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.
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.)