Doolittle Raiders make a final toast for the ages

Vancouver man was bombardier on raid

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Updated: November 9, 2013, 6:55 PM

 

Local angle

Vancouver airman Wayne Bissell was a Doolittle Raider.

Bissell was one of five men on the “Whirling Dervish,” the ninth B-25 bomber to take off from the USS Hornet on April 18, 1942.

Bissell died Jan. 9, 1997, at age 75.

The 1939 graduate of Vancouver High School was the crew’s bombardier, dropping three 500-pound demolition bombs and a 500-pound incendiary cluster on targets in Tokyo.

Their top-secret Norden bombsights had been removed from the bombers so they couldn’t later fall into enemy hands. Bissell and the other bombardiers found their targets using 20-cent bombsights they’d built in a machine shop at their training base.

After flying 300 miles into China, the Army sergeant and his crewmates bailed out of their plane as it ran out of fuel in the middle of the night, in a storm.

The terrain was so mountainous they had to walk two days to get to a road.

Chinese peasants helped the crew members reach Allied lines. All 80 Raiders were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the mission.

Bissell then went to flight school. Commissioned as a lieutenant, Bissell piloted B-25 bombers in the southwest Pacific until his discharge in July 1945.

— Tom Vogt, Columbian staff writer

DAYTON, Ohio — The last of the Doolittle Raiders, in their 90s, offered a final toast Saturday to their fallen comrades, and pondered the place in history of their April 18, 1942, attack on Japan.

“May they rest in peace,” Lt. Col. Richard Cole, 98, said before the three Raiders present sipped an 1896 cognac from specially engraved silver goblets. The cognac was passed down for the occasion from their late commander, Lt. Gen. James “Jimmy” Doolittle, who was born in 1896.

In a ceremony Saturday evening at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, hundreds of people, including Raiders widows and children, descendants of Chinese villagers who helped them, and Pearl Harbor survivors, watched as a historian read the names of all 80 of the original airmen and the three Raiders each called out, “Here.”

In the afternoon, a wreath was placed at the Doolittle Raider monument outside the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton. Museum officials estimated 5,000 people turned out for Veterans Day weekend events honoring the mission.

Acting Air Force Secretary Eric Fanning said America was at a low point, five months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and rallied behind “these 80 men who showed the nation that we were nowhere near defeat.” He noted that all volunteered for a mission full of risks, from the launch of B-25 bombers from a carrier at sea to the attack on Tokyo without enough fuel to reach safe bases.

Four of the 80 are alive.

The Raiders said that, at the time, they didn’t realize their mission would be important in turning the war’s tide. It inflicted little major damage physically, but changed Japanese strategy while firing up Americans.

“It was what you do. … Over time, we’ve been told what effect our raid had on the war and the morale of the people,” said Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, 93, of Puyallup.

Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, 92, of Missoula, Mont., said during the war, the raid seemed like “one of many bombing missions.” The most harrowing part for him was the crash-landing, depicted in the movie “Thirty Seconds over Tokyo.”

Three crew members died as Raiders bailed out or crash-landed in China, but most were helped to safety by Chinese villagers and soldiers.

Greeted in Ohio

Joseph John Castellano’s grandparents brought him from their Dayton home for Saturday’s events. “This was Tokyo. The odds of their survival were one in a million,” the 12-year-old said. “I just felt like I owe them a few short hours of the thousands of hours I will be on Earth.”

After Thomas Griffin of Cincinnati died in February at age 96, the survivors decided at the 71st anniversary reunion in April in Fort Walton, Beach, Fla., that it would be their last and that they would gather this autumn for one last toast together instead of waiting, as had been the original plan, for the last two survivors to make the toast.

“We didn’t want to … end up with no people,” explained Lt. Col. Richard Cole, the oldest survivor at 98. Doolittle’s co-pilot, he lives in Comfort, Texas.

Lt. Col. Robert Hite, 93, couldn’t come. Son Wallace Hite said his father, in a Raiders blazer and other traditional garb, saluted the fallen with a silver goblet of wine at home in Nashville, Tenn., earlier in the week.

Hite is the last survivor of eight Raiders who were captured by Japanese soldiers. Three were executed and another died in captivity.

The 80 silver goblets used in the ceremony were presented to the Raiders in 1959 by the city of Tucson, Ariz. The Raiders’ names are engraved twice, once upside-down. In the ceremony, white-gloved cadets pour cognac into the participants’ goblets. Those of the deceased are turned over.