ALAMEDA -- They carried off one of the most legendary attacks of World War II and boosted American morale when victory over Japan seemed far from certain. But for the survivors of the Doolittle Raid, their mission will only truly end when they raise a final toast to those who were with them that fateful day and who have since died.
Just four of the 80 men are still living.
Richard Cole, Edward Saylor and David Thatcher will gather Nov. 9 at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, where they will each lift a silver goblet of brandy during the solemn ceremony. Their fellow survivor, Robert Hite, cannot attend due to poor health. But he is expected to watch the toast live.
The tradition of raising the toast began in 1959, when the city of Tucson, Ariz., presented the Doolittle Raiders with a set of silver goblets, each bearing the name of a man who flew on the April 1942 bombing mission.
During past reunions, surviving Raiders would toast those who had died since their previous meeting, then turn the deceased men's goblets upside down in the set's display case.
With their advanced age, the men decided their reunion this past April at Ft. Walton, Fla., would be their last. But they also wanted to formally raise a toast in private one last time.
The upcoming ceremony comes as efforts are under way to salute the Doolittle Raiders with a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award in the United States.
The raid set off from the former Alameda Naval Air Station and was launched from the USS Hornet (CV-8), said Bob Fish, a trustee at the USS Hornet Museum.
The aircraft carrier that took part in the raid was sunk in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in October 1942; the current Hornet, which was being built at the time of the sinking, was named after the lost vessel.
"Four of the Doolittle Raiders were born in California, including Jimmy Doolittle who, although born in Alameda, spent his high school and early college years in Los Angeles," Fish said. "Frank Kappeler, another Raider, was born and raised in Alameda."
Fish will represent the Hornet during the upcoming ceremony at the Air Force museum, where people are expected to line the museum's entrance to greet the surviving Raiders as they arrive for the toast. A wreath-laying ceremony and a fly over of B-25 aircraft is also planned.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) introduced the bills to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the Doolittle Raiders.
"A short four months after Pearl Harbor, these heroes bombed Tokyo and sent a message to the world," Olson said on the floor of the House of Representatives. "That America would win World War II."
Contact Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.
While the final toast of the Doolittle Raiders will not be open to the public, a live feed of the event will be broadcast on The Pentagon Channel at 6 p.m. EST on Nov. 9. A link to the live stream will be available at www.nationalmuseum.af.mil and www.af.mil.