By S. Clayton Moore
For the 60th annual reunion of the famous Doolittle Raiders, specially selected cadets from the U.S. Air Force Academy transported 80 silver goblets from their display case in Colorado Springs for the solemn Goblet Ceremony. The goblets are etched with the names of the 80 Doolittle Raiders made famous by the attack on Tokyo.
“Every Raider said without doubt it was the best reunion ever,” said C.W. “Woody” Randall, chairman of the Celebrate Freedom Foundation, the event’s main sponsor. The weekend’s events were held April 18-21 in Columbia, S.C., and included an airshow, parade, and a B-25 flyover. The reunion carried with it a surge of emotion for the 14 Raiders who attended. Only 25 survive in the world.
The air assault against Tokyo was launched from the aircraft carrier “USS Hornet” on April 18, 1942. The raid, led by James Doolittle and carried out by 16 B-25 bombers, is credited with boosting American morale and turning the tide in the war against the Japanese.
Also kept at the Air Force Academy is a bottle of 1896 cognac from the year Lt. Col. James Doolittle was born. It was Doolittle’s wish that the last two Raiders use the bottle to drink a final toast to their comrades-in-arms. At each year’s reunion, the remaining raiders have gathered for a toast, and turn over the goblets of their late fellows.
In a nod to history, two of the attending cadets have blood relations to the Raiders. Chris York is the grandson of the late Capt. Edward “Ski” York, who was the eighth pilot to leave the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet. Nathan Westlake Chal is the grandson of Col. Richard Cole, who co-piloted Jimmy Doolittle’s B-25, the lead plane in the attack. Also attending were Cadets John Rose and Don Deablom, who earned the honor through their academic work and exemplary conduct.
“It’s exciting for the Raiders to return to the actual site of their early training days,” said Randall.
Columbia was the city where the Doolittle Raiders were formed in the early days following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
To honor the reunion, the Columbia-Owens Airport was converted back to its days as Owens Army Airfield in World War II. Military units from the elite 82nd Airborne Division, the 2nd Army Rangers, 30th Infantry, and the British Para-Gilders operated WWII encampments and a fully functional WWII Army Flight Hospital for the thousands of tourists in attendance.
“Every B-25 owner, pilot & crew said it was the best airshow they had ever attended. It was the greatest,” said Randall. The weekend’s airshow included the largest gathering of B-25 Mitchell bombers since WWII, including the only B-25H model still flying. The reunion was the largest and most well attended since the Raiders first gathered in Miami in 1946.