Roy Exum: Cole, Hite, Saylor And Thatcher

Monday, July 01, 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

Policeman: Modern Day "Boogie Man"

As a child I was under the impression that a ghastly, grotesque creature had taken up residence in my bedroom closet, the proverbial “Boogie Man” I suppose.  This is not an uncommon thing among children and most likely to some fault of my own as I subjected myself to some pretty iconic 1980’s horror flicks. There were other kids in the neighborhood that not only claimed to ... (click for more)

Why Ferguson Matters In Chattanooga

The recent verdict in Ferguson has thrown race relations in the spotlight again. It is far too easy to get caught up in the debate as to who was right. But the plain fact is that the community lost, the police force lost and the nation lost. So why does Ferguson matter in Chattanooga? Because a police force mainly composed of whites got into a conflict with a community mainly ... (click for more)

10-Year-Old Boy Seriously Injured In Attack By Pit Bull At His Home In Sale Creek

A 10-year-old boy suffered serious injuries when he was attacked by a Pit Bull on Thanksgiving Day morning. At approximately 10:12 a.m. deputies were called to 175 Daugherty Ferry Road regarding  a report of a dog attack on a child.  On arrival the Sale Creek Fire Department found the child on the front porch of the residence.  The child’s father said ... (click for more)

Alecia Driggins Faces Multiple Charges After Robbery And Hit-And-Run In East Ridge

East Ridge Police arrived on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. at the East Ridge Flea Market at 6725 Ringgold Road in response to a reported pedestrian struck and hit and run incident. Once on the scene, police determined that the incident was actually a robbery. The victim advised police that a white woman claiming to be a police officer grabbed her purse and attempted to flee ... (click for more)

Alcoa, A Prep Football Gold Standard, Up Next For Irish

Notre Dame almost had a crack at powerful Alcoa in the 2013 TSSAA football playoff semifinal round. But, in the quarterfinals, Alcoa beat Christian Academy of Knoxville, 42-14, but the Fighting Irish dropped a 19-10 decision to Upperman, which was crushed, 75-18, a week later by the Tornadoes. Alcoa clipped Christ Presbyterian Academy, 25-7, in the state championship game. ... (click for more)

Chattanooga Women Shock No.4 Tennessee, 67-63

Before the season started some people across the country called Chattanooga women’s basketball coach Jim Foster crazy for scheduling three top 10 teams – Notre Dame (national runner-up) Stanford and Tennessee - before Christmas. After Wednesday night’s UTC shocking 67-63 home win against No.4 Tennessee before 4,160, those same folks might believe coach Foster is crazy like ... (click for more)