by Senior Airman Joe McFadden
1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
4/19/2013 - HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Exactly
71 years ago to the day they and their fellow Airmen turned the tide of
the U.S. war effort, three World War II legends spoke to dozens
of Hurlburt Airmen at the 319th Special Operations Squadron auditorium
Lt. Col. Richard Cole, Lt. Col. Edward Saylor and Staff Sgt. David
Thatcher all served alongside 77 fellow then-U.S. Army Air Corps Airmen
taking off in 16 B-25s in the April 18, 1942 bombing over Japan known as
the Doolittle Raid.
The raid, designed and led by then-Lt. Col. James Doolittle, served as
the first air raid by the U.S. military in response to the Dec. 7, 1941
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, while both bolstering the morale of the
American public and instilling doubt among the Japanese people.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," said Col. William Holt, vice
commander of the 1st Special Operations Wing, before introducing the
Raiders. "In my 22 years in the Air Force, I never imagined I'd be
standing in front of three Doolittle Raiders. Without a doubt, this is
the highest honor I've had."
After the three Raiders entered the squadron through a sword cordon from
the Hurlburt Field Honor Guard, the Air Commandos opened the discussion
by asking questions about their memories and impression of the raid's
"Colonel Doolittle was a very persuasive individual," said Cole, who
also served as his co-pilot on the lead aircraft. "He was very charming.
He treated everyone with respect and was very polite. He was a team
person, and it vibrated throughout all 80 people."
Cole also described Doolittle's dedication to his Airmen as a testament to his leadership.
"Outside of being in awe of him and being able to fly with him, we
observed the way he treated his people," he said. "For instance, he
would go to an air base and would not leave the airplane until the crew
chief had finished gassing it up and doing the things that needed to be
done. He'd make sure the crew chiefs were taken to their barracks before
he was taken to his. It indicated to me that he treats his people in a
very, very polite way."
Prior to leaving the continental U.S., the Raiders spent a portion of
the training for the mission at what is now Eglin Air Force Base,
Fla., for three weeks of intensive training in March 1942. Given the
base's proximity to the water, one Airman asked if the three had any
downtime to enjoy the Emerald Coast.
"We did not receive any time off," Cole said. "We were based in quarters and not allowed to go off the base."
The questions then turned to how the Raiders personally prepared for the
mission -- an element the team said they had little time to react to
but enough resolve to ultimately see it through.
"When they presented the request for volunteers, we were given no
information other than it was a dangerous mission," Cole said. "We were
practicing takeoffs and so forth. It was very obvious we were going to
takeoff from a carrier. We thought we were being transported to some
place with a different carrier so we could takeoff and go to an
island some place in the Pacific and land and start fighting the war."
"When they announced over the loudspeaker our target was Japan, there
was a huge shock that went all over the carrier," said Thatcher, who
served as an engineer and gunner in the raid. "No one knew where we were
supposed to go, especially the Navy personnel."
"We all volunteered, and I went not knowing what it was," said Saylor,
then an engineer. "My feeling was that I hope I could do the job as well
as it needed to be done. The responsibility of the airplane was very
heavy on my mind. That's how I felt about going in -- I hope I could do
The air raid stormed over the Japanese island of Honshu, with none of
the U.S. aircraft being gunned down. While heading across the East China
Sea, the Raiders faced harsh conditions both during the flight and in
their crash landings in China and the then-Soviet Union, especially
under the threat of possible capture by enemy forces.
"I would advise you to be prepared as much as possible for any
situation," Thatcher said. "We were in a situation we didn't have any
control over. We crash landed on a Japanese-occupied island. There were
no Japanese there at the time, and the Chinese Underground who were
working on that island helped us escape."
News of the raid's success quickly reached American news outlets,
rejuvenating the country's morale for the budding war effort. However,
the Raiders said many did not know of their reception in their homeland
until years later.
"When I came home, the sense that the whole country was gung-ho to get
on with the job -- it was a pretty good feeling," Saylor said.
Shortly after the raid's completion, Doolittle, who had been promoted to
brigadier general and received the Medal of Honor from President
Franklin D. Roosevelt, had the idea for a reunion among all the
surviving Raiders, Cole said.
"Each day after the mission was over [Doolittle] said he was going to
throw a party like one we'd never been to before," Cole said. "In 1945,
the first party was at McFadden-Deauville Hotel in Miami. The people who
were able to come came to it. The party grew to talking and
conversations, and somebody suggested 'Why don't we do this every year?'
And then Doolittle said 'Wait a minute, fellas -- I'm paying out a lot
of money here!'"
Eventually, the reunions led to visiting bases and cities throughout the
country. The gatherings soon began awarding out Traffic Safety Awards
and recognition to deserving Airmen and later evolved into providing
scholarships for local students beginning in 1962, Cole said.
As the session came to a close and the Raiders prepared for their final
reunion weekend in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Saylor concluded by giving
his endorsement of the men and women who followed in their footsteps by
serving in the Air Force today.
"I look this gang over, and I think we're in good hands," Saylor said.
"I want to make sure we give you guys everything you need to get the job
done. I'm hopeful."
Cole, an Ohio native, enlisted in the Army Air Corps in November 1940
and received his pilot's commission in July 1941. After serving in the
Doolittle Raid, he continued to serve in the Burma-Indo-China theater as
one of the original Air Commandos. He is the recipient of Distinguished
Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with one oak leaf
cluster, Bronze Star Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal and Chinese
Army, Navy, Air Corps Medal, Class A, 1st Grade.
Saylor graduated high school in Montana and enlisted Dec. 7, 1939. He
served both in the United States and overseas throughout the war until
March 1945. He accepted a commission as an aircraft maintenance officer
in October 1947. He is the recipient of Distinguished Flying Cross, Air
Force Commendation Medal and the Chinese Army, Navy, and Air Corps
Medal, Class A, 1st Grade.
Thatcher graduated high school and enlisted in December 1940. After the
raid, he served in England, Africa and California before being
discharged from active duty in July 1945. He is the recipient of the
Silver Star Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four oak
leaf clusters and the Chinese Army, Navy, and Air Corps Medal, Class A,