By Rep. Pete Olson
On February 26, 2013, America lost another great hero of World War II, Major Thomas "Tom" Griffin, 96, of Ohio, who was one of the five remaining members of the famed Doolittle Tokyo Raiders. On April 18, 1942, Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle led 79 other airmen and sixteen B-25 bombers on a daring and unprecedented attack on the Japanese mainland to avenge the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor four months earlier. Doolittle and his Raiders launched their B-25 bombers from the deck of the USS Hornet. This was the only time Army Air Corps bombers were ever launched from a Navy aircraft carrier.
After Doolittle and his men successfully hit their targets in Japan, they headed for mainland China and prayed they would reach land before running out of fuel. While most of the airmen ultimately reached safety after their aircraft ditched at sea or crash landed into China, three crewmen died while crash landing and eight more were captured by the Japanese. Three of the captured airmen were executed by Japan after a show trial, and a fourth died in a Japanese jail cell from malnutrition and disease. Of the 80 Raiders involved in the brazen attack on Japan, 73 returned home to the US.
The attack on mainland Japan, forever known as the Doolittle Raid, permanently erased the Japanese aura of invincibility. For the first time since the 13th century, the enemy had touched Japanese soil. The Japanese, fearful of another attack, focused their military efforts on destroying the American aircraft carriers. This change in strategy led directly to the Japanese attack at Midway, where they believed the USS Hornet was based. The Battle of Midway, in which Japan lost four out of its six aircraft carriers, over 300 aircraft, and a many of its best pilots, marked a decisive shift in momentum in the Pacific war. With its Pacific naval forces decimated, Japan suffered defeat after defeat as the Americans went on the offensive and "island-hopped" their way to Okinawa.
The Doolittle Raid was an important boost of morale for the Allied Forces and the American people still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor. When news of the daring raid on Japan reached the United States, morale swelled with news of this unprecedented attack on the heart of the Japanese empire. Americans across the country applauded their first victory of the war.
The 80 brave Americans, forever known as the Doolittle Raiders, not only volunteered for this mission with zero knowledge of what it would entail, but they willingly put their lives in harm's way, risking death, capture, and torture to bring the fight to the Japanese homeland. As a former Naval aviator, I have always admired the courage embodied by these men. This exceptionalism is why I have introduced a bipartisan bill to award the Doolittle Raiders the Congressional Gold Medal. This Medal will honor the bravery and sacrifices of the Doolittle Raiders and will be displayed at the Doolittle Raiders exhibit in the US Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
With the passing of Major Griffin last month, there are only 4 surviving members of the Doolittle Raiders: Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole of Texas (Jimmy Doolittle's co-pilot); Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite of Tennessee; Lt. Col. Edward J. Saylor of Washington; and Staff Sergeant David J. Thatcher of Montana. This April, what will likely be the last official Doolittle reunion; will be held in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. It is past time for Congress to honor these four Doolittle Raiders, and their fallen brethren, as they so richly deserve.