The Final Toast! United States Military – April 1942 when they…..

Remembering the Few and the Brave

In the annals of American history, there exists a group of men whose heroism and sacrifice have left an indelible mark on the nation’s collective memory. These men were once universally admired and revered, embodying the very essence of courage and selflessness. They were the Doolittle Raiders.

The Final Toast! United States Military – April 1942 when they…..

A Courageous Mission

In April 1942, the world was embroiled in the turmoil of World War II, and the United States found itself reeling from Japan’s devastating sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. It was in this dire moment that something extraordinary was needed to turn the tide of war. Enter the Doolittle Raiders, a group of 80 brave individuals who embarked on one of the most audacious and heart-stirring military operations in American history.

The plan was daring and unprecedented. Sixteen B-25 bombers were modified to take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier, a feat never before attempted with such large and heavy aircraft. Led by the fearless Lt. Col. James Doolittle, the Raiders knew that they would not be able to return to the carrier after their mission. They would strike Japan and then attempt a perilous journey to find safety in China.

Defying the Odds

On the fateful day of the raid, the Japanese military got wind of the plan, forcing the Raiders to take off much farther from Japan than originally planned. This meant they would have insufficient fuel to make it to safety. Despite this daunting setback, these men forged ahead with unwavering resolve.

They carried out their mission, bombing Tokyo and pushing their aircraft to the limits. Four planes crash-landed, and 11 crews bailed out, with three Raiders losing their lives. Eight more were captured, and three faced execution. One crew managed to reach the safety of Russia.

A Message of Resilience

The Doolittle Raiders sent a resounding message to America’s enemies and the world: We will fight, and no matter the cost, we will emerge victorious. Of the original 80 Raiders, 62 survived the war and returned home as national heroes, exemplifying the highest ideals of bravery.

The Tradition Lives On

Beginning in 1946, the surviving Raiders initiated a tradition of holding an annual reunion each April to commemorate their historic mission. This reunion traveled to different cities over the years, serving as a testament to their enduring bond. In 1959, the city of Tucson, Arizona, paid tribute to these heroes by presenting them with 80 silver goblets, each engraved with a Raider’s name.

Every reunion saw a wooden display case, housing all 80 goblets, transported to the event. When a Raider passed away, his goblet was reverently turned upside down during the next reunion, a poignant gesture of remembrance.

The Brandy of Brotherhood

A unique tradition accompanies these goblets – a bottle of 1896 Hennessy Very Special cognac. This choice of year, 1896, is no coincidence; it marks the birth year of their leader, Jimmy Doolittle. There was always a plan: When only two Raiders remained, they would open the bottle, share a drink, and toast their fallen comrades.

As the years passed, the number of living Raiders dwindled. In 2013, there were five, but in February of that year, Tom Griffin, a true hero, passed away at the age of 96. His selflessness and dedication extended far beyond the battlefield, as exemplified by his care for his ailing wife.

The End of an Era

Today, only four Doolittle Raiders remain: Dick Cole, Robert Hite, Edward Saylor, and David Thatcher, all in their 90s. These gallant men have made the difficult decision to conclude their public reunions. The recent events in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, marked the final chapter in this remarkable journey. The town, close to where the Raiders trained in secrecy for the Tokyo mission, honored them with a six-day celebration of their valor, including luncheons, a dinner, and a parade.

Do these men ever wonder if their sacrifice has been honored in a way worthy of their bravery? It’s a question they seldom discuss, at least not in public. Yet, if you find yourself near Fort Walton Beach, consider offering them a word of thanks. They cherish the knowledge that they are remembered.

A Final Toast

The remaining four Raiders have decided that, after this last public reunion, they will gather once more in private, sometime later this year. It will be an informal and deeply personal gathering. That is when they will finally open the bottle of brandy and fill the four remaining upturned goblets. They will raise their glasses in a heartfelt toast to those who have gone before them.

The legacy of the Doolittle Raiders will live on, a testament to the boundless courage and enduring spirit of these American heroes who dared to defy the odds and change the course of history.

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