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Doolittle Raiders Offer Final Salute

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Three of the four surviving members of the 80 crew members whose 1942 attack on Japan made them Doolittle’s Raiders met for the last time publicly at the National Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio, last Veterans Day weekend. The men held a pact that the last survivor among them would open a 1896 vintage bottle of Hennessy cognac gifted to the raid’s leader, Jimmy Doolittle, and drink to his lost comrades. But the four surviving men resolved last year to break the bottle’s seal and share a drink together at one final public meeting. One of the men is 98-year-old Dick Cole, who was in the first B-25 to leave the aircraft carrier USS Hornet, flying as Jimmy Doolittle’s copilot. “The story has run its course,” he told NBC news, “It’s about time to tie things up and ride off into the sunset.”

Cole was joined by fellow raiders David Thatcher, 92, and Edward Saylor, 93. Robert Hite, 93, was unable to attend due to his inability to travel. The other men met at the National Air Force Museum and visited a memorial erected there in honor of their mission. Cole recalled his desire to serve following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. “I wanted to be one of those guys who go after the bad guy,” he told NBC News. He got that wish, flying the first B-25 off the deck of the USS Hornet on its mission to bomb mainland Japan. For 68 years following that raid, the men gathered to toast those comrades who died either in the raid or in the lives each man lived thereafter. Cole recounted his memory of learning that he would fly with the already legendary Jimmy Doolittle. “I was awestruck to begin with,” he said. “He didn’t fire us, so it worked out fine.” He also recounted parts of the mission. “We didn’t find out where we were going until we were two days at sea. There was a lot of jubilation. After a while it sank in and people became quiet.” The root of the problem, said Cole, was that another country had encroached upon ours, “doing a lot of damage and killing a lot of people.” Of his role, he said, “In our book that was a symbol that it was war and it was our job.”

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