Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, one of the last surviving Doolittle Raiders who flew a daring bombing mission over Japan just four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, has died Wednesday near Seattle. He was at age 94.
With Saylor's death, only three of the most storied group of airmen in American history remain. When the young men — all volunteers — took off from an aircraft carrier some 600 miles at sea on April 18, 1942, they numbered 80.
The raid exacted little damage on the intended targets. All of the bombers were lost. But the mission boosted the spirits of the American people — who were still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor — and cast doubt in the minds of the Japanese, Lt. Col. James "Jimmy" Doolittle, the mission planner, would later write in his autobiography.
Saylor was part of Crew 15 that nearly didn't take off from the aircraft carrier Hornet, said Brian Anderson of New Hampshire, a longtime friend who successfully lobbied for the Congressional Gold Medal the surviving Doolittle Raiders are set to receive later this year in a ceremony in Washington, D.C. later this year.
"Ed was a super guy. He had a great smile and was a gentle individual," Anderson said Thursday in a telephone interview with Air Force Times Thursday.
"What a lot of people don't know is that he saved Aaircraft 15 to go on the mission. It had an engine problem. If Ed had not fixed the problem, they would have pushed his B-25 overboard," he said.
Saylor managed to rebuild part of the bomber's engine aboard the heaving aircraft carrier without the tools he needed, Anderson said. "The rest is history. Plane 15 took off with no issues thanks to the work of Ed Saylor."
Saylor was born in 1920 in Brussett, Montana. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1939 after seeing a poster that promised $78 a month as a mechanic and good peacetime pay as the country still recovered from the Great Depression, he told Air Force Times in 2009. He became a flight engineer on the B-25.
When the call went out in early 1942 for volunteers for a secret mission, Saylor signed up. He did not expect that he would one day be called a hero.
In his late 80s, Saylor still did not see himself as such.
"There is no way you can call yourself a hero," he said in 2009. "That is for someone else to say."
After the raid, Saylor transferred to England and accepted a commission, Anderson said. He retired in 1967 after 28 years in the Air Force. In the years that followed, Saylor "dabbled in real estate and construction. He and his wife, Lorraine, had a restaurant."
Lorraine Saylor died in 2011 after 69 years of marriage. They had three children and a host of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
"When given the chance to tell the story, he was always eager. The Doolittle Raiders always had time for people and fans to sign autographs and answer questions," Anderson said. "He was just a very gracious gentleman. I'm just honored I had the chance to call him my friend."
Anderson last saw Saylor over Veteran's Day weekend at an event in Washington, D.C. "I got to spend a lot of time with Ed. It seemed like he was doing fine. I find out he was in hospice and now he's gone."
Saylor died Wednesday morning near Seattle, Anderson said. He'd requested a quiet burial.
"He just wants to be laid to rest next to his wife. He's requesting in lieu of flowers that people make a donation to the Wounded Warrior Foundation," he said.
The three surviving Doolittle raiders are Lt. Col. Richard Cole, Staff Sgt. David Thatcher and Lt. Col. Robert Hite.
"This is the Air Force legacy," Anderson said.
Three of the then-four Doolittle Raiders shared their last and final toast in November 2013 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. From left are Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, Lt. Col. Richard Cole and Staff Sgt. David Thatcher.
Photo Credit: Desiree Palacios/Air Force