Tag Archives: reunion

Doolittle Raiders: real superheroes

By Staff Sgt. David Salanitri
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

Looking around the auditorium, legends fill the room. A Tuskegee Airman subtly takes his seat in the crowd, and Medal of Honor recipient George “Bud” Day arrives in his wheelchair. Hundreds have come to honor three men standing onstage – the Doolittle Raiders.

Lt. Col. Dick Cole, Lt. Col. Ed Saylor and Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, all three Doolittle Raiders, received much recognition during their last official reunion, April 17-20, 2013, on the Northwest Florida coast. 

During this handful of days, thousands of people, young and old, came out to show their support.

Three Doolittle Raiders

The Doolittle Raiders started with 80 Airmen in their unit, but 71 years later, only four remain, the youngest being in his early 90s.

These Raiders did something extraordinary April 18, 1942 – they delivered the first blow to Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Who won the World Series 71 years ago? For that matter, who won the Super Bowl a few years ago? Seventy-one years is a long time. Things that seem important in the moment, but are forgotten easily, rarely make for impactful moments to be written in the history books of our children and our children’s children. But an event whose impact can be lived today through a country’s freedom is something few can say they’ve been part of. 

The Doolittle Raiders can say this. All 80 of them. And America hasn’t forgotten it.

I can say this with confidence. For four days, the Raiders were treated like the heroes they are.  People lined walls by the hundreds, waiting in line up to two hours just to shake a Raider’s hand and to get an autograph. Hurlburt Field and Eglin Air Force Base Airmen filled auditoriums in hopes to ask these Raiders a question. 

The same question was asked throughout the week. What was going through your mind knowing you’re going to take off on a mission you may not return from?

Though the responses varied slightly, the message was consistent – their only thought the mission. The feeling of fright fell to the wayside, and they focused on their task at hand – send a message to Japan that we can hurt them at home.

And that’s exactly what they did.

Under the command of then Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, 80 men flew 16 aircraft off a carrier in the Pacific, dropping bombs on oil storage facilities, factory areas and military installations.

When news of the raid reached Americans, spirits rose through the roof. The raid was considered a huge psychological win.

Many things have changed during the past 71 years. Our freedom is not one of those things. 

Thatcher

Watching folks interact with the Raiders reminds me of how folks would react to meeting Superman. Children jump at the chance to take a picture with a Raider, prodding at Mom and Dad until they get their face time with one of the heroes. 

World War II veterans don their old but pristine uniforms. Cut in front of a lady who’s in line to get an autograph from a Raider, and your health is at risk – I learned this while maneuvering through the line to interview folks. Not good.

As an Airman, it’s heartwarming to see how those before me are treated. It hasn’t always been this way for those who have served. Pull aside any person wearing a “Vietnam” ball cap, and they’ll tell you that firsthand. However, first they will thank you for your service, since few have done the same to them.

Knowing that because of men like Cole, Saylor and Thatcher, I have an Air Force to serve in and freedom to enjoy … well to me … hero doesn’t do them justice. All 80 of them.

Aim high, Raiders. Fly, fight, win.

Watch the Doolittle Raiders reunion video on the Air Force’s BlueTube page on YouYube.

PHOTO: (top) From right, retired Lt. Col. Dick Cole, Staff Sgt. David Thatcher and Lt. Col. Ed Saylor, Doolittle Raiders, stand before the aircraft they used in World War II’s Doolittle Raid, April 20, 2013 at the Destin Airport. The men were attending their final reunion together, as they are only three of the four living Raiders. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Salanitri)
(bottom) David Thatcher, a staff sergeant during the Doolittle Raid, smiles with pride as he listens to a speaker talk about the Doolittle Raiders, April 20, 2013 in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. This was the final dinner of the Doolittle Raiders’ last reunion. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Salanitri)

 

Strength, courage on the home front

By Staff Sgt. Nicholas BreamSgt Bream and the 387th ELRS
96th Logistics Readiness Squadron

I was afforded the opportunity to share a heartfelt story of my experience while I was deployed on convoy duty in Iraq. The Learning Channel (TLC) came to my house before I arrived home and recorded the strength and courage that it takes my wife Nicole and three children, Amanda, Joseph, and Jessi to carry on everyday life while I am deployed.

The Learning Channel wanted service members who were deployed and had a special family event they wanted to share. In my case, when I was deployed in 2008 on convoy duty, Nicole gave birth to my son Joseph in Germany with only her friends by her side as I was on mission and could not be there with her. It was almost six months before I got home and the only way Joseph knew me was through a webcam and the sound of my voice. But as soon as he saw me he knew exactly who I was. And then in March of 2011 she gave birth to my daughter Jessi while I was not due back for another six weeks. I sat back and thought to myself “Wow.” I can’t imagine what it must be like to do that by herself and still take care of our other children and attend college full time.

Amanda and Nicole enjoyed watching shows about military members reuniting with family members after a deployment. One evening Amanda asked me via webcam if “Mommy and Daddy could surprise her like that when I came home.” I was excited to be able to surprise her like she wanted and to be able to share it with other people. After a few months of going back and forth with ideas we finally decided that we would make the show about my daughter getting her Girl Scout “Strength and Courage” badge awarded. Amanda helped out Nicole in every way that a 6 year old could. Amanda stepped up to take my place helping around the house, picking up the living room and folding laundry.

From that point on I handed the planning over to Nicole and the Girl Scout leader Elizabeth to work with the production crew. They set it up to be recorded at my home in Florida during a Girl Scout meeting. They invited a local fire fighter to talk about how much strength and courage it takes to do his job. After talking about that for a few minutes he then moved to introduce me, saying how it took more strength and courage to do my job overseas in hostile environments.

They all worked it perfectly so that when I got home from the airport all I had to do was walk in the door and surprise Amanda and her Girl Scout troop. She had no idea I was coming home yet and she was in total shock that her dad was the one to award her this achievement. After I surprised Amanda, Nicole had a surprise for me — getting to see my daughter Jessi for the first time in person since she was born. Up until then I had only seen her via webcam and pictures Nicole sent me. It was a wonderful feeling to be able to finally hold her.

I have deployed two times, and both times they have been for more than six months. Every military member, myself included, has to be ready at a moment’s notice to pick up and go somewhere else for duty. Whether it is for one day or 12 months we are not the ones who have it hard. It’s the family and loved ones we leave behind who are expected to carry on daily life without us.

Photo: Airmen with the 387th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle maintenance flight deployed to Southwest Asia in support of Operation New Dawn from September 2010 to April 2011.