Friday, April 30, 2010


Part of the joy of posting information is sharing what other people have written about their experiences.  I just received an email from Ken Kula, who wrote the following eyewitness account of the last reunion of the Doolittle Raiders-- and the flyin of the B-25's, along with some of the photos he took.

There were more than a few WASP who flew the B-25, so this is completely relevant to our mission.  God bless you all!



Hi All!
Shirl and I drove out to Dayton Ohio (13.5 hours!) last weekend to attend the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Association Reunion, held at the US Air Force Museum abeam Wright Patterson AFB.  There are 8 surviving crew members of the 80 that flew on the mission; four attended the Reunion.  A historian of the group travelled with them too.  Seven of the eight survivors are 90+ years old.  Eighty eight - year old MSgt David Thatcher (engineer/gunner -  aircraft #7), 90 year old Lt Col Robert Hite (co-pilot of aircraft #16 - the last one off the USS Hornet), 92 year old Maj Thomas Griffin ( navigator and mission planner  - aircraft #9), and 94 year old Lt Col Richard Cole (co-pilot of aircraft #1 - Jimmy Doolittle's plane) were the 4 members in attendance. 

All four men had numerous public autograph sessions to attend throughout the Friday/Saturday/Sunday weekend event.  There were hundreds of people in line waiting for every 2-hour long session - snaking through the huge museum.  We attended a  45 minute media conference to ask questions and hear their stories on Friday afternoon.  Their age showed a bit - memories faded - but they were still spry.  A few items of note:  one member said it was common to for B-25 pilots to be deaf in their left ear because their engines were notoriously loud...  co-pilot on #16 - Lt Col Hite - said that he had no doubt that he'd make it off the Hornet OK because the other 15 had already done it...  and co-pilot in #1 - Lt Col Cole -  said he wasn't afraid being first to takeoff because he was along side of the best pilot in the group.  Navigator Maj Griffin noted that he (and the other mission planners) travelled to Washington DC to plot out their attack; they had actually made up 20 sets of flight plans and charts, although only 16 aircraft flew the mission.  Great stuff hearing it from the men that actually flew the operation.  Friday night, the Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley spoke at the big formal dinner for them at the museum, and was present Saturday morning at the static display of B-25s, alongside the four Tokyo Raiders.   What we didn't get to see was the private ceremony where the surviving members toasted their departed comrades with the legendary set of 80 engraved silver goblets - face down for those deceased.

The other half of the weekend's festivities centered around the gathering of 17 B-25s, the largest gathering of the North American - built bombers since the making of the film "Catch-22" decades ago.  Staging out of nearby Urbana Ohio, the planes thundered onto the Museum grounds Saturday morning, landing on a private runway behind it.  They were presented on static display Saturday for the public, and departed Sunday around noontime to perform a 17-ship fly past to open a commemorative service for the Doolittle Raiders at the Museum. 

The gathering included one of each version: B-25A, B-25D, B-25H,  PBJ (Navy/Marine version), plus 13 B-25Js.  The fly past on Sunday was spread out (as most pilots weren't B-25 formation rated I assume) in three columns filling the sky for some 30 seconds.  The rumble of 34 Wright Cyclones engines overhead was chilling and thrilling at the same time; I'd hate to have been underneath the bombers as they delivered their payloads in wartime, but then I marveled at the resourcefulness and dedication it took to put these aircraft all overhead at once for the Reunion.

More than one unofficial report states that this is probably the final Reunion for the Tokyo Raiders Association.  We were honored to be able to watch and listen to the men, who volunteered for their mission.  At the time, I don't think they knew of the raid's importance... only historians have brought out the two main impacts of the 16-ship raid... that America's morale soared, for it was a much needed early victory in the war, and Japan was immediately put on the defensive because they now needed to protect their homeland, slowing down their offensive plans that, up until that point, had resulted in a string of victories.

Hope all is well,
Ken Kula


larry said...

At the time of the Raid, Jimmy Doolittle was a Lt. Col, not a major.
The formation was an open javelin formation due restrictions placed on the group by the US Air Force planners at WPAFB. Most of the pilots WERE formation qualified, but we had to deal with Air Force restrictions regarding spacing as well as CAF limits on Formation spacing.
The Raiders plan on continuing to have an annual reunion, just as they promised Gen. Doolittle, until there are only two left. This was the last opportunity we (B-25 owners) would have to hold a mass B-25 Tribute at the most appropriate place, The National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Larry Kelley
B-25 Tribute to the Doolittle Raiders,2010

Matt said...

Very nice account of the event, thanks for sharing this with us. I've seen several videos of the launch & flyover on youtube and can scarcely imagine the impact this had on those who were able to see it in person. This is a fantastic tribute to all of the Raiders and being as my mom flew B-25s @ Mather for the better part of a year, it hits home for me too. I regret not being able to attend myself.

Larry, thanks for the inside info and for the time and energy you put into this event and thanks to the rest of the owners and pilots who participated as well.