Roy Exum: Cole, Hite, Saylor And Thatcher

Monday, July 1, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

As July bursts like a fire-cracker and the red-white-and-blue bunting begins to go up for this Thursday’s Fourth, my thoughts are directed towards four of our greatest heroes. Ever since late April, I have thought about Mr. Cole, Mr. Hite, Mr. Saylor and Mr. Thatcher because time is drawing nigh. I am told that members of our country’s “Greatest Generation” are now dying at a rate of 1,200 veterans a day.

And today those four are the last survivors of “Doolittle’s (Tokyo) Raiders.” They met for what would be the last time on April 30 at Eglin Air Force Base near Fort Walton, Florida, and there – as the four stood to toast one of the most heroic moments in America’s history – they decided they no longer wished to keep the pact they had vowed at their first yearly reunion in the late 1940s.

The deal was this: The city of Phoenix long ago presented to the Raiders – who bombed Tokyo, incidentally, during World War II – a beautiful chest filled with individual silver goblets, each engraved with the names of those 80 young warriors who volunteered for an "extremely hazardous but unspecified mission.” Note: each goblet is engraved twice – on one side so it can be read upright, on the other so it can be read when the goblet is turned down, never to be filled again. That way each name lives in perpetuity. Today only four goblets remain upright.

Accompanying the goblets all these years has been an unopened bottle of Hennessey cognac, vintage 1896, the year of then-Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s birth. The original plan was for the last Raider standing to open the revered bottle, pour a liberal cup, and say the final farewell. But now not one hero still standing wants to be last.

The four who remain are Col. Richard E. Cole (Doolittle’s co-pilot in Plane No. 1), Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite (co-pilot of No. 16 that had “Bat Out Of Hell” written on the nose), Lt. Col. Edward Joseph Saylor (engineer on No. 15 that had “T-N-T” painted on its nose), and SSgt. David L. Thatcher (gunner on No. 7 that had “The Ruptured Duck” painted on its nose).

No, in the near future (or, if they haven’t already done so) the four will meet privately, taste the cognac in a very private and sacred way, and then close the beautiful case for good. But as we sing of being a “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” image the team that Doolittle personally selected to fly – for the first time ever – a specially outfitted B-25 bomber off the deck of an aircraft carrier. Every man volunteered with no idea what the mission might be.

The Raiders, all young and full of fight, were part of the 17th Bomb Group and virtually none had ever been in combat. Further, they had practiced for no more than a month when the code came to Eglin: “Jimmy your horse is ready to ride.” The planes and the five-man crews were loaded onto the aircraft carrier Hornet in California and steamed towards Japan.

In his autobiography, Doolittle explained why the raid was so important. “The Japanese people had been told they were invulnerable ... An attack on the Japanese homeland would cause confusion in the minds of the Japanese people and sow doubt about the reliability of their leaders. There was a second, and equally important, psychological reason for this attack ... Americans badly needed a morale boost.”

At daybreak of April 14, 1942, the Hornet was about 650 miles from Japan when a Japanese picket boat spied the carrier and her escort ship. The startled captain radioed the pending attack before the USS Nashville blew it out of the water and Doolittle realized time was precious. At 8:20 that morning Jimmy Doolittle became the first man to ever fly a B-25 off 467 feet of flight deck and by 9:10 there were miraculously 15 other B-25s in the air with him. (Only after the war was it revealed the picket boat’s radio transmission was garbled and unitelligable.)

Every pilot knew they didn’t have the fuel for the mission and the escape afterward to an airfield in China but they were each successful in finding their targets. Then, as they ditched their planes, every man used his parachute for the very first time. All said, 62 survived of the 80; three men were killed in crashes, three of eight POWS were executed, and one man starved to death. The Japanese massacred an estimated 250,000 Chinese trying to find the Raiders.

Doolittle, who avoided breaking his leg in his jump because he landed in a “soft” pile of manure, thought he would be court-marshaled for losing the planes – instead President Franklin Roosevelt presented him the Medal of Honor and he was immediately made a general. The aircraft carrier Hornet was torpedoed and sunk six months later in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands.

The 80 goblets, for what is hoped to be many years, will be prominently displayed at the National Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and it will be noted that all 80 men were members of the United States Army Air Corps, the predecessor to the Air Force.

Between now and Thursday, try to thank any veteran from any war you can for assuring yet another celebration of our Declaration of Independence this week will carry on as an American tradition and, on Thursday itself, you might just toast the Doolittle Raiders yourself.

After this year the historic Raider’s Toast will never happen again.

royexum@aol.com

Goblets Doolittle Raid
Goblets Doolittle Raid

Roy Exum: Want To Protest? Get Paid!

In a troubling time when “false news” is the rage and people ask me – to my face – if anybody from Russia ever approached me personally searching for votes for President-elect Donald Trump, there appears a website that, to cop a phrase, “is too good to be true.” There is a group out of California that allegedly wants to hire “operatives” to protest Friday’s inauguration. Forget ... (click for more)

During A Martin Luther King, Jr. March Is Not A Time To Campaign

It truly amazing what Martin Luther King, Jr. accomplished at just 39 years of age. He changed an entire country. Dr. King was not in elected office or in any position of power. Yet, he accomplished more than any politician.  To me the Martin Luther King, Jr.'s vision was an expectation of life centered in education, hard work, and accomplishment that in time would evolve ... (click for more)

School Board Turns Thumbs Down To Proposed Funding Of Central Track

County school board members on Thursday night expressed a number of concerns about a proposed $500,000 new track under consideration for funding by the County Commission at Central High School. The vote was 9-0 to table a motion to accept the money (if offered). Karitsa Mosley-Jones said, "We've got students at schools on a high priority list and you're going to give me a track?" ... (click for more)

School Board Approves 4-Year Contract Extension With Independent Bus Drivers, Who Say They Can Handle 100 Routes; Extension Given On Custodial Contract

The county school board on Thursday night extended the contract by four years of school bus owner operators, who said they could deliver on 100 bus routes. The board delayed until a special meeting at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at Central High School the issue of whether to accept the offer of 100 contract routes. That would be handled by many of the current 49 owner operators taking ... (click for more)

Smooth-Operating Cameron Leads Tyner Past 'Canes

Tyner may occasionally have an off night scoring, but that Rams defense is always spot-on. East Hamilton saw that first hand Thursday night in a hot Tyner Academy gymnasium. It didn’t rain points. Neither offense was sparkling, but the Rams had a distinct edge on one end of the court throughout the game – East Hamilton’s. The Rams got to almost every loose ball, most ... (click for more)

Cleveland Wrestlers Whip Walker Valley, 60-12

The undefeated and top-ranked Cleveland Blue Raider wrestling team just keeps rolling along, winning the close ones and also winning the ones not so close. Thursday night at Walker Valley, the Blue Raiders recorded five pins, three technical falls and two forfeits in a 60-12 victory over the Mustangs. Those pins came from Bryce Pond, Colton Landers, Austin Sweeney, Dylan Jones ... (click for more)