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Salem couple works to honor WW II veterans

Retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole was the grand marshal for the National Memorial Day Parade, May 26, 2014.

SALEM, N.H. — For more than a decade, Brian and Cyndee Anderson have devoted their lives to helping a dwindling, but hardy group of World War II veterans.

For the past two years, the couple have worked almost singlehandedly to make sure the four surviving members of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders — all in their 90s — receive the recognition they deserve.

On Friday, the Salem couple were delighted to be in Washington, D.C., as President Obama signed a resolution that authorized the group to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. It’s the nation’s highest honor.

The Andersons had lobbied the 535 members of Congress and various military organizations. Two-thirds support was needed from each. The House adopted the resolution May 19 and the Senate on Wednesday.

“We were just thrilled,” Cyndee Anderson said yesterday.

The Doolittle Tokyo Raiders was a group of 80 U.S. airmen, led by Col. Jimmy Doolittle, who led the first bombing raid against Japan on April 18, 1942, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The crews of the 16 warplanes successfully bombed their targets. All but one either crashed or had its crew bail out in midair under heavy artillery fire.

The attack was regarded as a significant morale booster for Americans, proving that the Japanese were vulnerable.

Most of the men survived, but three members were killed and eight taken prisoner by the Japanese, including three who were later executed. A fourth man died of malnutrition while a prisoner of war. Thirteen other members were killed later in the war.

Only one of the surviving four, 98-year-old Lt. Col. Richard Cole of Texas, was able to attend the ceremony Friday at the White House. He also served as the grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade in Washington, D.C.

Brian Anderson, 62, the group’s sergeant at arms, stood near the president as he signed House Resolution 1209.

Due to a mixup, his wife wasn’t allowed to attend the ceremony. But she was glad the four men were finally recognized.

“We worked long and hard at it,” said Cyndee Anderson, 64. “I’m proud of the effort, but we are just happy the Raiders will be recognized and their legacy will live on.”

The other surviving crew members are Lt. Col Edward Saylor, Sgt. David Thatcher and Lt. Col Robert Hite. They are in their early 90s.

For the Andersons, it was a race against time to garner recognition for the men.

The same day U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, introduced a bill in the Senate, a fifth member of the group, Thomas Griffin, died on Feb. 26, 2013, at age 96.

Brian Anderson, a World War II buff, first became involved with the group 12 years ago after attending the Raiders’ annual reunion and seeing the group needed help organizing their get-togethers.

He first met a member of the group in 1986 and enjoyed the camaraderie and stories of their valiant mission.

The Raiders soon made him their sergeant at arms. At their final reunion last year, the four survivors gave him their patch — an honor usually only bestowed upon members.

“It’s a great bunch of guys,” he said. “Dick Cole — he’s the (Energizer) Bunny. He just keeps going and going.”

The Andersons said they received numerous emails and letters of support and thanks from the crew members’ families.

They also received praise for their efforts from members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation, including Congresswoman Ann Kuster.

“I’m so proud of Brian and Cyndee Anderson, a couple from New Hampshire’s own town of Salem, for stepping up and leading the charge in helping these pilots receive the recognition they so clearly deserved,” Kuster said in a statement.

The Andersons also lauded the delegation for help lobbying colleagues in Congress, especially U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

Ayotte alone gained support from 21 of the 100 senators, the couple said.

“I’m proud to honor this group of American heroes for their outstanding courage and heroism in leading our nation out of some of its darkest days,” Ayotte said. “This legislation rightly gives these men the recognition they deserve.”

For more on the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, visit doolittleraider.com.

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