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Missoula VA Clinic to be renamed to honor Doolittle Raider

David Thatcher, a staff sergeant during the Doolittle Raid, smiles with pride as he listens to a speaker talk about the Doolittle Raiders, April 20, 2013 in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

DAVID SALANITRI/U.S. AIR FORCE

By KIM BRIGGEMAN | The Missoulian | Published: February 7, 2019

MISSOULIAN, Mont. (Tribune News Service) — The legacy of David Thatcher, who lived a quiet life in Missoula after serving heroically with the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, will be cemented in his adopted hometown later this month.

A ceremony is slated for 10:15 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, to attach Thatcher’s name to the Missoula Veterans Administration Clinic.

Veterans, their families and the general public are invited to the renaming. Congressional delegations who championed a bill to rename three Montana VA clinics in honor of World War II veterans have been sent invitations, as have Gov. Steve Bullock and Mayor John Engen.

U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines and U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte introduced a bill last spring to christen the Palmer Street clinic in Thatcher’s honor. They included the renaming of a similar outpatient VA facility in Billings for Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow (Dakaak Baako) and a specialty clinic in Billings for Benjamin Steele. President Donald Trump signed the legislation in June 2018.

Plans are still in the works for the Billings ceremonies, pending availability of the congressmen, Montana VA spokesman Patrick Hutchison said Monday.

Thatcher was a member of the famed Doolittle Raiders who bombed Tokyo months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He outlived all but one of the 80 Raiders before passing away in Missoula in 2016 at age 94.

Born in Bridger, Thatcher graduated from Absarokee High School in 1939 and enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1940. After Pearl Harbor was attacked he volunteered to serve as a tail gunner for an unknown high-risk mission that would attack targets deep within Japanese controlled territory. The counterattack under Lt. Col. James "Jimmy" Doolittle became known as the Doolittle Raid.

Thatcher's role in the raid was portrayed by actor Robert Walker in the film “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.” He was on a B-25 that ran out of fuel after the raid and made an emergency landing off the coast of China. Thatcher helped his injured crewmates to safety, and was awarded the Silver Star for his efforts.

He went on to fly 26 missions in a B-26 over North Africa and Europe, among them the first bombing raid over Rome. He was discharged in July 1945 and returned to Montana to marry his sweetheart Dawn, who survives him. Thatcher was a mail clerk and carrier for the U.S. Postal Service in Missoula for 30 years before retiring in 1980.

His son Jeff Thatcher of Little Rock, Arkansas, will be on hand to speak on behalf of the family at the Feb. 21 ceremony.

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