The group of 80 men made famous by their daring April 18, 1942, bombing of mainland Japan is down to its last five members. Given their frail health, the four remaining active raiders who’s ages range from 92 to 97 years old, decided last October that this would be their final reunion and fittingly they would hold it near the base where they trained for their fateful mission over 70 years ago.
“It was a very emotional decision to make,” said Tom Casey, business manager for the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders. “I think this was one of the toughest things I‘ve ever done.”
The men have met yearly since 1946 to celebrate their camaraderie and the success in their mission. This years final reunion is being organized by the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, will run April 16-21 and is being billed as a “Farewell Tribute.” Last year’s event, held in Dayton, Ohio, sold out in just three hours, and this year’s event is looking to be just as popular.
At the time the raid was conceived, the United States was still reeling from the Attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese believed that their home islands could not be reached by US forces and the American public needed a moral boost. The raid was accomplished by launching 16 usually land-based B-25 Mitchell medium-range bombers which up until this mission had never been launched from an aircraft carrier. To squeeze the additional range required for the planes to reach Japan, the craft were heavily modified with additional fuel tanks and the removal of equipment and armament. Designed as a mission where the crews were expected to land in China to refuel at friendly air bases in Zhejiang province and continue on to Chongqing which was the provisional wartime capital, the carrier group was spotted by a Japanese picket boat which forced them to launch the raid earlier and from further away than originally planned as the carriers would be unable to launch their fighter aircraft if attacked by Japanese forces as their flight decks were completely filled by Doolittle’s squadron of B-29s.
The mission achieved its objectives, though all the planes were lost as well as many crew members, either during the fighting or at the hands of their captors, the mission was a major psychological success and is believed by many to have had a major indirect impact on the larger war as the Japanese felt compelled to counterstrike at Midway to hamper the ability of the United States to further interfere with their operations in the Western Pacific, at which the Japanese Imperial Navy was decisively routed.
The remaining raiders will open a 1896 bottle of Hennessy cognac chosen for the year Jimmy Doolittle was born. The group had originally planned to pass the bottle on to be opened by the last two survivors, but changed their minds. “Instead of waiting for the final two, we decided to call it a day,” Casey said. “They agreed that they should do this last one and that they can all enjoy that final toast; We’re going to close this mission.”