The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

April 18, 2013

Famed WWII aviators hold final reunion

Three of four surviving crew reunites

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — At 97, retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole can still fly and land a vintage B-25 with a wide grin and a wave out the cockpit window to amazed onlookers.

David Thatcher, 91, charms admiring World War II history buffs with detailed accounts of his part in the 1942 Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, in which he earned a Silver Star.

Retired Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, 93, still gets loud laughs from crowds for his one liners about the historic bombing raid 71 years ago Thursday that helped to boost a wounded nation's morale in the aftermath of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.

Cole, Thatcher and Saylor — three of the four surviving crew members from the history-making bombing run — are at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle for a final public reunion of the Doolittle Raiders. They decided to meet at Eglin because it is where they trained for their top-secret mission in the winter of 1942, just weeks after the Japanese devastated the American fleet at Pearl Harbor.

The fourth surviving raider, 93-year-old Robert Hite, could not make the event.

"At the time of the raid, you know the war was on and it was just a mission we went on, we were lucky enough to survive it but it didn't seem like that big of a deal at the time. I spent the rest of the war in Europe and with the guys in Normandy and taking bodies out of airplanes and stuff and I didn't feel like a hero," Saylor said Wednesday following a ceremony in which an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter maintenance hangar at the base was named in his honor.

Saylor joked with the audience of young airmen and local dignitaries.

"My reaction when I out found out we were bombing Japan from an aircraft carrier was that it was too far to swim back home so we might as well go ahead with it," he said.

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