Raiders toast comrades one last time

Jennifer Byrd


The Doolittle Raiders raised their goblets for a final toast to fallen comrades on Nov. 9 during a ceremony at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

Rowdy Raider, RSC’s bomber-jacket-wearing mascot, was created in honor of the Doolittle Raiders, a band of 80 U.S. Air Force servicemen who journeyed across the Pacific Ocean in April 1942 with their leader, Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle, to exact revenge for the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The men volunteered for a “dangerous mission,” but none of them knew what the mission was. En route on the USS Hornet, Doolittle explained that they would bomb Tokyo by taking off from the aircraft carrier, an unprecedented task. The Raiders then had to land in Japanese-occupied China, and make it to a secure rendezvous point.

Major General Doolittle, his Raiders and Some Chinese friends in China after the U.S. Bomber attack on Japan in 1942

Major General Doolittle, his Tokyo Raiders and some Chinese friends in China after the U.S. bomber attack on Japan in April 1942. Photo courtesy of United States Military

The Raider Legacy

Dean Fisher, vice president of student affairs and enrollment, has studied the history of the Doolittle Raiders and said he respects their tenacity. “It  was an outlandish plan to launch bombers off an aircraft carrier,” he said. “We (the U.S.) had been attacked viciously, and we wanted to do something about it.”

When the Raiders embarked on their mission, American spirits were low. Along with the Pearl Harbor attack, Guam had been captured, Wake Island had fallen into enemy hands and the Philippines were under heavy attack by the Japanese.

Three men died and eight were captured during the mission, but the Raiders successfully bombed five Japanese cities, boosting American morale and changing the tides of War World II in the Pacific.

“Air power, the Raiders showed us the way,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said during the ceremony. “They pioneered the concept of a global strike, the idea that no target on earth is safe from American air power.”

The Toast’s History

Fulfilling his promise to give the Raiders “the biggest party they ever saw,” Doolittle hosted a party in 1945 for completing the dangerous mission. That was the beginning of annual reunions.

In 1956, a representative of the Hennessey Company gave Doolittle a one-of-a-kind bottle of cognac from 1896, the year he was born. Doolittle never opened it though, requesting it be reserved until the final toast.

In 1959, a Tucson businessman commissioned 80 sterling-silver goblets to be engraved with each Raider’s name. Every year since, the Raiders have met for a cognac toast with silver goblets to honor those lost during the year. SurvivngRaider

The Last Chapter

Three of the four living Raiders attended the final toast: Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, Lt. Col. Edward J. Saylor, and Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher. Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite viewed the ceremony via a live stream.

At toast time, it appeared the 1896 bottle of cognac had much in common with Doolittle and his Raiders. While struggling to open it during the ceremony, Cole laughed and said, “This is a tough one.”

After a little help, the goblets were filled, and Cole spoke the legendary words for the last time: “Gentlemen, I propose a toast. To those we lost on the mission and to those that have passed away since, thank you very much and may they rest in peace.”

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