CINCINNATI >> 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, Ohio, joining an exhibit depicting the launch from an aircraft carrier of the Raiders’ daring 1942 attack on Japan.
The only two surviving Raiders — retired Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole and Staff Sgt. David Thatcher — plan to attend the museum ceremony. A third Doolittle Raider, Lt. Col. Robert Hite, died Sunday at a Nashville, Tennessee, nursing facility. He was 95.
Relatives of the 80 Raiders also are expected to attend the weekend of events, some of them private.
“The medal is for 80 people,” said Cole, an Ohio native who now lives in Comfort, Texas.
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, Cole said. Doolittle 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, 99, 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. In previous years, Hite, who was among the Japanese captives, had been unable for health reasons to travel to Raider events from his Nashville, Tennessee, home. His son said Hite had been battling Alzheimer’s disease before his death Sunday.
Years after Hite and others were liberated by American troops in 1945, Hite returned to active duty during the Korean War. His son said Hite would want to be remembered for his patriotism.
“I think he would want two things: that’s the attitude we ought to have about our country; and the second is, he was just doing his job,” Wallace Hite said.
At the museum ceremony, Cole and Thatcher, of Missoula, Montana, plan to drink a toast to those who have gone before them. They use specially engraved silver goblets for their traditional toasts.
Of their slowly dwindling numbers, Cole, the oldest of the two survivors, said: “Something’s just got to give.”