One of last Doolittle Raiders dies at age 96

Thomas Griffin Doolittle Raider

One of the last living Doolittle Raiders died this week in northern Kentucky, less than two months before what will be final reunion of the famed group.

Maj. Thomas C. “Tom” Griffin served as a navigator on one of the 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers that attacked mainland Japan on April 18, 1942, in a daring raid that lifted the spirits of an American nation still demoralized from Pearl Harbor and numerous other Japanese victories.

With Griffin’s death there are just four surviving Raiders: Lt. Col. Richard Cole, of Comfort, Texas; Lt. Col. Robert Hite of Nashville, Tenn.; Lt. Col. Edward Saylor of Puyallup, Wash.; and Master Sgt. David Thatcher of Missoula, Mont.

The last surviving Raider pilot, Bill Bower, died in early 2011.

Griffin, 96, died Tuesday in a veterans nursing home in northern Kentucky.

He was among 80 men who took part in the hazardous mission. The attack on Tokyo, launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet 650 miles off the coast of Japan, shocked the Japanese and gave American morale a needed boost.

The planes had insufficient fuel to reach safety after dropping their bombs and all 16 bomber crews either crash landed or bailed out. Griffin parachuted over China after the attack, eluded Japanese capture, and returned to action in bombing runs from North Africa before being shot down in 1943 and spending nearly two years in a German prison camp, according to the Associated Press.

B-25 bombers on the USS Hornet en route to Japan to take part in Doolittle Raid.

B-25 bombers on the USS Hornet en route to Japan to take part in Doolittle Raid.

Griffin was among the more fortunate of the Raiders. One man died bailing out of his plane, and two drowned. Eight Raiders were captured, and three were executed. A fourth died in captivity. Twelve Raiders later were killed in combat during World War II.

Griffin died less than two months from what now will be the Raiders’ final annual reunion, April 17-21 in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

The surviving Raiders will share their final toast at this year’s reunion.  They will drink from a bottle of 1896 cognac, the year their commander Lt. Col. “Jimmy” Doolittle was born.

(Above: Thomas C. Griffin, far left, is shown with three other members of the Doolittle Raiders last April. Next to Griffin is David J. Thatcher, Richard E. Cole and Edward J. Saylor during a reunion at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. Photo credit: Associated Press.)

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9 thoughts on “One of last Doolittle Raiders dies at age 96

    • Excellent link. Great photos and some really good information.

      I noted the comment from Tom Cole remarking that after the raid the Japanese, in retaliation, “killed an estimated 250,000 Chinese allies and ‘eradicated’ entire cities.”

      What a lovely bunch the Imperial Japanese army was.

      • Don’t want to get too upbeat; but imagine the fire storm at Tokyo. War in the 40’s was like nothing before or since. That horror, and the testament to that horror, is slowly fading.

        “the Japanese, in retaliation, “killed an estimated 250,000 Chinese allies and ‘eradicated’ entire cities.”

        Imagine a Dick Cheney character, or Robert McNamara, with the awesome circumstance of WW2 to bring war on the scale of 250,000 slaughtered and the eradication of cities? Imagine 250,000, or 100,000 burned to death? Inconceivable.

        Woe betide the arrogant few who think in terms of “collateral damage” in our modern instability.

        The scope and scale of WW2 cannot be imagined, only those who felt and fought knew WW2. We lose a precious resource for global sanity when the slaughter of WW2 is a forgotten voice.

    • It is sad but inevitable, I suppose. I got to meet the two Doolittle Raiders from South Carolina who survived the war about 10 years ago. Both have since died, but they were remarkable men. It was a very memorable experience.

  1. Those numbers are inconceivable to any of us who didn’t live during WW2. Both sides of the political spectrum should be more careful historians when comparing ANYONE or any event to the players and events of WW2. Thanks for keeping the reality alive. Glad you had the privilege of meeting two of them. I remember hearing announcements in Fresno about a reunion, and a last flight, so I looked it up. Even that was a long time ago!!! http://www.doolittleraider.com/reunions/59th_reunion.htm, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sgg3oQu2o8w

    • It was really rather remarkable to meet those two men and be able to talk with them – definitely an experience I’ll never forget.

      I also remember when Jimmy Doolittle died in 1993 I was living in the Monterey Bay area, just up the coast from Pebble Beach, where Doolittle lived before he died. I was able to see a B-24 fly over the coast as a tribute to him after his passing.

  2. Pingback: Doolittle Raider | Doolittle Raider Reunion News

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