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President Obama signs Doolittle Raiders medal bill

President Obama has signed legislation authorizing congressional gold medals honoring the Doolittle Raiders of World War II. Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, left foreground, and Capt. Marc A. Mitscher, right foreground, stand in front of members of “Doolittle’s Raiders” in this photograph taken in April 1942.

Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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.

According to the legislation: "Beginning with World War I, and the first use of airplanes in warfare, military services have maintained official records of individual aerial victory credits during every major conflict. Of more than 60,000 United States military fighter pilots that have taken to the air, less than 1,500 have become Fighter Aces.

"Americans became Fighter Aces in the Spanish Civil War, Sino-Japanese War, Russian Civil War, Arab-Israeli War, and others. Additionally, American military groups' recruited United States military pilots to form the American Volunteer Group, Eagle Squadron, and others that produced American-born Fighter Aces fighting against axis powers prior to Pearl Harbor."

The gold medal will be presented to the Smithsonian Institution.

The bill authorizes the U.S. Mint to strike bronze versions of the gold medal for public sale.

Other gold medal bills approved by Congress

At least one other congressional gold medal bill was presented to the president for his signature just before the Memorial Day weekend.

S. 309 will honor members of Civil Air Patrol. According to the White House website, the bill was presented to the president on May 21.

Both houses of Congress have also passed H.R.1726, which will "award a Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers," according to the legislation. 

Coin World will update its coverage of the two additional bills making their way to the president's desk for his signature.

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