President Barack Obama opened Memorial Day activities on May 23 by signing into law legislation authorizing congressional gold medals honoring the Doolittle Raiders of World War II and American Fighter Aces.
The bill signings capped an active numismatic week in Washington, which witnessed congressional approval of at least four congressional gold medal bills. In addition to the two bills signed by the president, two other congressional gold medal bills were passed by both houses of Congress just before the Memorial Day weekend, with at least one of them confirmed as having been sent to the president for his signature.
H.R. 1209 — Doolittle Raiders bill becomes law
Obama signed H.R. 1209 into law to recognize the Doolittle Raiders with a congressional gold medal. The bill, introduced on March 15, 2013, passed the House of Representatives on May 19 and was approved by the Senate on May 20. The bill was sent to the president on May 22, the day before he signed the legislation into law.
As the legislation reports, "on April 18, 1942, the brave men of the 17th Bombardment Group (Medium) became known as the 'Doolittle Tokyo Raiders' for outstanding heroism, valor, skill, and service to the United States in conducting the bombings of Tokyo."
The bombing raid was an unconventional attack, with 16 U.S. Army Air Corps B-25 medium bombers launched from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet for the raid on the Japanese capital. The mission was the first American strike at the Japanese homeland in World War II. While the attack resulted in little damage to Tokyo, it boosted the morale of Americans, who were still reeling from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Morale was damaged among the Japanese.
Notes the legislation, "80 brave American aircraft crewmen, led by Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle, volunteered for an 'extremely hazardous mission', without knowing the target, location, or assignment, and willingly put their lives in harm's way, risking death, capture, and torture."
The legislation continues, "of the 80 Doolittle Tokyo Raiders who launched on the raid, 8 were captured, 2 died in the crash, and 70 returned to the United States; ... of the 8 captured Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, 3 were executed and 1 died of disease." Fifteen of the 16 bombers crashed in China; one landed in the Soviet Union.
Today, in May 2014, just four members of the raid survive. At least one of the survivors, Richard Cole, 98, was present with President Obama during the signing ceremony. Cole was co-pilot of the bomber flown by Lt. Col. Doolittle.
The gold medal authorized by the legislation will be presented to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. Cole, coincidentally, grew up in Dayton.
The bill authorizes bronze medals to be struck by the U.S. Mint and sold to the public.
H.R. 685 — American Fighter Aces Congressional Gold Medal Act
The president also signed into law H.R. 685, the American Fighter Aces Congressional Gold Medal Act. The new law honors all American fighter aces (those with five or more confirmed enemy kills) serving in all military conflicts since World War I.
The bill was introduced in the House on Feb. 14, 2013. The House passed the bill on May 19, 2014, with the Senate passing the measure on May 20.