Doolittle Raid Remembered

File photo Edward Saylor, right, signs autographs at the Doolittle Raid commemoration event aboard USS Hornet in 2012. Saylor flew aboard an aircraft commanded by Lieutenant Donald G. Smith in the daring raid over Japan on Nov. 12, 1942. Saylor is one of the four surviving Doolittle Raiders.

The World War II Air Force squadron, the Doolittle Raiders, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Obama on May 23. The medal is considered the highest honor Congress can give a civilian. 
Congress awards the medal to individuals who have “performed an achievement that has an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized as a major achievement in the recipient’s field long after the achievement,” according to the Congressional Research Service. 

The Doolittle Raiders, named after their leader, then-Col. Jimmy Doolittle, an Alameda native who would later become brigadier general, flew a successful bombing raid over Tokyo on April 18, 1942. Sixteen B-25 jet bombers holding 80 men launched from the Alameda-stationed USS Hornet aircraft carrier. The jets attacked the Tokyo area, with a few hitting Nagoya. The raid provided a morale boost to the American military and public with it being the first strike against Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“Eighty brave American aircraft crewmen, led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle, volunteered for an ‘extremely hazardous mission’ without knowing the target, location or assignment, and willingly put their lives in harm’s way, risking death, capture and torture,” reads a portion of the bill granting the medal to the squadron. 

President Obama signed the bill in a ceremony in the Oval Office. Doolittle Raider Lt. Col. (ret.) Richard Cole, 98, one of four surviving members, attended the private ceremony. The other remaining survivors are Lt. Col. (ret.) Robert Hite, 94, Lt. Col. (ret.) Edward Saylor, 94, and Staff Sgt. David Thratcher, 92.

The Doolittle Raid was modest in damage, but proved to the Japanese that their home islands were not invulnerable to American attacks, causing them to shift vital resources to their defense. Two months later that decision played a role in America’s victory in the Battle of Midway, which led to the shift in America defeating Japan. Eight Raiders were held captive by Japan after the raid. Just four survived.

The medal will be stored at the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.

Contact Ekene Ikeme at eikeme@alamedasun.com.