FORT WALTON BEACH — The Doolittle Tokyo Raiders will end their longstanding tradition of reunions this year at the place where it all started.
The group of 80 men made famous by their April 18, 1942, bombing on Tokyo that lifted American morale during World War II is down to five living members.
“It was a very emotional decision to make,” said Tom Casey, business manager for the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders. “I think this was one of the toughest things I‘ve ever done.”
The Raiders trained at then Eglin Field with Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle, who led the 16 Army B-25 bombers off the deck of the Navy aircraft carrier to bomb five major Japanese cities.
The four active Raiders decided last October that this year would be their final reunion. The decision was announced Friday.
“Looking at their health and that this is where they trained for the mission, we thought this would be fitting for the final public reunion,” Casey said.
The reunion being organized by the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce April 16-21 will be a “Farewell Tribute.” Last year’s event in Dayton, Ohio, sold out in three hours, and this year’s event is looking to be just as popular.
The men have met yearly since 1946 to celebrate their camaraderie and the success in their mission.
“There was such companionship between the 80 men who started out together,” Casey said. “Because of the type of mission they took on there was a lot of teamwork involved.
“That was a mission they weren‘t sure they’d come back from.”
The four active Raiders range from 92 to 97 years old.
They will open a bottle of cognac made the year Jimmy Doolittle was born. They originally had planned to pass the bottle on to the last two survivors, but changed their minds.
“Instead of waiting for the final two, we decided to call it a day,” Casey said. “They agreed that they should do this last one and that they can all enjoy that final toast.
“We’re going to close this mission.”