City set to welcome Doolittle Raiders

jwilkinson@thestate.comApril 16, 2009 

Doolittle

Doolittle's B-25 bomber, with Richard Cole as co-pilot, takes off from a carrier en route to Japan on April 18, 1942. "I was too busy to be nervous," said Cole of the take-off, the first ever attempted of a fully-loaded B-25 from a naval aircraft carrier.

JULIA ROBINSON

  • The Columbia Connection

    The 80 Doolittle Raiders formed as a group in Columbia, while training at what is now the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. They meet each year to remember their 1942 raid over Toyko.

    The Raiders held their 50th and 60th anniversary reunions in Columbia. For the 60th, in 2002, thousands of people jammed Columbia’s Main Street for a parade and swarmed autograph sessions and gatherings held over five days. This year’s event will be a more scaled-back affair.

    MEET THE RAIDERS

    Sponsored by the Celebrate Freedom Foundation

    FRIDAY

    Noon-2 p.m.: Lunch with the Raiders, Columbia Marriott, 1200 Hampton St. Featuring U.S. Navy Rear Adm. John N. Goodwin. $50 per person; Celebrate Freedom Foundation members, $45

    2-4 p.m.: Autograph session, Columbia Marriott

    6:30-9 p.m.: Banquet and awards ceremony, Columbia Marriott. Keynote: U.S. Air Force Gen. Arthur J. Lichte, Air Mobility Command. $100 per person; Celebrate Freedom Foundation members, $90

    SATURDAY

    10-11:30 a.m.: Autograph session, Columbia Metropolitan Airport

    9 a.m.-5 p.m.: Raiders return to the former Columbia Army Air Base, now the airport. Displays of B-25 Mitchell bombers, B-1 Lancer bomber, PT-17 Stearman, SNJ, L-16, SCANG F-16, T-38, and T-6II. State Museum and State Military Museum displays, historical re-enactors, military scout dogs. Free

    Noon-2 p.m.: Barbecue lunch with the Raiders, Columbia Metropolitan Airport. $25 per person; Celebrate Freedom Foundation members, $20. Seating is limited to 200.

    2-3 p.m.: Autograph session, State Aeronautics Hangar, Columbia Metropolitan Airport

    7-10 p.m.: World War II Hangar Dance, State Aeronautics Hangar, Columbia Metropolitan Airport. A 1940s-style event featuring Bob Knox and the Blue Serenade Orchestra. 1940s and military attire encouraged. $10; cash bar; food available for purchase

    For tickets: (803) 772-2945 or www.CelebrateFreedomFoundation.org

Five of the nine surviving Doolittle Raiders arrived quietly in Columbia on April 15.

The next day they found a few new honors around town to celebrate their famous 1942 bombing raid on Tokyo.

Most notably, on April 17 the U.S. Air Force will emblazon the 34th Squadron’s flagship B-1 bomber with the Raider crest. The Raiders were drawn from the World War II version of the 95th, 34th, 37th and the 89th Recon squadron of the 17th Bomb Group.

The crest reads: Toujours au Danger — “Always into Danger.”

It’s a fitting motto for the Raiders who, on April 18, 1942, flew 16 Mitchell B-25B bombers off the pitching deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet and bombed Tokyo and three other Japanese cities in retaliation for Pearl Harbor.

It is the most famous air raid in U.S. history, which began when the Raiders volunteered for the mission in Columbia.

The motto is fitting for today’s 34th Squadron as well.

The bombers were the first to attack Afghanistan after 9/11, said Ken Breivik, director of public affairs for the Celebrate Freedom Foundation, which is organizing the 67th anniversary reunion.

“The Raiders’ legacy lives on,” he said. “And active-duty soldiers, airmen and sailors still care about that legacy.”

Video: History, in their own words

The unveiling of the emblem is the latest honor bestowed on the Raiders. Others:

• Eighty palmetto trees line Gervais Street in front of the S.C. State Museum, each bearing a plaque with the name of one of the 80 Raiders. There’s also a historical marker.

• A model of the Hornet is on the third floor of the museum, along with items donated by the late Raider Horace “Sally” Crouch of Columbia, museum curator of history Fritz Hamer said.

• A small display about the raid is located at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport. It is being augmented with some additional materials this week, airport executive director Mike Flack said.

• And the intersection of Interstate 26 and Airport Boulevard is named for the Raiders.

There have been some last-minute changes to the Raiders’ schedule. Edward Saylor, engineer of Plane No. 15, will not be able to attend.

Also, an autograph session today advertised on the Celebrate Freedom Foundation Web site has been scratched because of a scheduling conflict. And the Saturday autograph session has been moved from the downtown Marriott to the airport.

The foundation’s Breivik noted this is the Raiders’ third, and perhaps last, visit to Columbia, considering their ages.

“We wanted to get them back in Columbia while we could,” he said. “It’s such a compelling story, we wanted to make sure people here could hear it one more time.”

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