Rep. Olson: Doolittle Raiders Deserve Congressional Medals

Image: Rep. Olson: Doolittle Raiders Deserve Congressional Medals Richard Cole, center, proposes a toast with two other surviving members of the 1942 Tokyo raid led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, Edward Saylor, left, and David Thatcher, on Nov. 9 at the National Museum for the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

Thursday, 26 Dec 2013 10:15 AM

By Drew MacKenzie

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The legendary Doolittle Tokyo Raiders of World War II who inspired several Hollywood movies are finally going to get the recognition they truly deserve.

Texas Republican Rep. Pete Olson has introduced a bill in the House to award Congressional Gold Medals to all 80 heroes— most of them posthumously, according to the Dallas morning News.

A companion bill has already been approved in the Senate and Olson's bill has 290 co-sponsors in the House. “I can’t see why it won’t become law,” Olson told the Morning News in an article published Christmas Day.

Four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the brave airmen volunteered for a risky attack on Japan, knowing there was a real chance they would never return.

Led by famous flyer Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, the group was assigned to fly 16 B-25 bombers from the deck of the USS Hornet aircraft carrier in April 1942. Many of the pilots had never flown off a ship's flight deck before, while others had never flown a heavy aircraft like a B-25 off a carrier.

“They said they wanted volunteers for a dangerous mission, and I said yeah,” said Richard E. Cole, of Comfort, Texas, one of the only four surviving raiders. “That was our job. There’s no way out of it.”

Cole, now 98, who was the co-pilot of the lead plane alongside Doolittle, said that due to the distance to reach Japan there was a distinct possibility their aircraft could not reach the safe haven of China after the attack.

“We all knew that, and just trusted the fact that our mechanics and our engines would get us through,” Cole said.

After dropping their bombs on Tokyo and military targets, some of the planes crashed in areas of China occupied by Japan. Seven airmen were captured and four died in captivity. But the others made it back safely.

Cole told the Morning News that after he bailed out over China, his parachute got stuck in a tree where he spent the night. He then trekked across country behind Japanese lines until he was rescued by Chinese troops.

Although the Japanese suffered minimal damage from the attack, the raid boosted morale during the war and was hailed as strong warning to Japan that America was ready and able to fight back.

The attack inspired several films, including "Bombardier" in 1943 starring Randolph Scott, "Destination Tokyo" starring Cary Grant, also in 1943, and the 1944 film "Thirty Seconds over Tokyo" with Spencer Tracy as Doolittle.

The surviving raiders formed a close bond and began holding annual gatherings after the war. Their numbers keep dwindling. Doolittle died in 1993, and the youngest survivor living today is 92.

Olson heard about the heroic fighters after last year's gathering and was inspired to write a bill awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the federal government. The medal was first presented to George Washington in 1776 by the then Continental Congress.

"Before the last one leaves, we have to get them this honor,” Olson said.

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