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Doolittle Tokyo Raiders down to final survivor

And then there was one.

The June 22 passing of Staff Sgt. David Thatcher leaves 100-year-old Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole as the sole survivor among 80 Doolittle Tokyo Raiders that on April 18, 1942, engaged in a daring bombing raid on Tokyo and other Japanese cities.

The raid was in retaliation for Japan’s unprovoked Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

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Thatcher and Cole, the co-pilot for Lt. Col. James  H. “Jimmy” Doolittle’s lead Mitchell B-25 medium bomber, both attended ceremonies April 18, 2015, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, to accept delivery of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders congressional gold medal. Congressional leaders had presented the gold medal three days earlier to Raiders representatives in a ceremony at Emancipation Hall in the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C.

That 3-inch congressional gold medal is currently on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, in an exhibit dedicated to the Raiders, replete with a B-25 bomber of the type flown by the Raiders.

Remembering Sergeant Thatcher

Thatcher, who as an Army Air Force engineer-gunner corporal at age 20 helped save the lives of four severely wounded crewman following the aerial assault, died at age 94 in Missoula, Mont.

Thatcher was in the seventh of 16 North American Mitchell B-25B medium bombers launched from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.

As a second lieutenant, Cole was the co-pilot for Crew No. 1, piloted by Doolittle. Thatcher was the engineer-gunner for Crew No. 7. 

In total, 80 Raiders in five-man crews boarded 16 medium-range North American B-25 Mitchell bombers and left the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet on April 18, 1942, to bomb Japan’s capital and select other cities.  

Of the 80 Raiders who left the Hornet’s flight deck, eight were captured, two died in crashes, and 70 returned home. 

Of the eight captured Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, three were executed and one died of disease.

Thatcher manned two 50-caliber machine guns from the rear turret of his aircraft dubbed “The Ruptured Duck.“

Returning from the attack with his plane low on fuel, the pilot, Lt. Ted Lawson, tried for an emergency landing. The plane crashed into the sea near an island off the east coast of China.

The experience was recounted by Lawson in his 1943 best-selling book, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.

Thatcher, the least wounded of the crew, managed to escape the sinking aircraft upside down through an emergency hatch.

Thatcher’s crewmembers were severely injured when they were forced through the fuselage during the crash.

The five-man crew subsequently washed ashore in Japanese-occupied territory, but they were rescued by Chinese fisherman.

Thatcher and his crewmembers, with the aid of Chinese peasants, managed to reach a hospital on the mainland, evading Japanese troops during a grueling five-day trek over land.

What's on the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders medal?

For the congressional gold medal’s obverse, Deputy Treasury Secretary Sarah Bloom Raskin approved a design by AIP Artist Chris T. Costello and sculptured by Mint Sculptor-Engraver Donald Everhart II.  

The design depicts the USS Hornet launching one of the North American B-25 Mitchell bombers in choppy seas.  

Inscribed in the field above the main design is FIRST STRIKE.  

Inscribed around the raised border is ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? DOOLITTLE TOKYO RAIDERS ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? APRIL 18 • 1942.  

The 16 stars represent the 16 bombers. 

For the reverse, Bloom approved a design showing three of the bombers and the four patches of the units comprising the 17th Bombardment Group — the 34th Squadron, represented by the Thunderbird; the 37th Squadron, represented by the Tiger’s Head; the 89th Reconnaissance Squadron represented by the Winged Helmet patch; and the 95th Squadron, represented by the Kicking Mule. 

The design also incorporates the bombardment group’s motto: TOUJOUR AU DANGER, which translates into English as “Always in danger.”  

The design was created by AIP artist and retired Mint Sculptor-Engraver Donna Weaver and sculptured by Mint Medallic Sculptor Joseph F. Menna.

Both 1.5-inch and 3-inch bronze duplicates of the medal are available for sale from the U.S. Mint.

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