ALAMEDA -- The staff and volunteers at the USS Hornet museum are welcoming the decision to award the Congressional Gold Medal to World War II's Doolittle Raiders, the men who led a daring air strike on Japan that raised American spirits shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
President Barack Obama signed the bipartisan legislation awarding the medal, the nation's highest civilian honor, on May 23.
Lt. Col. Richard Cole, now age 98 and one of just four men still alive out of the 80 who carried out the attack in April 1942, witnessed the signing in the Oval Office.
The Hornet museum hosted special events and pushed its members and volunteers to call or e-mail every California member of Congress, as well as the state's two senators, to lobby support for the award.
"We are deeply gratified the Doolittle Raiders were awarded this much-deserved Congressional Gold Medal," museum trustee Bob Fish said. "Tangentially, this national recognition recognizes Hornet CV-8 and her gallant crew, who braved dangerous waters to launch the daring air strike in 1942. It also reflects credit upon the Hornet museum staff, volunteers and members who were instrumental in getting this award approved by Congress."
The ship that launched the raid was sunk during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands in October 1942, and the current Hornet was named after the lost vessel. The carrier, which opened as a museum in October 1998, has the only major exhibit about the Doolittle Raid on the West Coast.
There are other Alameda connections with the air strike: The Hornet set off for Japan from the former Alameda Naval Air Station; Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, who led the attack, was born in Alameda, and Frank Kappeler, a navigator on the mission, was from the city.
The men who took part in the attack were all volunteers and flew in B-25 Mitchell bombers. The plan called for them to hit military targets in Japan and then land in China. But the raid was launched earlier than planned and each aircraft crashed in China after running low on fuel, except for one that landed in the Soviet Union.
Three of the men were killed during the mission. Three others were caught by the Japanese and executed.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, introduced the bills to award the Congressional Gold Medal to the raiders.
The legislation followed a Senate Resolution introduced by Brown in 2012 honoring the 70th anniversary of the raid.
On Feb. 26, 2013, the day Brown and U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., introduced the legislation, Major Tom Griffin died. He was a navigator on the mission.
The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the Doolittle Raiders as a group, and it will be held at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
Others who have received the medal include George Washington, poet Robert Frost and the astronauts of Apollo 11, the first men to walk on the moon.
Contact Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.