Doolittle Raiders Hold Their Final Public Reunion

Inevitable, but still sad:

Wednesday’s event at the base is part of a weeklong series of activities planned by the military and community leaders to honor the men.

Thomas Casey, business manager for the Raiders and a longtime fan of the men, said the four survivors have decided they can no longer keep up with the demands of group public appearances.

“The mission ends here in Fort Walton Beach on Saturday night, but their legacy starts then,” he said.

Casey said he hopes everyone who has had a chance to interact with the men will keep their legacy alive. “I want them to tell the story to their children, their grandchildren, their neighbors and keep their story going because their story is worthwhile telling.”

At each reunion is a case containing 80 silver goblets with the name of each raider inscribed right-side up and upside down on a single goblet. The men toast their fallen comrades each year and turn their goblets upside down in their honor.


Seventy-one years ago 80 very brave Americans, led by Army Air Corps Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, brought the nation a badly needed morale boost.  The War in the Pacific was going badly as defeat followed defeat.  Navy Captain Francis Low hit upon a plan to send a message, not only to the American public, but also to Japan, that the United States was not beaten and that it would strike back and prevail.

16 Mitchell B-25B bombers were placed on the carrier USS Hornet.  In great secrecy the Hornet and its escorts steamed to within 650 nautical miles of Japan when the force was discovered by a Japanese picket boat which was sunk by gunfire from the USS Nashville.  Fearing discovery the Doolittle force launched immediately, some 10 hours earlier than planned, and 170 nautical miles further from Japan.

The raiders reached the Japanese Home Islands at around noon.  They had split up into groups ranging from two to four planes and struck targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka.  The raiders then planned to fly their planes into Nationalist controlled China and make their way back to the US.  Miraculously 69 of the raiders did just that.  Three of the raiders died and eight were captured.

Of the captured raiders, three were executed by the Japanese on October 15, 1942 following a show trial.  The remaining five POWs were placed on starvation rations, with one of them dying prior to liberation by the Allied forces at the end of the War.  Jacob DeShazer, one of the POWs, came back to Japan as a missionary in 1948 and worked there for 30 years spreading the Gospel.

The news of the raid electrified the American public.  When FDR was asked where the raid originated he playfully said “Shangri-La!”, the fictional kingdom in the then popular novel Lost Horizons.  The Navy went on to name one of its carriers Shangri-La.

Colonel Doolittle rose to the rank of Lieutenant General during the War and was awarded the Medal of Honor in tribute to the heroism he amply displayed in leading the raid.  The raiders remained a close-knit unit after the War, holding annual reunions with this year being the last.  Four of these men, who gave America hope in victory so long ago, are still with us.  May we have such men in the future in our time of need.


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  1. Oh My! My youngest brother James, who died so young, two years ago, LOVED the whole Doolittle story. When he was a little boy he wrote to Doolittle, and to Pappy Boyington(?) They both returned his letters with just great responses. When I was going through his things after his death, I came across these letters and have archived them. One of them thanked him for “sending a self addressed stamped envelope with his correspondence, as it was hard for him to afford to send letters back in great volumes because of the cost”. Our dad died so young at the age of 52 and Jim was drawn to these types of WW 11 heroes. They personified strength and courage to a little boy who so needed that direction in his life. Thanks for this story. It brought back so many memories. I will have to go and dig out those letters. I am saving them for Jim’s girls who are too young to appreciate the sacredness of the hands who penned those letters.

  2. May God bless them all. I pray that our leaders remain worthy of the sacrifices made by our military.

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