Another Doolittle Raider passes into history

  • Published
  • By James Burrett
  • 49th Wing Historian
Our country has lost another piece of history and a WWII icon. Doolittle Raider Maj. Thomas C. Griffin passed away on Tuesday, Feb. 26 at the age of 96.

Major Griffin was a bombardier and navigator on the ninth Doolittle Raider B-25B, "Whirling Dervish," that launched from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet on April 18, 1942, to attack Japanese targets. His death comes only a few weeks before what is to be the final reunion of the remaining Doolittle Raiders April 17-21 in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

Now, it is Maj. Griffin's turn to be honored by the remaining Raiders at this reunion. The goblet with his name engraved on it will be turned upside-down and replaced in its velvet lined display case. Each goblet is inscribed twice with a Raider name - both right-side up and upside-down - so that the names are always readable.

This private ceremony will be attended only by the Raiders, Carroll V. Glines, the Raiders' historian, Tom Casey, manager of the Doolittle Raiders Association, and two Air Force Academy cadets. A roll call of the names of all the Raiders will be conducted, and when Griffin's name is called, Lt. Col. Richard Cole, the oldest survivor at age 97, will report his passing.

At the end of the Raider roll call and report, the white-gloved cadets will pour E&J Very Special brandy into the survivors' goblets, and they will drink their solemn toast, "to those who have gone," in remembrance of those who have preceded them.

In addition to Lt. Col. Cole of Comfort, Texas, the other Raider survivors are Lt. Col. Robert Hite of Nashville, Tenn., Lt. Col. Edward Saylor of Puyallup, Wash., and Master Sgt. David Thatcher of Missoula, Mont.

The Raiders have decided not to wait until only two survivors remain to have their final toast. Instead, they plan to have a special gathering later this year to share what will be their final toast. The surviving Raiders decided that because of their ages they would allow all those still living this year to take part in a final ceremony.

The tradition of drinking toasts to military comrades who have died dates back to at least the early 19th century, when French troops who had fought in the Napoleonic wars toasted their departed brothers in arms. The custom was picked up and perpetuated by American veterans at reunions held after the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, and other conflicts.

For their final toast, the last remaining Raiders will drink from a bottle of 1896 Hennessy Very Special cognac, marking the year their commander Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle was born, that has accompanied the goblets, unopened, to every reunion since 1960. This final toast will bring to a close a significant chapter in World War II aviation history when 71 years ago 80 brave young men volunteered to perform an impossible mission and boost the flagging morale of a stunned and battered nation.