They once were among the most universally admired and revered men in the United States .. There were 80 of the Raiders in April 1942, when they carried out one of the most courageous and heart-stirring military operations in this nation’s history. The mere mention of their unit’s name, in those years, would bring tears to the eyes of grateful Americans.
Now only four survive.
After Japan’s sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, with the United States reeling and wounded, something dramatic was needed to turn the war effort around.
Even though there were no friendly airfields close enough to Japan for the United States to launch a retaliation, a daring plan was devised. Sixteen B-25s were modified so that they could take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier. This had never before been tried — sending such bi g, heavy bombers from a carrier.
The 16 five-man crews, under the command of Lt. Col. James Doolittle, who himself flew the lead plane off the USS Hornet, knew that they would not be able to return to the carrier. They would have to hit Japan and then hope to make it to China for a safe landing.
But on the day of the raid, the Japanese military caught wind of the plan. The Raiders were told that they would have to take off from much farther out in the Pacific Ocean than they had counted on. They were told that because of this they would not have enough fuel to make it to safety.
And those men went anyway.
They bombed Tokyo and then flew as far as they could. Four planes crash-landed; 11 more crews bailed out, and three of the Raiders died. Eight more were captured; three were executed. Another died of starvation in a Japanese prison camp. One crew made it to Russia.
The Doolittle Raiders sent a message from the United States to its enemies, and to the rest of the world: We will fight. And, no matter what it takes, we will win.
Of the 80 Raiders, 62 survived the war. They were celebrated as national heroes, models of bravery. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced a motion picture based on the raid; “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” starring Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson, was a patriotic and emotional box-office hit, and the phrase became part of the national lexicon. In the movie-theater previews for the film, MGM proclaimed that it was presenting the story “with supreme pride.”
Beginning in 1946, the surviving Raiders have held a reunion each April, to commemorate the mission. The reunion is in a different city each year. In 1959, the city of Tucson, Arizona, as a gesture of respect and gratitude, presented the Doolittle Raiders with a set of 80 silver goblets. Each goblet was engraved with the name of a Raider.
Every year, a wooden display case bearing all 80 goblets is transported to the reunion city. Each time a Raider passes away, his goblet is turned upside down in the case at the next reunion, as his old friends bear solemn witness.
Also in the wooden case is a bottle of 1896 Hennessy Very Special cognac. The year is not happenstance: 1896 was when Jimmy Doolittle was born.
There has always been a plan: When there are only two surviving Raiders, they would open the bottle, at last drink from it, and toast their comrades who preceded them in death.
As 2013 began, there were five living Raiders; then, in February, Tom Griffin passed away at age 96.
What a man he was. After bailing out of his plane over a mountainous Chinese forest after the Tokyo raid, he became ill with malaria, and almost died. When he recovered, he was sent to Europe to fly more combat missions. He was shot down, captured, and spent 22 months in a German prisoner of war camp.
The selflessness of these men, the sheer guts … there was a passage in the Cincinnati Enquirer obituary for Mr. Griffin that, on the surface, had nothing to do with the war, but that was emblematic of the depth of his sense of duty and devotion:
“When his wife became ill and needed to go into a nursing home, he visited her every day. He walked from his house to the nursing home, fed his wife and at the end of the day brought home her clothes. At night, he washed and ironed her clothes. Then he walked them up to her room the next morning. He did that for three years until her death in 2005.”
So now, out of the original 80, only four Raiders remain: Dick Cole (Doolittle’s co-pilot on the Tokyo raid), Robert Hite, Edward Saylor and David Thatcher. All are in their 90s. They have decided that there are too few of them for the public reunions to continue.
The events in Fort Walton Beach marked the end. It has come full circle; Florida’s nearby Eglin Field was where the Raiders trained in secrecy for the Tokyo mission. The town planned to do all it can to honor the men: a six-day celebration of their valor, including luncheons, a dinner and a parade.
Do the men ever wonder if those of us for whom they helped save the country have tended to it in a way that is worthy of their sacrifice? They don’t talk about that, at least not around other people. But if you find yourself near Fort Walton Beach this week, and if you should encounter any of the Raiders, you might want to offer them a word of thanks. I can tell you from first hand observation that they appreciate hearing that they are remembered.
The men have decided that after this final public reunion they will wait until a later date — some time this year — to get together once more, informally and in absolute privacy. That is when they will open the bottle of brandy. The years are flowing by too swiftly now; they are not going to wait until there are only two of them.
They will fill the four remaining upturned goblets. And raise them in a toast to those who are gone.
Their 70th Anniversary Photo
I remember meeting Jessica for the first time in 2006 at the National Speakers Association convention in Orlando. It was our first ever get together of SpeakingEagles.
She told me then: “I am going to learn to fly.” She did……..And she has a documentary film coming out within the next year. An amazing young woman.
The below comments and photos are from UPS Captain Brett Gibbons, (B- 767 and B-757 on international routes, a former USAF pilot.
Had a good trip – something different and out of the norm. It was a big a big deal for UPS. Lots of photos and people in both Athens and Cologne. We had our Miami Chief pilot with us and he was the escort of the flame.
It is actually the 2015 Special Olympics in Los Angles. If you go to http://www.la2015.org It has some information about the lighting of the flame, UPS moving it, etc. The games start July 25th in LAX.
UPS is a Special Olympics sponsor.
There was no cargo on-board. Just Captain, First Officer and escort on B767. Normally, UPS contracts flights to Athens daily. This flight was just for PR.
Cologne is our major European hub. so that’s why the fight started there. The flame then went from Athens to Cologne then on to Philly. At that point it traveled by ground (UPS Vehicle) to D.C. to start its trek to LA. Three flames will leave D.C. on north, central, and southern routes and they will all meet in LA.
The flames are in 2 separate miners lamps on the aircraft. We also had 2 spares, not lit, just in case we needed them. They are mounted in a special device that is designed to be carried in aircraft seats.
Many airlines have moved these before just like we did. These lamps burn kerosene and can burn for a long time – maybe 20 hrs. They have a high and low setting. On low the flame is quite small, like a match. We also had fuel with us to keep them full. Interesting, fun, once-in-a-lifetime thing.
Speaking Eagles honor Col. Frank Kurtz, Olympic medalist diver and the most decorated Army Air Corps pilot in World War II
by Danny Cox
Speaking Eagles has named Colonel Frank Kurtz, the most decorated Army Air Corps pilot in World War II and a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) for the National Speakers Association, as an honorary member (awarded posthumously). Known for flying the last surviving B-17 Flying Fortress, Kurtz was an Army pilot on duty in the Philippines when the Japanese drew the United States into the war. He flew the last of the 35 planes stationed in the Pacific and when the plane suffered damages in combat, Kurtz and his crew dubbed it “part swan and part goose–the Swoose.”
Standing left to right, J.C. Goldman (tg); E. J. Campbell, (n); Fred Higginbotham (b); Charles LeMonde (wg); John Garton (ttg/eng); Al Hansen (btg); Charles Myers (wg). Photo courtesy of Tom Stevenson, 772nd.
Col. Frank Kurz
Born in Davenport, Iowa in 1911, Kurtz left home early and sold newspapers on the streets of Kansas City. He gained much attention with his charm, spirit of adventure and drive.
As a youth he visited a swimming pool and decided to try the high diving board. The fact that he didn’t know how to swim didn’t bother him. He took to swimming and diving quickly. The great Olympian Johnny Weissmuller, who was famous for playing Tarzan, saw Kurtz swimming and diving in a competition in Kansas City. He suggested Frank should go to Hollywood and work with the famous diving coach, Clyde Swenson.
At 15, Kurtz promptly hitchhiked to Los Angeles and met Swenson. His progress under Swenson was swift, but the Hollywood Athletic Club told him they couldn’t afford to send him to the National Diving Championships in Hawaii.
That was no problem for Kurtz. He signed on as a seaman on a tanker bound for Hawaii. He entered the competition, won second and headed back to Los Angeles as a stowaway. He graduated from high school in 1931 and then learned to fly. He set three speed records, including the record for a flight from Los Angeles to Mexico City.
Kurtz became an Olympic medalist and was the only diver up until that time to qualify for the Olympics three times. They were in 1932, 1936 and 1940 but the last one was cancelled due to the war. Grantland Rice, the legendary sports writer, called him “the greatest exhibition diver in the world.”
Just prior to World War II Kurtz joined the Army Air Force and flew the B-17. The war was looming on the horizon. He and his crew of ten were assigned to Clark Air Base on Luzon in the Philippines along with several other B-17’s. The Japanese attacked them eight hours after the Pearl Harbor attack.
The next day, his crew, while trying frantically to repair their B-17’s strafing damage, was attacked again. Eight of his tencrew members were killed. He went to each body and took something personal from each one to send to their families. He stored the items in his bunker. The next day the bunker was bombed and all personal belonging were lost.
Kurtz and his new crew did bombing raids on all the enemy held islands in the Southwest Pacific as they worked their way down to Australia. Their B-17’s needed some serious repairs from battle damage and they “scavenged” parts from other airplanes, not necessarily B-17’s. One of his crew said “our airplane is part swan and part goose.” The Swoose!
Kurtz was in Australia when a 10-year-old boy came to him and started talking. Frank took his “Wings” off his uniform and pinned them on the boy’s shirt. If you ever run into Rupert Murdoch, ask him if he still has Franks’ “Wings.”
His wife wired Frank to tell of their daughter’s birth and asked for a name. He said, “Call her ‘Swoosie’.”
W.L. White wrote Frank’s biography in 1943 called “Queens Die Proudly.” Frank’s wife, Margo, wrote a book, “My Rival, The Sky.”
The B-17 “The Swoose” became the second most famous airplane in World War II. The Enola Gay is number one. “Swoose” went first to the Smithsonian but is now on display at the Wright Patterson Air Force museum in Dayton, Ohio.
In 1979, Frank joined the National Speakers Association as a full time professional speaker and earned the CSP designation. He didn’t miss a convention for the next sixteen years. In 1995 he suffered a serious head injury in a fall. He was unable to continue speaking, but put up a good fight and “flew west” on October 31, 1996.
His daughter, Swoosie, is a highly acclaimed actress on screen, television and stage.
I was very proud to call Frank a friend.
Danny Cox, CSP, CPAE
Aviation heroes featured at Speaking Eagles’ event
At the recent National Speakers Association (NSA) convention in Philadelphia, the Speaking Eagles group featured Vice Admiral Mark Fox and retired Col. Tom Matthews.
Fox is the new Deputy Commander of Central Command in Tampa, former Commander of Top Gun and the Naval Air Station in Fallon, NV, and was also Commander of the 5th Fleet in Bahrain. He was the first U.S. Navy pilot to shoot down a MiG over Iraq in 1991. Tom Matthews, Col. U.S. Army Ret., led the Task Force Ranger mission in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993, and served as a consultant for the movie “Black Hawk Down.”
Former POW and retired Colonel Lee Ellis, Priscilla Fox, Howard Putnam and Vice Admiral Mark Fox at the Speaking Eagles’ event
Col. (ret.) Tom Matthews discusses the “Black Hawk Down” operation in Somalia
Speaking Eagles Rob “Waldo” Waldman and Don Hutson celebrate Waldman’s induction to the NSA Hall of Fame at the convention in Philadelphia
Hayley Brown, granddaughter of NSA member and pilot Janet Lapp, told her story to the Speaking Eagles of recovering from being nearly killed in a plane crash a year ago.
Professional Skydiving Team Fastrax jumps with Petry
Skydiver, professional speaker and former U.S. Army Ranger David Hart recently had the good fortune to exit an airplane at 10,000 feet over Washington, D.C. with U.S. Army Ranger SFC Leroy Petry attached in tandem. Hart’s brother John shot the photos in freefall over Reagan National Airport, the Potomac River and the National Mall.
“The plane made a second pass at 6,000 feet with Dana Bowman and other members of Team Fastrax jumping with large U.S. Flags,” said Hart. “Everyone landed in a 100 x 100 foot area of turf in front of the National Harbor Conference Center. Following the jump the USMC Honor Guard performed for everyone. The event was hosted by the GE Veterans Support Group.”
Ranger Petry protected his Ranger unit in combat by grabbing a live grenade with his bare hand, which was blown off. Check out his new bionic right hand in the photos. When asked if he had any regrets, he said “I wish I would have grabbed the grenade with my left hand.” Petry is the only living Medal of Honor recipient still on active duty.
For more information on David Hart and Team Fastrax, visit http://blueskies175.wordpress.com/.
Nixon library hosts a reunion dinner for all living former POWs of Vietnam War
Speaking Eagle witnesses first flight across America
Solar Impulse has taken up yet another challenge in preparation for its 2015 round-the-world flight to cross the United States, from coast to coast, this spring. Bill Johnson, who qualified for his private pilot’s license in the early ’50s and is also the original executive director of the National Speakers Association, recently had a chance to see the solar powered, fuel-free aircraft in Phoenix, AZ.
“I was fortunate to spend an hour visiting the Solar Impulse as she did her first U.S. flight from San Francisco to New York, said Johnson. ”
“The solar power drove the four electric motors with 12k solar cells on the 747 length wings. The first stop was Phoenix for two days of public viewing while charging the solar panels with the Arizona sunlight. It continued to Dallas then on to St Louis, DC and to NYC. The one man flight took 19 hours at the astounding speed of 45 MPH. Solar Impulse left SFO at sunrise and arrived at Sky Harbor at 1 a.m. the next day. The pilot was one of the Swiss builders and I was surprised to learn the aircraft has been touring in Europe and Africa since 2009.”
“I find myself reflecting on the 1938 Aeronca Champ I bought with Pat Luby and Bob Pace while at SMU. Pace and I got our40 hours for private license in the $250 investment.”
...or at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport
Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour became America’s first African-American female combat pilot. Recently, she ran into one of her heroes, USAF Col. (Ret) Lee Ellis at the Cleveland airport.
Ellis was shot down over enemy territory during the Vietnam War and became a prisoner of war. He was held in various prisons in the Hanoi area for over five years. After repatriation,his assignments included duty as a pilot, flight instructor, staff officer, chief of flight standardization and evaluation, flying squadron commander and supervisor in higher education before retiring as a colonel. He was awarded two Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star with Valor device, the Purple Heart, and POW Medal for his service in Vietnam. In addition, he was awarded four Air Force Commendation Medals and four Meritorious Service Medals for performance excellence.
Ellis and Armour at CLE
Both members of Speaking Eagles and the National Speaker’s Association (NSA), Armour got to hear her hero speak at the NSA Speaking Eagles’ meeting last summer.
“I sat in awe, as Col. Leon “Lee” Ellis, USAF (Ret.) spoke of his POW experience during Vietnam, to our small intimate gathering of Speaking Eagles,” said Armour. “I was listening to a true American hero. NSA has blessed me in many ways, and being connected to extraordinary people like Col. Ellis, is at the top of the list. Thank you sir, for your service and your shoulders. Semper Fi.”
Published on April 3, 2013 in Asheville, Hendersonville, News Stories, Roger McCredie
[Asheville, NC] A private aircraft climbed into a cloudless Good Friday sky, bound for the nation’s capital. Its mission: to fetch a local veteran back to spend his final days near his family.
The plane, which was given the call sign HRF (for “Hero Flight”) 65MS, is owned and flown by Asheville businessman Mike Summey. Also on board were reserve pilot Greg Byrd, and Dr. Kenneth Kubitschek of Carolina Internal Medicine who was volunteering his own time to act as accompanying physician.
The patient is retired Master Sergeant Michael Dishon, a 20-year Air Force veteran who was recently medevaced from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the army’s largest hospital outside the U.S. proper, to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington. Dishon suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and has now been diagnosed with terminal Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, an aggressive form of cancer that invades the lymph system. On arrival, Dishon will be transferred to a local hospice facility.
Summey said he learned of Dishon’s case when he was contacted by the Veterans Airlift Command, a small nonprofit that enlists the aid of private pilots to transport ill and wounded veterans in cases where military transport is not available or feasible and ground travel is not advisable.
(Left to right) Dr. Kenneth Kubitschek, Master Sergeant Michael Dishon, Mike Summey – Pilot
Jen Salvati, VAC Operations Manager, said that Dishon’s illness had been designated as 100 percent service-connected since he contracted it while still on active duty, and that he thus would ordinarily have qualified for military air transport; however, she said, she had been informed that funding for such mercy flights has been curtailed by Sequester budget cuts and that the armed forces have been appealing to private sources for help. “We got a call from Sgt. Dishon’s social worker,” she said.
“It’s a duty and an honor to be doing this,” Summey said. “For me it’s an uplifting experience. But I can’t help noticing the irony that the President of the United States can spend a million dollars’ worth of taxpayer money to have Air Force One fly him to a golf game with Tiger Woods but the Air Force can’t afford to fly a terminally ill veteran with a hundred-per-cent service related disability to his hospice.”
Salvati said the Veterans Airlift Command headquartered in Minneapolis, was started by her father, Walt Fricke, a Vietnam War helicopter pilot. The organization, administered only by Fricke, Salvate and mission coordinator Maria Miles, now comprises some 2,200 private pilots across the U.S., such as Summey, who usually undertake their missions at their own personal expense.
“We usually deal with combat wounded, but this [Dishon’s case] was a worthy exception,” Salvati said. She added that the fact that military transport was not available might in a way have been just as well.
“He would probably have had to wait for available space,” she said. “That could have meant being on call for days, and even then you don’t know whether he’d be getting proper attention. And commercial flights are just as bad. At least this way he’ll have a doctor and oxygen with him and we know he’ll be made comfortable.”
Dishon’s daughter Samantha was due to accompany her father back to Asheville, where they would be met by another daughter. The flight manifest listed two passengers, one weighing 150 pounds, the other 105 pounds.
The 105-pound passenger was Dishon.
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