The legendary Doolittle Raid on Japan was remembered over the weekend
when three of the last four survivors, all of them in their nineties, gathered for one last hurrah and a final toast at a wreath laying ceremony at the US Air Force's National Museum in Dayton, Ohio.
During what was described as the "final reunion," the three veterans came together Saturday to remember their fallen comrades and reminisce about one of the most daring and celebrated U.S. raids of World War II. The ceremony was webcast live to the family members of those involved in the raid as well as dignitaries.
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"Gentlemen, I propose a toast to those we lost on the mission, and those who have passed away since: thank you very much and may they rest in peace," 98-year-old Richard Cole toasted to his fellow vets as he rose a goblet of cognac in the air, the AFP reported
Cole was a co-pilot to Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, who led the raid. Doolittle, who earned the Medal of Honor for his valor and leadership as commander during the April 1942 raid, died in 1993 at the age of 96.
The Doolittle raid, which consisted of some 80 men, was the first time the U.S. had struck Japanese soil in the war. It was seen as a response to the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor and effectively bolstered U.S. morale.
The mission started aboard the USS Hornet aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean where a team of B52s set out to hit Tokyo.
Cole told the AFP in a phone interview that once he and the other volunteers learned the target of the top-secret mission there was "a lot of jubilation, but then it became kind of quiet because people were realizing what they were going to be doing."
According to Cole, the attack was the easy part of the mission. The storm they encountered after the bombing and forced parachute over China was the "scariest time" of the operation.
"There you are in an airplane over a land you are not familiar with, under a big weather front, very active with lots of rain, with thunderstorms and lots of lightning and you are going to jump out," Cole said. "There are lots of questions that are going through your mind."
Two pilots died when their planes gave out and crashed into the Pacific Ocean, while another eight were captured by the Japanese who killed them via firing squads.
The remaining survivors were able to make their way to U.S., the AFP reported.
All the B-25s flown in the raid were lost. The pilots had flown the planes as far into China as they could until they ran out of gas. They reportedly had not had enough gas to reach their targeted destination points in China.
More than two years passed before a U.S. aircraft bombed Japan again.
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