Doolittle Raiders: Place of honor

By Tech. Sgt. Steve Grever
Air Force Social Media

Pride, admiration and wonder.

These were some of the emotions I felt working on the Air Force public affairs team covering the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders’ Congressional Gold Medal ceremony April 18 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

My job that day was pretty straightforward — write social media posts and share imagery from the event to educate and inform the public about the significant contributions of these American heroes. When the day arrived, I was prepared to go out and perform my duties. But, I was unprepared for how awestruck I would be seeing the last two Doolittle Tokyo Raiders take their place of honor on the Wright-Patterson flightline as their Congressional Gold Medal was flown onto the base by a vintage B-25 bomber, the same aircraft used during the Doolittle Raid in 1942.

doolittle raiders flightline
Col. John Devillier, 88th Air Base Wing commander, greets Doolittle Raiders’ retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole and Staff Sgt. David Thatcher April 18, 2015, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Steve Grever/Released)

Watching these humble men sit patiently as base leaders and others took turns shaking their hands before the ceremonial flight gave me a new sense of my Air Force heritage. These remarkable Airmen shared a couple laughs with some old friends and family members, while others listened intently to their military stories and other life experiences.

A few minutes after their arrival, the B-25 “Panchito” flew the medal and Brian “Bear” Anderson, Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Association sergeant at arms, from Dayton International Airport to Wright-Patterson AFB. This one-of-a-kind aircraft gleamed brightly as it taxied to the red carpet on the flightline.

doolittle raiders B-25 flight
Doolittle Raiders’ Staff Sgt. David Thatcher and Lt. Col. Richard Cole pose for a photo with their Congressional Gold Medal April 18, 2015, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Steve Grever/Released)

Anderson proudly carried the medal from the aircraft, and met retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole and Staff Sgt. David Thatcher at the end of the brick red carpet saying, “Gentlemen, it’s a pleasure to present you with this Congressional Gold Medal for the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders.” Cole accepted the medal and replied, “Thank you very much. We’ll do our best to take care of it.”

After the ceremonial flight, I went back to my hotel to change into my service dress uniform for the medal presentation ceremony at the museum that evening. Congress officially awarded the medal to the Raiders April 15 in Washington, D.C., which was accepted on behalf of the Raiders by retired Lt. Gen. Jake Hudson, National Museum of the United States Air Force director. But, the night’s ceremony gave Cole and Thatcher the opportunity to formally give their medal to the museum so they can share it with the world as part of the Doolittle Raiders’ exhibit.

As I walked toward the back of the museum, I saw a familiar stage and seating arrangement in the Cold War gallery. This location hosted the Doolittle Raiders’ final toast on November 9, 2013, where Cole, Thatcher and Lt. Col. Edward Saylor (Lt. Col. Robert Hite was unable to attend) broke the wax on a 1896 bottle of Hennessy cognac to share a final toast to honor the men who participated in the historic mission.

“Gentleman, I propose a toast to those we lost on the mission and those who have passed away since. Thank you very much, and may they rest in peace,” Cole said.

I remember watching this event live online, and it moved me to learn about their daring mission, and how they viewed their duty to country and service as Americans.

Doolittle Raiders medal presentation
Doolittle Raider retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole answers questions from the media after the medal presentation ceremony April 18, 2015, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Steve Grever/Released)

Before the ceremony began, the room went silent as Cole and Thatcher were escorted to the stage by Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, Air Force Materiel Command commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Doreen Losacco, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center command chief. There were many touching comments from state senators and Air Force leaders, but the most impactful moment of the night for me was not the transfer of the medal to the museum, but the words Cole spoke beforehand.

He spoke of the Raiders’ mission 73 years ago, and the trust they had in their leader, Jimmy Doolittle. Trust was a key component of his short speech as he discussed entrusting the museum with caring for their medal. I’m sure it was a great honor for the museum to add this piece of history to the exhibit, which will reside alongside the Raiders’ silver goblets and the B-25 in the World War II gallery.

“We proudly hand over our congressional gold medal to General Jack Hudson who we trust will respectfully guard it, and have it securely displayed in the Doolittle Raider exhibit for the world to see and appreciate,” Cole said.

The best quote of the night from Cole was this:

“As I remember, the mission was over. It was Saturday night on the 18th of April, and about this time, David Thatcher was on the beach in China saving the rest of his crew, and I was hanging in my parachute in a tree.”

These humble words from Cole highlight the Doolittle Raiders’ selflessness and dedication. It brings me great pride knowing I’m a part of a long blue line of Airmen who are following in their footsteps. I hope their story of heroism inspires generations of Airmen to continue to serve with honor and integrity.