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  1. #1

    The Cup of Brandy Nobody Wants to Drink

    It's the cup of brandy that no one wants to drink.

    On Tuesday, in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, the surviving
    Doolittle Raiders gathered publicly for the last time.

    They once were among the most universally admired and revered men
    in the United States. There were 80 of the Raiders in April 1942,
    when they carried out one of the most courageous and
    heart-stirring military operations in this nation's history. The
    mere mention of their unit's name, in those years, would bring
    tears to the eyes of grateful Americans.

    Now only four survive.

    After Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, with the United
    States reeling and wounded, something dramatic was needed to turn
    the war effort around.

    Even though there were no friendly airfields close enough to
    Japan for the United States to launch a retaliation, a daring
    plan was devised. Sixteen B-25s were modified so that they could
    take off from the deck of an aircraft carrier. This had never
    before been tried -- sending such big, heavy bombers from a

    The 16 five-man crews, under the command of Lt. Col. James
    Doolittle, who himself flew the lead plane off the USS Hornet,
    knew that they would not be able to return to the carrier. They
    would have to hit Japan and then hope to make it to China for a
    safe landing.

    But on the day of the raid, the Japanese military caught wind of
    the plan. The Raiders were told that they would have to take off
    from much farther out in the Pacific Ocean than they had counted
    on. They were told that because of this they would not have
    enough fuel to make it to safety.

    And those men went anyway.

    They bombed Tokyo, and then flew as far as they could. Four
    planes crash-landed; 11 more crews bailed out, and three of the
    Raiders died. Eight more were captured; three were executed.
    Another died of starvation in a Japanese prison camp. One crew
    made it to Russia.

    The Doolittle Raid sent a message from the United States to its
    enemies, and to the rest of the world: We will fight. And, no
    matter what it takes, we will win.

    Of the 80 Raiders, 62 survived the war. They were celebrated as
    national heroes, models of bravery. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced
    a motion picture based on the raid; "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,"
    starring Spencer Tracy and Van Johnson, was a patriotic and
    emotional box-office hit, and the phrase became part of the
    national lexicon. In the movie-theater previews for the film, MGM
    proclaimed that it was presenting the story "with supreme pride."

    Beginning in 1946, the surviving Raiders have held a reunion each
    April, to commemorate the mission. The reunion is in a different
    city each year. In 1959, the city of Tucson, Arizona, as a
    gesture of respect and gratitude, presented the Doolittle Raiders
    with a set of 80 silver goblets. Each goblet was engraved with
    the name of a Raider.

    Every year, a wooden display case bearing all 80 goblets is
    transported to the reunion city. Each time a Raider passes away,
    his goblet is turned upside down in the case at the next reunion,
    as his old friends bear solemn witness.

    Also in the wooden case is a bottle of 1896 Hennessy Very Special
    cognac. The year is not happenstance: 1896 was when Jimmy
    Doolittle was born.

    There has always been a plan: When there are only two surviving
    Raiders, they would open the bottle, at last drink from it, and
    toast their comrades who preceded them in death.

    As 2013 began, there were five living Raiders; then, in February,
    Tom Griffin passed away at age 96.

    What a man he was. After bailing out of his plane over a
    mountainous Chinese forest after the Tokyo raid, he became ill
    with malaria, and almost died. When he recovered, he was sent to
    Europe to fly more combat missions. He was shot down, captured,
    and spent 22 months in a German prisoner of war camp.

    The selflessness of these men, the sheer guts ... there was a
    passage in the Cincinnati Enquirer obituary for Mr. Griffin that,
    on the surface, had nothing to do with the war, but that
    emblematizes the depth of his sense of duty and devotion:
    "When his wife became ill and needed to go into a nursing home,
    he visited her every day. He walked from his house to the nursing
    home, fed his wife and at the end of the day brought home her
    clothes. At night, he washed and ironed her clothes. Then he
    walked them up to her room the next morning. He did that for
    three years until her death in 2005."

    So now, out of the original 80, only four Raiders remain: Dick
    Cole (Doolittle's co-pilot on the Tokyo raid), Robert Hite,
    Edward Saylor and David Thatcher. All are in their 90s. They have
    decided that there are too few of them for the public reunions to

    The events in Fort Walton Beach this week will mark the end. It
    has come full circle; Florida's nearby Eglin Field was where the
    Raiders trained in secrecy for the Tokyo mission. The town is
    planning to do all it can to honor the men: a six-day celebration
    of their valor, including luncheons, a dinner and a parade.

    Do the men ever wonder if those of us for whom they helped save
    the country have tended to it in a way that is worthy of their
    sacrifice? They don't talk about that, at least not around other
    people. But if you find yourself near Fort Walton Beach this
    week, and if you should encounter any of the Raiders, you might
    want to offer them a word of thanks.

    The men have decided that after this final public reunion they
    will wait until a later date -- some time this year -- to get
    together once more, informally and in absolute privacy. That is
    when they will open the bottle of brandy. The years are flowing
    by too swiftly now; they are not going to wait until there are
    only two of them.

    They will fill the four remaining upturned goblets.
    And raise them in a toast to those who are gone.

    United States of AMERICA
    In God We Trust"
    "United We Stand - Divided We Fall"

  2. #2
    So now, out of the original 80, only four Raiders remain: Dick
    Cole (Doolittle's co-pilot on the Tokyo raid), Robert Hite,
    Edward Saylor and David Thatcher. All are in their 90s. They have
    decided that there are too few of them for the public reunions to

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