Gaetz introduces bill to name Niceville Post Office in honor of Doolittle Raiders

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It can take nearly a week for a piece of standard mail from Washington, D.C., to arrive in Niceville, according to the U.S. Postal Service's own estimates.

But that's still way faster than U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, whose district includes Niceville, introduced legislation proposing the designation of the Niceville Post Office at 90 Palm Blvd. N. as the Doolittle Raiders Post Office Building.

The designation would honor the volunteer crew of 80 World War II airmen who conducted a daring bombing raid over Japan in the early days of the conflict.

Previous coverage:’Renaming’ of Niceville Post Office debated, approved

Honoring veterans:Florida congressman honors fellow Green Beret with bipartisan immigration legislation

More of Gaetz in Niceville:Matt Gaetz 'Boggy Boy' tells Niceville audience his time in Washington is nearing an end

Gaetz investigation:U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz reportedly being investigated about sexual contact with teen. Here's what we know

The naming of post offices is a federal responsibility, but as a courtesy to the city, Gaetz notified Niceville officials of his intention last year and received a 4-1 approval from the Niceville City Council on March 10, 2020. 

Gaetz does, though, have something of an excuse for the late introduction of his legislation. He introduced the resolution earlier this week, which marked the 79th anniversary of the bombing raid led by Army Air Force Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle.

In advance of the April 18, 1942, mission, the Doolittle Raiders spent time in training near Niceville at what was then Eglin Field. It's not clear whether any of the Doolittle Raiders got any mail through the Niceville Post Office during their time in the area, but if they had, it wouldn't have come from 90 Palm Blvd. N. In 1942, the Niceville Post Office was located off Armstrong Avenue at Bayshore Drive, the present site of the Front Porch restaurant.

An Air Force illustration honors the Doolittle Raiders, a group of 80 volunteer airmen who conducted a daring bombing raid over Japan in the early days of World War II. The airmen trained for crucial parts of the mission at what was then Eglin Field.

The Doolittle Raiders' training at Eglin Field included practice in short takeoffs and landings to prepare for operating the group's 16 B-25B Mitchell bombers off the aircraft carrier USS Hornet. The aircrews also practiced cross-country and night flying, navigating without radio references or landmarks, low-level bombing and aerial gunnery.

The Doolittle Raiders bombed sites in Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya and Kobe after launching from the Hornet more than 600 miles from Japan.

Most of the bombers hit their targets, despite some resistance from anti-aircraft fire. But because they left the Hornet earlier than had been planned, they were almost empty of fuel after dropping their ordnance.

More like this:Last Raider standing

Fifteen of the 16 planes either crash landed or their crews elected to bail out. 

The bombs caused little physical damage, but the mission was nonetheless deemed a success, inasmuch as it forced the Japanese to recall combat forces to defend their homeland and showed that U.S. forces could strike at Japan, which boosted the morale of America and its allies.

“The Doolittle Raiders provided a vital boost to American morale at the very beginning of the Second World War," Gaetz said in a statement from his office announcing his introduction of House Resolution 2686. On Tuesday, Gaetz's four-paragraph bill, co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of Florida lawmakers, was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

"I look forward to the passage of this bill in the United States Congress and the important recognition of the Doolittle Raiders,” Gaetz also said in the statement.  

Gaetz's move to honor the Doolittle Raiders is a posthumous one. The last of the 77 Doolittle Raiders who survived the mission, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Richard "Dick" Cole, died two years ago in Texas at the age of 103. Cole was Doolittle's co-pilot for the bombing mission.

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Richard "Dick" Cole poses in front of a B-25 Mitchell bomber at the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin Air Force Base in 2017. Cole was one of the 80 volunteer airmen in the Doolittle Raiders, who conducted a daring bombing raid over Japan in the early days of World War II.

Cole, like other Doolittle Raiders, had been a frequent visitor to Northwest Florida, and in a 2018 visit to Fort Walton Beach, he stopped at Beal Memorial Cemetery to pay tribute to one of his fellow Raiders, Master Sgt. Ed Horton, who is interred there.

At the graveside, Cole, at the time the last living Raider, spent a moment in silence and then slowly raised his hand to his bowed head in a salute to Horton and whispered, "You're a good man."

“I don’t think that the Raiders should be remembered any more than the millions of other people who took part in World War II,” Cole said during a brief interview at the Air Force Armament Museum during that 2018 visit.

Then, asked about his sharpest memory of the raid, Cole, quickly and with a smile, deadpanned, “The thing I remember most is my parachute opening.”