70th Anniversary of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo

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Tom Griffin is one of five men who are still alive from the Doolittle Raid on Japan following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  Video of Griffin and four others talk about the day they never thought they would survive.

By J.J. Burke
Wednesday, April 18, 2012 marked the 70th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid. Sixteen B-25 bombers with 80 crewmembers took off from the aircraft carrier Hornet on a one-way mission to strike at the Japanese homeland just six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The raid was planned by then Lieutenant Colonel James Jimmy Doolittle, USAAF. The mission did little material damage to Japan but provided a much-needed boost in American morale.  Military targets in six Japanese cities were struck in the attack. 

After completing their mission 15 of the 16 aircraft proceeded southwest toward eastern China.  The planes, low on fuel, crash landed along the southeast coast of China.  The 16th plane landed in the Soviet Union, north of Vladivostok, where the plane was confiscated and the crew imprisoned.

The Japanese people had been told they were invulnerable.  The attack on the Japanese homeland would cause confusion in the minds of the Japanese and sow doubt about the reliability of their leaders.

Three of the 80 men died in the daring raid and the Japanese captured eight men.  Of the eight captured, 3 were executed and one died from mistreatment.  One of the POWs, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Hite is still alive today.

Doolittle and his crew, after safely parachuting into China, received assistance from Chinese soldiers and civilians as well as an American missionary, John Birch.

For their part in aiding the downed pilots, the occupying Japanese forces killed 250,000 Chinese.  Birch was later killed by the Chinese Communists and is often cited as the first victim of the Cold War.  The right-wing conservative organization, the John Birch Society was formed 13 years after his death.

The Doolittle Raiders have held an annual reunion almost every year since the late 1940s.  Five of the Raiders are still living.  They continue the tradition that includes a roll call of the fellow Raiders who have passed away during the year followed by a toast.

Specially engraved silver goblets, one for each Raider, are used.  The goblets of the deceased are inverted.  After there are two Raiders who remain, they will use a bottle of 1896 Hennessy cognac for the toast.  The vintage was chosen because it is the year Jimmy Doolittle was born.