This past Wednesday was the Real
Patriot's Day. 237 Aprils ago...the regulars were out, Paul Revere did his thing, and Colonel Parker and his men shed their blood on Lexington Green to get the whole thing started.
Over the past few years, I've posted the incredible tale on my blog closest to the date, and this year was going to be no exception. Until I read a story this week that I found more dramatic.
April 19th is also the anniversary of another battle. Strategically, it was nothing, but at the time is was dramatic, electrifying, and just what the nation needed to hear when all around them was nothing but defeat and despair.
I'm talking about the Raid on Tokyo...April 19, 1942. These were the darkest days of the war, when Germany and Japan seemed invincible, and the might and wherewithal of the United States was only just stirring.
Incredibly....five of the raiders are still alive today. Wednesday, those that could travel went to Dayton, OH...home of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, and keeper of "the cups". Since the mid 1970s or so, a set of silver chalices has been kept by the survivors assosiation. Every year on the anniversary of the raid, they gather and drink a toast to those members that have passed on over the course of the year, and they turn his cup upside-down.
CINCINNATI — The jovial banter and storytelling will halt, and guests will be ushered out of the meeting room, the door shutting behind them.
Five men, all in their 90s, will come to military-erect attention. Before them will be a wooden display case with 80 silver goblets. On each, a name is engraved twice: to be read right-side-up — for those still alive — or to be read placed upside-down, in memory of the 75 now dead.
“To those who have gone,” 96-year-old Lt. Col. Richard Cole will toast, raising his goblet high.
The other four surviving Doolittle’s Raiders — Maj. Thomas Griffin, Lt. Col. Robert Hite, Lt. Col. Edward Saylor and Master Sgt. David Thatcher — will answer in unison: “To those who have gone.”
The ceremony Wednesday will come 70 years to the day after the bombing raid over Tokyo led by Lt. Col. “Jimmy” Doolittle that helped change the course of World War II. Four days of celebration are planned April 17-20 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, including a fly-in of B-25 bombers like they flew. Special guests include survivors or relatives of the USS Hornet aircraft carrier crew that launched them and of Chinese villagers who helped save them after the raid.
The toast ritual grew from early get-togethers led by Doolittle, who died in 1993.
“It is a very private moment,” said Cole, a Dayton native who lives in Comfort, Texas. “You remember the ones who didn’t make it, you think about them, and you are sorry they aren’t with us. And then the ones fortunate to still be living trade off stories.”
The stories are many, their bond forged in a daring mission.
“I didn’t expect to survive. We should have been shot down,” said Saylor, 92, a Brusett, Mont., native who lives in Puyallup, Wash.
Pilots volunteered and trained in Florida for what they only knew was “extremely hazardous.” Navigator Griffin, from Green Bay, Wis., got top-secret briefings with pilot David Jones in Washington, just five months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
“We needed to hit back,” recalled Griffin, now 95 and living near Cincinnati.
Once at sea, the rest learned targets — factories, plants, military facilities on mainland Japan. They knew the uncertainties: what if the Navy task force was attacked? What defenses would they face? And with B-25s unable to land on a carrier decks, could they reach friendly bases in China?
“We didn’t know we were supposed to be afraid,” summarized Saylor, 22 then.
The Raiders brushed aside Doolittle’s assurances that anyone was free to withdraw.
“It was a mission in the war. We did what we were required to do,” said Thatcher, of Missoula, Mont., age 90.
After encountering Japanese patrols, the raid launched ahead of plan, some 200 miles farther from shore for fuel-stretched bombers. Doolittle’s plane took off first at 08:20 from a pitching carrier deck.
“It’s the Charge of the Light Brigade,” said historian Hugh Ambrose. “They know that a betting man would probably bet against them ... brave heroism in the face of an enemy that at that time was winning the war.”
They flew low in radio silence, skimming seas and then treetops. Cole recalls the country song “Wabash Cannonball” running through his head. He tapped his foot in time until Doolittle shot him a questioning look.
They were greeted by anti-aircraft guns and puffs of black smoke. Flak shook planes.
“As we got there, there was no conversation, until the bombardier told Col. Doolittle that the initial bombing target was in sight,” said Cole, who was in the lead plane. “At that point, Col. Doolittle said to open up the bomb bay doors.”
The bombs dropped, “and we got the heck out of there.”
By all means....read the whole story.
It's worth your time today, I promise.
With Memorial Day coming up...it's worth a pause to remember, even if we're doing it nationally in a month. Those of us that never served (myself included), perhaps we have no real concept of what it means to be a soldier. But it never hurts to remember and honour those that serve.
It's noted in the video that there were 20 planes on this flyby....there were only 16 planes in the original raid.