The airspace over Destin has been anything but quiet this week, as the sky has been dotted with historic B-25J Mitchell Bombers, which are in town for the final reunion tour of the Doolittle Raiders.
"It's really nice what the community is doing for these guys," Councilman Larry Williges, a 22-year Air Force veteran.
As part of the Doolittle Raiders 71st Reunion Tour, three out of the four airman that are still alive from the 1942 raid over Tokyo have taken part in a series of celebrations this week, culminating in a "Parade of Heroes" today at 11 a.m. in Fort Walton Beach and a Victory Celebration dinner at the Northwest Florida Fairgrounds.
For 97-year-old Lt. Col. Dick Cole, who had trained at the then Eglin Field back in 1942, the Raiders final hurrah along the Panhandle is bittersweet.
"I'm saddened by it," said Cole, who enlisted into the service in 1940 and flew in the same plane as Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle.
Members of the Doolittle Raiders have been gathering for reunion tours almost every year since their famed raid in 1942, when a crew of 80 men took part in a bombing mission high above Tokyo. The four active members of the Doolittle Raiders range in age from 92 to 97, and include Cole, Bob Hite, David Thatcher and Ed Saylor.
Williges, who is now in his 80s, told The Log that he was 12-years-old at the time of the Doolittle raid, but remembers the historical significance of the event.
"It was a morale boost for our country," he said. "It was to instill fear in the hearts of the Japanese, and to let them know we could hit them too."
"You could call it a suicide mission almost," he added. "A lot of those guys knew they didn't have enough fuel to get home."
Thursday afternoon, residents and employees from the Destin Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center made their way to the Destin Airport to see the fleet of the World War II B-25's bombers modeled after the ones used during the now famous 1942 Doolittle Raiders tour over Tokyo.
Bill Gann, whose wife Elizabeth is a resident at Destin Health & Rehabilitation Center, told The Log that he remembered the massive birds from his time in the military. Gann was a sophomore in high school during the famed 1942 Doolittle raid, but later enlisted in the Army.
"I served for 20 years," said Gann. "I was a technical sergeant; I've worked on these planes."
Another veteran familiar with the bombers on display at the Destin Airport was Charles Donnell.
"I was in the Air Force for 20-something years," Donnell said. "I served in World War II and Korea. I did mostly infantry, but I definitely remember seeing these planes."
Although he wasn’t a resident at the Destin Health & Rehabilitation Center, WWII veteran Bob Carlson was at the airport checking out the birds as well.
While looking at the Yellow Rose bomber, Carlson, in chatting with Tim Black — also a pilot in the United State Air Force, coincidentally found out he was once stationed in San Marcos, Texas, where the Doolittle Raiders tour is based out of.
Experiencing a blast-from-the-past, Carlson, who retired in 1971 with the rank of colonel with the Air Force, piloted everything from B-25s to B-26s and T-33s and H-21s and whatever other planes or helicopters were on hand.
"Back then, if you were qualified in one, you were qualified in all of them pretty much," said Carlson.
When The Log asked Carlson if he ever piloted the Yellow Rose, he laughed and said, "When I could find them!"
Colonel Carlson's tour ended by adding his name to the list of pilots inside the bomb bay of the Yellow Rose, further cementing him into American history, WWII history and Doolittle Raiders history.
For those who want to take part in history, stop by the Destin Airport to see the historic B-25J in living color. There will be five planes to see: Panchito, Killer B, Yellow Rose, Georgie's Gal, and the Special Delivery. Flights are available to the general public for $425.