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Sun, Apr 20, 2003

Doolittle Raiders Hold Sacred Toast

Annual Ceremony Honors Those Who Didn't Come Home

The Doolittle Raiders held their traditional goblet ceremony April 16 during the group's 61st annual reunion, held at Travis AFB (CA) and in the local community this week. During the goblet ceremony, the men toast with cognac and then turn over the goblets of those who have died since the last meeting.

Each silver goblet bears the name of one of the 80 Doolittle Raiders who were part of the pivotal mission April 18, 1942, to bomb Tokyo as symbolic revenge against Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The mission was led by then-Lt. Col. James Doolittle.

An Emotional Reunion

As Doolittle Raider Chase Nielsen raised his goblet for the toast, he said he felt proud to be representing Crew No. 6. He was also emotional because he is the only surviving member of his crew.

"We have had a representation from all 16 crews until this year," Nielsen said. "We had two crews wiped out because time is taking its toll. It's a privilege and pleasure for me to be part of this group and to have been friends and rubbed elbows with a man like Doolittle - they never come any better."

Nielsen has been the only survivor of his crew since 1942. During the mission over Tokyo, two of his men died when they ditched into the ocean, one man was executed, and one man died in prison camp.

A Cadet's Honor

The 80 silver goblets were moved from their display case at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., to the reunion that began April 15. The goblets were flown aboard a B-25 and escorted to the reunion by the two senior cadets who earned top honors in an airpower history course last year.

"It's a great honor to be here because the men are all heroes," said Cadet 1st Class Jason McClure. "I am in awe and humbled by them."

McClure and Cadet 1st Class Anna Reitze earned the honor of escorting the goblets to the reunion.

At the academy, a bottle of 1896 cognac commemorating the year Doolittle was born is displayed in the case with the goblets. Doolittle's wish is that the final two surviving Raiders will use that bottle to drink a final toast for their comrades.

Helping Preserve History

The reunion also kicks off fund-raising efforts for the Jimmy Doolittle Air and Space Museum. The proposed, state-of-the-art facility will replace the current Travis Air Museum, which is not open to the general public and needs major upgrades. All proceeds raised from the reunion will go toward the new museum.

"We're really happy to be here today and have the museum named after our boss," Nielsen said. "After all, he has done so much for aviation, flying and the safety of flight. (Doolittle) was so energetic and more than a good aviator. He went to MIT for aeronautical engineering in 1927. He used to kid us about that and said, 'That's when you should have gotten your education because we only had two airplanes - it was easy.'"

The silver goblets were returned to the academy after the reunion ended Saturday.

(Special thanks to 1st Lt. Angela Arredondo, 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs)

FMI: www.defenselink.mil

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