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One last toast: Doolittle Raiders set final ceremony for Nov. 9

Sep. 5, 2013 - 10:53AM   |  
Members of Crew No. 1, 34th Bombardment Squadron, Plane 40 who would later be named the Doolittle Raiders: from left, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, pilot; Lt. Richard E. Cole, copilot; Lt. Henry A. Potter, navigator; Staff Sgt. Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; Staff Sgt. Paul J. Leonard, flight engineer/gunner.
Members of Crew No. 1, 34th Bombardment Squadron, Plane 40 who would later be named the Doolittle Raiders: from left, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, pilot; Lt. Richard E. Cole, copilot; Lt. Henry A. Potter, navigator; Staff Sgt. Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; Staff Sgt. Paul J. Leonard, flight engineer/gunner. (Air Force)
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CINCINNATI — The last of the Doolittle Raiders from World War II will make their final toast together in a Nov. 9 ceremony at the national Air Force museum in southwest Ohio.

An Air Force museum spokesman told The Associated Press on Thursday that all four remaining survivors of the 1942 bombing attack on Japan plan to participate. All are in their 90s.

By tradition, the Raiders reunite each year and toast "those who have gone" from the original 80. They use special silver goblets with engraved names. For years, the plan was for the last two survivors to make the final toast. However, after Maj. Thomas Griffin of Cincinnati died in February at age 96, it was decided to have a final ceremony this year because of the survivors' advancing ages.

The toast ritual grew from reunions led by Lt. Col. James "Jimmy" Doolittle, who commanded the mission credited with helping change the course of the war in the aftermath of Japan's Pearl Harbor attack and a string of Japanese successes in the Pacific region.

"While the attack itself caused little actual damage to the Japanese war industry, the psychological impact on the Japanese military and the American public proved to be immense," retired Lt. Gen. Jack Hudson, the museum director, said in a statement. He said the museum is "deeply honored" to host the final toast.

Expected in Ohio are Lt. Col. Richard Cole of Comfort, Texas; Lt. Col. Edward Saylor of Puyallup, Wash.; Master Sgt. David Thatcher of Missoula, Mont., and Lt. Col. Robert Hite of Nashville, Tenn. Hite has missed reunions in recent years because of health issues, but museum spokesman Rob Bardua said his family plans to make every effort to get him to the ceremony.

Cole will turn 98 on Saturday. He is a native of Dayton and the oldest of the surviving Raiders.

Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning and Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III plan to attend the invitation-only event. There will be public events including a wreath-laying ceremony and a B-25 flyover.

Cole, Saylor and Thatcher reunited in April at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle, where they had trained for their top-secret mission. Last year, the Raiders had a 70th anniversary reunion at the National Museum of the Air Force near Dayton. It included survivors and relatives of the crew of the USS Hornet, the carrier that launched the land-based B-25 bombers for the attack. Survivors and relatives of Chinese villagers who helped Raiders elude Japanese capture also attended.

The 16 planes lacked fuel to reach safe bases after the raid. Three Raiders died off China, three were executed by the Japanese and another died in captivity.

The goblets have names engraved twice, to be read right-side-up for the living, and upside-down for the deceased. The city of Tucson, Ariz., presented the Raiders with the goblets in 1959. Doolittle died in 1993.

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