Celebrating the Greatest Generation: 80 Raiders 80 Years Later
Colonel James Doolittle (later a Lieutenant General in the U.S. Army Air Forces
and the U.S. Air Force Reserve) led the raid on Tokyo. The USS Hornet launched
sixteen B-25B Mitchell medium-range bombers, each carrying a crew of five men. They
bombed Tokyo on April 18, 1942.
raid was the first on Japanese soil, four months after their attack on December
7, 1941, when three hundred Japanese aircraft destroyed the Navy's Pacific
Fleet in Pearl Harbor. The Doolittle Raid on the Japanese capital boosted
American morale and exposed Japan's vulnerability from the air. Although the
damage to Tokyo was minimal, many historians credit the raid as the critical
factor in the Japanese defeat at the Battle of Midway—often cited as the
turning point in the Pacific.
April 1947, a ceremonial "roll
call" has honored the eighty Doolittle Raiders. Ted Cocoran with the
Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce and Dr. Devin Stephenson of Northwest
State College (Home of the Raiders) hosted the "Final Doolittle Raiders Goblet"
ceremony. It marked the passing of Doolittle Raider, Col. (ret.) Richard E.
"Dick" Cole. This event also celebrated the Air Force's 75th
Anniversary by the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC).
Ted Corcoran's heart seems to skip a beat at the
mention of the Doolittle Raiders. Talking with him is like conversing with a
Doolittle historian and cheerleader. One of Ted's many insights: "My
awakening to the significance of the Raiders started in 2006. Since then, I
have come to love the Raiders as a group and individually on a personal level.
I am proud that the Chamber was able to bring the Raiders to this area in 2008,
2013, and finally in 2022. It is important to me to educate the community
concerning their history by bringing the knowledge of the Raiders to the
forefront. I am thrilled to have played my part in getting them to be relevant
again in this area after being overlooked for far too long."
Okaloosa County and the Raiders. The Doolittle Raiders
trained at Eglin field in 1942. Although the Army/Air Force had just formed in
1941, AFSOC considers the Doolittle raid the first special operations mission.
The Raiders held their 15th reunion here in 1957, and they returned in 1968 for
their 26th reunion. They then vanished off our radars until Ed Horton (crew 10)
moved to Ft. Walton Beach. In the late 1990s, the local newspaper mentioned
that Ed's wife had passed away, thus preventing him from attending future
Wes Fields, a gunner at Hurlbert Field and an auxiliary
sheriff's deputy, read the newspaper article. He volunteered to transport Ed to
future reunions. The Raiders honored Wes by making him director of Raider
security. In 2006, Wes introduced Ed Horton to Ted Corcoran, who soon realized
the significance of that encounter. Ted watched his relationship with the
Raiders bud and blossom after attending the 2007 and 2008 Raider reunions.
In 2008, only eight of the 80 raiders remained, so the
Chamber created a special event called "The Homecoming" on May 29-31,
2008. The Homecoming became the reintroduction and re-engagement of the Raiders
with the Okaloosa County community. In 2013, Ft. Walton Beach would host the
final reunion, and the five remaining Raiders attended.
The Goblets. For
the annual reunion on April 18, 1959, the city of Tucson created 80 silver
Goblets. The goblets bore the Raider names printed upright and upside down. At
each reunion, the living Raiders toasted their fallen brethren. After a Raider
passed, his goblet was inverted. A final toast with the last three Raiders took
place in November 2013.
Two years later, Congress bestowed the Congressional
Gold Medal upon the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders "for outstanding heroism,
valor, skill, and service to the United States in conducting their bombings of
Tokyo." The last living Raider, Colonel (ret.) Dick Cole died on April 9, 2019,
at 103 years old! He was co-pilot of the lead plane with Colonel Doolittle. Covid
delayed the Final Goblet Ceremony for several years, with the Ft. Walton Beach
Chamber chosen to host the Final Goblet Ceremony.
The Ceremony. The
featured attendees at the Final Goblet Ceremony included the family of Col.
Dick Cole along with the other Doolittle Raider families. The historic ceremony
was honored by the presence of the Air Force's top brass: Secretary of the Air
Force, Frank Kendall III; Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. CQ Brown, Jr.;
Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command; and Lt.
Gen. Brad Webb, commander of AETC. Secretary Kendall said of the Doolittle
Raiders, "Like many of the greatest generation, they saw it as their duty
and accepted it without any regret."
In recognition of the Air
Force's 75th Anniversary, sixteen local active-duty and distinguished veterans
were honored to represent the legacy of each Doolittle crew and the
contributions of fellow Airmen to the rich history of the United States Air
Lt. Col. (ret.) Rich
Cole, son of Col. Richard E. "Dick"
Cole, performed the ritual of turning over his father's
goblet—the final goblet to be inverted. He shared the family's statement, "The Cole family is deeply honored
and appreciative of the Okaloosa County Community hosting the Goblet Ceremony
for our Dad .... We are thankful to celebrate this moment in the city where it
all began." The
National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio permanently
displays the Goblets.
that evening, thousands of onlookers witnessed the historic beach flyover
celebrating this momentous occasion. The aerial review took
place over Okaloosa Island, featuring 30 vintage and current U.S. Air Force
aircraft like the following: a B-25 Mitchell bomber, a B-52 Stratofortress, an
F-22 Raptor, an F-35 Lightning Stealth Fighter, a C-130 Hercules Transport, a
CV-22 Osprey, a B1 Lancer Bomber, 2 F-15s and two Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk
helicopters. Lt. Col. Cole piloted the lead plane.