support Squadron weapons and tactics assistant director of operations, visited with their unit's forefathers Nov. 8, and became friends with 98-year-old retired Lt. Col. Dick Cole, an aircrew member who participated in the historic flight. They were subsequently personally invited by Cole to the final toast on Nov. 8.

The first event on Nov. 8 with the Raiders was a dinner at the Air Force National Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB, where three of the four remaining Doolittle Raiders -Cole, 98, retired Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, 93, and former Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, 91 - were greeted and welcomed by those in attendance. A fellow Raider, Lt. Col. Robert Hite, 93, was unable to make the trip from his home in Tennessee.

"We were seated right next to them, and were thanked many times throughout the evening for making the trip and being part of the event," Davis said. "Honestly, I would have walked to Ohio just to be able to shake their hands again, it was the highest honor to talk to and spend time with these heroes."

After the dinner, Davis and Olgun were invited to a special event where they met and spoke with the families of the surviving Raiders.

"It was great to see how proud each family member was of their Raider and how they were carrying on the tradition by telling their story," said Davis. "I thought I knew their story pretty well, especially after reading multiple books detailing the Tokyo Raid, so I felt lucky to be in the room to see each of them pile on to each other's stories for hours with details I hadn't read about before."

The next day, both aviators joined the heroes for lunch then proceeded to the National Museum, where more than 10,000 onlookers gathered along the outskirts of the building, carrying U.S. flags as a way of showing their support and appreciation for the Raiders.

"Because we were in close quarters with the Raiders and their family members, I don't think I realized the enormity of the event until I saw the thousands of people who lined the streets just to catch a glimpse of the Raiders as they travelled to the Doolittle memorial in the park outside of the museum." Davis said. "It was inspirational to see the proud people come out to support their heroes from the greatest generation."

The ceremony began with an invocation and the playing of the national anthem, at which point Cole and Saylor stood and saluted the Airman performing.

"I stood there amongst the Raider family members watching the Raiders salute with my hand over my heart, imagining what amazing and honorable lives these men have led," said Davis.

Cole then approached the podium and gave a speech that both Davis and Olgun agreed was one of the most moving speeches they had ever heard. He spoke of the admiration, trust and respect that he and his fellow Raiders had for their leader, Col. Jimmy Doolittle, and how they didn't realize at the time how important their mission was.

Following the wreath-laying ceremony, the aviators attended the final toast inside the museum.

During the final toast, Saylor, Cole and Thatcher opened a bottle of 1896 Hennessy cognac and toasted their fallen comrades.

"Just watching these three legends sit on stage and open that bottle and take a final toast, was a part of history that no one will ever get to experience again," said Olgun. "Words cannot describe the feeling of being there celebrating with them."

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Davis made his way to the stage and presented the Raiders with the 28th Operations Group coin, which displays three of the four original squadrons that participated in the historic mission.

Olgun and Davis were again invited to the reception and after party, allowing more one-on-one time with the Raiders. The Airmen celebrated with their fellow aviators, shared stories of their combat missions and Cole even gave Davis' young pregnant wife, Aleisha, some parenting advice.

"Imagine spending a weekend with your heroes," said Davis. "That's what it was like. Spending time with the Doolittle Raiders in April and again for their final toast in November is something that I'll never forget."