More than seven decades after an audacious bombing run by the "Doolittle Tokyo Raiders" rallied their own nation while stunning another, the World War II heroes are still adding to their legacy.
The group will receive the Congressional Gold Medal on April 15 in Washington, then present it on April 18 — the 73rd anniversary of the raid — to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The gold medal will go on display at the museum near Dayton, joining an exhibit depicting the launch from an aircraft carrier of the Raiders' daring 1942 attack on Japan.
One of only three surviving Raiders, 99-year-old retired Lt. Col. Richard "Dick" Cole, plans to return to his native Ohio from Comfort, Texas, for the museum ceremonies. Another Raider and family members who survive others who were on the mission are expected to take part in the weekend of events, some of them private.
"The medal is for 80 people," said Cole, adding that the gold medal — the highest civilian honor Congress can give — is also a tribute to the mission's leader, the late Gen. James "Jimmy" Doolittle, who died in 1993.
While the 16 B-25 bombers launched at sea inflicted only scattered damage on Japan, the attack was credited with boosting American morale while shaking Japan's confidence and prompting strategy shifts less than five months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
"We did everything that the mission was planned to do," said Cole, who was Doolittle's co-pilot.
Cole and the other Raiders have often given humble assessments of their heroism, saying they were simply performing their duties, and he did again last week when discussing the gold medal.
"I think it's very nice," said Cole, who attended President Barack Obama's signing last year of the legislative measure to strike the gold medal. "But it was something that might be a bit too much."
The museum's director, retired Lt. Gen. Jack Hudson, praised the Raiders' "supreme example of courage, professionalism, creativity, leadership and patriotism" when announcing plans for the gold medal display, promising that their inspirational story "will live on" at the museum.
Eight Raiders were captured and three were executed; one more died in captivity and three others were killed after crash-landing or ditching at sea. Cole, Lt. Col. Robert Hite and Staff Sgt. David Thatcher are the last of the original 80. Hite, who was among the Japanese captives, has been unable for health reasons in recent years to travel to Raider events from his Nashville, Tennessee, home, but Thatcher, of Missoula, Montana, is expected to come to Dayton.
They will drink a toast to Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, who died at 94 earlier this year in Sumner, Washington. Saylor was present at the museum with Thatcher, Raider family members and other officials for a special ceremony on Nov. 9, 2013, as Cole led a toast to those who had gone before them. They used specially engraved silver goblets for their traditional toasts.
Of their slowly dwindling numbers, Cole, the oldest of the three survivors, said: "Something's just got to give."
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