Doolittle Raiders to return home for final official reunion

The Killer B

The Killer B of Douglas, Ga., and the Yellow Rose of San Marcos, Tex., will be among the planes on display and offering flights at Destin Airport.

Special to The Log
Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 04:01 PM.

In 1942, 80 airmen arrived at Eglin Air Force Base to train for the first U.S. attack on Japan after Pearl Harbor. Led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, the secretive and daring mission, which became known as the Doolittle Raid, boosted Americans’ morale in what would become a hard-fought journey toward victory in World War II.

This week, three of the four Doolittle Raiders who are still alive are returning to Fort Walton Beach — back to where it all started — for their 71st and final reunion, and they are bringing hundreds of family members, friends and fans with them for a week packed full of celebratory events.

“This community is pretty close to their hearts,” said the Raiders’ manager, Tom Casey. “Seventy-one years ago, this is where their mission, one of the most important missions of World War II and the first strike at Japan, this is where the training for it took place.”

The Raiders who survived have gathered in locations across the country almost every year since their B-25s scattered bombs over Tokyo on April 2, 1942, but their numbers continue to dwindle. They decided to make this year’s official reunion their last.

Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, 97, Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, 95, and Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher, 92, plan to attend. Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite, 95, is ill and can’t make it.

The event will be a final opportunity for the Northwest Florida community and visitors from across the country to pay tribute to these war heroes, said Ted Corcoran, president of the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce, which is organizing the event.

“There are very few times in a person’s life when there is an opportunity you know in advance you will never have again,” he said. “This is one that none of us want to miss.”

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