WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — The historic, final toast of the Doolittle Raiders is expected to attract thousands of people and the Air Force’s top brass Saturday to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
Three of the four surviving Raiders, including one from Puyallup, Wash., will gather at the museum near Dayton to toast comrades who died in or since the April 18, 1942, mission that bombed Japan and that historians credit with turning the tide of the Pacific War during World War II.
“We know there’s going to be a huge crowd, and I am absolutely certain that we’re going to see thousands and thousands of people here,” said John “Jack” Hudson, museum director and a retired Air Force lieutenant general. “This is the final event that they are going to do in any kind of public setting, and they had always envisioned their final event to be that toast.”
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, the service branch’s top uniform leader, and Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning, the top civilian leader, are scheduled to attend, Hudson said. Visitors from as far away as China and Europe will be at the event, said spokesman Rob Bardua.
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The gathering will pay homage to the Raiders, who under the command of Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle took off in 16 Army Air Force B-25 Mitchell bombers from the deck of the Navy’s USS Hornet to bomb Japan. The mission was the first U.S. strike against the island nation after the Japanese Imperial Navy sunk U.S. battleships, bombed aircraft and killed thousands four months before in an attack on U.S. military bases at Pearl Harbor.
Surviving Raiders expected to attend Saturday: Richard Cole, 98, a Dayton native living in Comfort, Texas; Ed Saylor, 93, of Puyallup; and David Thatcher, 92, of Missoula, Mont. Robert Hite, 93, of Nashville, Tenn., will not attend because of health reasons, officials said.
Public events ahead of the invitation-only ceremony include a gathering to greet the Raiders as they arrive, a memorial service, a B-25 bomber flyover and movies such as the “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” depiction of the 1942 mission.
For decades, the Raiders have offered a toast “to those who have gone” with specially engraved silver goblets at their annual reunions.
After Maj. Thomas Griffin, 96, of Cincinnati, died in February, the survivors decided that this year’s annual April reunion would be the last and that they would gather for one last toast the weekend before Veterans Day.
The goblets, presented to the Raiders in 1959 by the city of Tucson, Ariz., have the Raiders’ names engraved twice, the second upside-down. During the ceremony, white-gloved cadets pour cognac into participants’ goblets. Those of the dead are turned upside-down.
The day’s events will be capped at a 3 p.m. PST toast, which will be televised on the Pentagon Channel and streamed live on the museum’s website: www.nationalmuseum.af.mil.