In 1942, 80 members of what was at that time the United States Army Air Force participated in our first bombing of Japan.
A case of 80 goblets was brought to their annual reunions. Whenever a Raider died, his cup was upended.
This year, 2013, only four of these Raiders are still alive. At their annual reunion at Fort Walton Beach, Fla., this year, they gathered publicly for the last time.
After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, with the United States reeling and wounded, something dramatic was needed to turn the war effort around. Even though there were no friendly airfields close enough to Japan for the United States to launch a retaliation, a plan was devised.
Sixteen B-25s were modified so that they could take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier. This had never before been tried – sending such heavy bombers from a carrier. The 16 five-man crews, under the command of Lt. Col. James Doolittle, who himself flew the lead plane off the USS Hornet, knew that they would not be able to return to the carrier. They would have to hit Japan and then hope to make it to China for a safe landing.
But on the day of the raid, the Japanese military learned of the plan. The Raiders were told that they would have to take off from much further out in the Pacific Ocean than they had counted on. They were told that because of this they would not have enough fuel to make it to safety.
Those men went anyway.
They bombed Tokyo and then flew as far as they could. Four planes crash landed; 11 more crews bailed out, and three of the Raiders died. Eight more were captured; three were executed. Another died of starvation in a Japanese prison camp. One crew made it to Russia.
Of the 80 Raiders, 62 survived the war. They were celebrated as national heroes, models of bravery. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a motion picture based on the raid: “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” starring Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson. This was a patriotic and emotional box office hit. In the movie theater previews for the film, MGM claimed it was presenting the story “with supreme pride.”
Beginning in 1946, the surviving Raiders have held a reunion each April to commemorate the mission. The reunion was in a different city each year. In 1959, the city of Tucson, Ariz., as a gesture of respect and gratitude, presented the Doolittle Raiders with a set of 80 silver goblets. Each goblet was engraved with the name of a Raider.
Every year, a wooden display case bearing all 80 goblets was transported to the reunion city. Each time a Raider passed away, his goblet was turned upside down in the case at the next reunion, as his old friends bore solemn witness.
Also in the wooden case is a bottle of 1896 Hennessey Very Special cognac. The year is not happenstance: 1896 was when Jimmy Doolittle was born.
There has always been a plan: When there are only two surviving Raiders, they would open the bottle, at last drink from it and toast their comrades who preceded them in death.
As 2013 began, there were five living Raiders; then, in February, Tom Griffin passed away at age 96.
What a man he was!
After bailing out of his plane over a mountainous Chinese forest after the Tokyo raid, he became ill with malaria and almost died. When he recovered, he was sent to Europe to fly more combat missions. He was shot down, captured and spent 22 months in a German prisoner of war camp.
So now, out of the original 80, only four remain: Dick Cole (Doolittle’s copilot on the Tokyo raid), Robert Hite, Edward Saylor and David Thatcher. All are in their 90s. They have decided that there are too few of them for the public reunions to continue.
One of these Raiders was Jacob DeShazer of Oregon, a bombardier.
After the bombing in Japan, Jacob and his fellow crewmen parachuted into China, where they were captured by Japanese troops. In that Japanese POW camp, every day they faced the possibility of torture or death.
Amazingly, Jacob’s request for a Bible was fulfilled.
Jacob came back to the Christian faith in which he was raised. In his prison cell, he vowed to God that if he survived, he would return to Japan not as a warrior but as a missionary.
From Iwao Shimada, pastor of the church DeShazer founded in Japan, came the following:
“Jacob DeShazer was brave as a prisoner of the Japanese. … After conversion, he was braver, enough to love the Japanese. As a missionary, he never sought fame or wealth. … He was kind, patient and humble. … He was brave enough to make the Japanese commander of the attack on Pearl Harbor one of his best friends.”