DAYTON - The last of the Doolittle Raiders, all in their 90's, offered a final toast today to their fallen comrades, as they pondered their place in history after a day of fanfare about their 1942 attack on Japan.
"May they rest in peace," Lt. Col. Richard Cole, 98, said before the three Raiders present sipped an 1896 cognac from specially engraved silver goblets. The cognac was saved for the occasion after being passed down from their late commander, Lt. Gen. James "Jimmy" Dolittle, who was born in 1896.
In a ceremony this evening at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, hundreds of people including family members of deceased Raiders watched as the three Raiders each called out "here" as a historian read the names of all 80 of the original airmen.
A B-25 bomber flyover helped cap an afternoon memorial tribute in which a wreath was placed at the Doolittle Raider monument outside the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton. Museum officials estimated some 10,000 people turned out for Veterans Day weekend events honoring the 1942 mission credited with rallying American morale and throwing the Japanese off balance.
Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said America was at a low point, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and other Axis successes, before "these 80 men who showed the nation that we were nowhere near defeat." He noted that all volunteered for a mission with high risks throughout, from the launch of B-25 bombers from a carrier at sea, the attack on Tokyo, and lack of fuel to reach safe bases.
Only four of the 80 are still alive. The Raiders said, at the time, they didn't realize their mission would be considered an important event in turning the war's tide. It inflicted little major damage physically, but changed Japanese strategy while firing up Americans.
"It was what you do ... over time, we've been told what effect our raid had on the war and the morale of the people," Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, 93, said in an interview.