Doolittle Raider Passes
America lost a hero last week when one of the two surviving Doolittle Raiders passed away in Missoula, Mont. David Thatcher’s death at age 94 left only one surviving member of that elite team. Eighty Doolittle Raiders boarded the USS Hornet CV-8 in Alameda on their way to surprise Japan. They departed on April 2, 1942; 16 days later they were flying 16 B-25 Army bombers over enemy territory.
Sgt. Thatcher served as a gunner and engineer with Crew No. 7 aboard the bomber dubbed The Ruptured Duck. The B-25 got its name after its tail had scraped the ground during training exercises for the mission. The plane’s pilot, Lt. Ted Lawson, later recalled that after the mishap someone had written “ruptured duck” in chalk on the plane’s fuselage. Lawson asked a crewman to create a caricature of Donald Duck with crutches wearing pilot’s headphones. The name stuck.
After bombing Japan “The Ruptured Duck” ran out of fuel. Lawson ditched the plane, forcing the B-25 into the waters of the East China Sea just off the island of Nantien. The “landing” forced the plane to submerge upside down. The impact threw Lawson and his co-pilot, Lt. Dean Davenport, through the windshield of the B-25. They were both still strapped to their seats. The Japanese later salvaged the wreckage and put what was left of the plane on display in Tokyo complete with Donald Duck.
The five crew members aboard “The Ruptured Duck” survived the crash. All but Thatcher received serious injuries. Thatcher was the only crewmember able to walk after the crash. He dressed the others’ wounds and went to look for help. It took Thatcher and Chinese rescuers five days to carry the other members of Crew No. 7 to safety. Thatcher later received the Silver Star for gallantry in action. Thatcher also received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, as well as the Chinese Army, Navy, and Air Corps Medal, Class A, 1st Grade.
“David Thatcher’s actions and quick thinking were crucial to saving the lives of his crewmates,” said Jill Rapposelli, the executive director of the USS Hornet Sea, Air and Space Museum. “He was a true American hero who will be missed.”
Lawson later recounted these events in 30 Seconds over Tokyo. The book was made into a movie in 1944 with Robert Walker portraying Thatcher.
Thatcher had been an honored guest speaker aboard the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda several times. In 2015, He and his fellow Raiders received the Congressional Gold Medal. “The USS Hornet Museum provided significant support to this nationwide effort,” said Rapposelli. The current Hornet’s predecessor USS Hornet CV-8 is depicted on the obverse of the medal. The CV-8 sunk after being torpedoed at the Battle of Santa Cruz in October 1942, just six months after carrying Jimmy Doolittle and his Raiders to Japan.
The only surviving Raider, Richard Cole, served as Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot. Cole celebrated his 100th birthday last Sept. 7.