It’s the cup of brandy that no one wants to drink.
On Tuesday, in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, the surviving
Doolittle Raiders gathered publicly for the last time.
They once were among the most universally admired and revered men
in the United States. There were 80 of the Raiders in April 1942,
when they carried out one of the most courageous and
heart-stirring military operations in this nation’s history. The
mere mention of their unit’s name, in those years, would bring
tears to the eyes of grateful Americans.
Now only four survive.
After Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, with the United
States reeling and wounded, something dramatic was needed to turn
the war effort around.
Even though there were no friendly airfields close enough to
Japan for the United States to launch a retaliation, a daring
plan was devised. Sixteen B-25s were modified so that they could
take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier. This had never
before been tried—sending such big, heavy bombers from a
The 16 five-man crews, under the command of Lt. Col. James
Doolittle, who himself flew the lead plane off the USS Hornet,
knew that they would not be able to return to the carrier. They
would have to hit Japan and then hope to make it to China for a
But on the day of the raid, the Japanese military caught wind of
the plan. The Raiders were told that they would have to take off
from much farther out in the Pacific Ocean than they had counted
on. They were told that because of this they would not have
enough fuel to make it to safety.
And those men went anyway.
They bombed Tokyo, and then flew as far as they could. Four
planes crash-landed; 11 more crews bailed out, and three of the
Raiders died. Eight more were captured; three were executed.
Another died of starvation in a Japanese prison camp. One crew
made it to Russia.
The Doolittle Raid sent a message from the United States to its
enemies, and to the rest of the world: We will fight. And, no
matter what it takes, we will win.
Of the 80 Raiders, 62 survived the war. They were celebrated as
national heroes, models of bravery. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced
a motion picture based on the raid; “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,”
starring Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson, was a patriotic and
emotional box-office hit, and the phrase became part of the
national lexicon. In the movie-theater previews for the film, MGM
proclaimed that it was presenting the story “with supreme pride.”
Beginning in 1946, the surviving Raiders have held a reunion each
April, to commemorate the mission. The reunion is in a different
city each year. In 1959, the city of Tucson, Arizona, as a
gesture of respect and gratitude, presented the Doolittle Raiders
with a set of 80 silver goblets. Each goblet was engraved with
the name of a Raider.
Every year, a wooden display case bearing all 80 goblets is transported to the reunion city. Each time a Raider passes away, his goblet is turned upside down in the case at the next reunion, as his old friends bear solemn witness.
Also in the wooden case is a bottle of 1896 Hennessy Very Special
cognac. The year is not happenstance: 1896 was when Jimmy
Doolittle was born.
There has always been a plan: When there are only two surviving
Raiders, they would open the bottle, at last drink from it, and
toast their comrades who preceded them in death.
As 2013 began, there were five living Raiders; then, in February,
Tom Griffin passed away at age 96.
What a man he was. After bailing out of his plane over a
mountainous Chinese forest after the Tokyo raid, he became ill
with malaria, and almost died. When he recovered, he was sent to
Europe to fly more combat missions. He was shot down, captured,
and spent 22 months in a German prisoner of war camp.
PLEASE SEND THIS ON TO EVERYONE IN YOUR ADDRESS BOOK, ESPECIALLY
TO THOSE WHO WERE TOO YOUNG TO KNOW ABOUT THESE GUYS. THIS SHOULD
BE READ BY EVERY KID IN GRADE AND HIGH SCHOOL SO THEY KNOW WHAT
-- david - only thru kindness can this world be whole . If we don't succeed we run the risk of failure. Dan Quayle