The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

April 18, 2013

Famed WWII aviators hold final reunion

Three of four surviving crew reunites

(Continued)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. —

The 16 planes, loaded with one-ton bombs, took off from the aircraft carrier on less than 500 feet of runway. They had only enough fuel to drop their bombs and try to land in China with the hope that the Chinese would help them to safety.

"We were all pretty upbeat about it, we didn't have any bad thoughts about what was going to happen. We just did what we had to do," said Cole, who was Doolittle's co-pilot.

Wednesday's event at the base is part of a weeklong series of activities planned by the military and community leaders to honor the men.

Thomas Casey, business manager for the Raiders and a longtime fan of the men, said the four survivors have decided they can no longer keep up with the demands of group public appearances.

"The mission ends here in Fort Walton Beach on Saturday night, but their legacy starts then," he said.

Casey said he hopes everyone who has had a chance to interact with the men will keep their legacy alive. "I want them to tell the story to their children, their grandchildren, their neighbors and keep their story going because their story is worthwhile telling."

At each reunion is a case containing 80 silver goblets with the name of each raider inscribed right-side up and upside down on a single goblet. The men toast their fallen comrades each year and turn their goblets upside down in their honor.

They have also saved a bottle of Hennessy cognac from 1896, the year mission commander James Doolittle was born. The Raiders had said the final two survivors would open the bottle, but they have since decided that the four survivors will meet in private later this year for the toast.

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