SALEM— A Salem couple is "leaving no stone unturned" in their efforts to get legislation passed honoring the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, a group of World War II pilots that led precarious raids on Japan in the early 1940s.
Brian and Cyndee Anderson said their ultimate goal is for the group's four surviving men to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, though they'll need the help of local legislators and constituents in order to make that happen.
Bestowed by Congress, the award is one of the highest civilian awards in the United States and is given to those whose actions have had a remarkable impact on American history and culture.
The 80 volunteer members of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders flew into history in mid- April of 1942.
Just over four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the 16 B-25 bombers, each one carrying five servicemen, took flight from the deck of the USS Hornet with the intention of dropping bombs over Japan before landing in an area of China that remained free – a dangerous but important mission during a time when America needed a serious morale boost.
Brian Anderson, who serves as the sergeant at arms for the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, said it's important to honor all of those men, both living and dead, for their valor, courage and patriotism.
An avid history buff, he said he's been fortunate to have had "a ringside seat to history."
Anderson said he and his wife have been working nonstop during the past two and a half years to formally recognize these brave men, particularly those still living.
"These men are all in their 90s now — they were truly part of the greatest generation," Anderson said this week. "Their efforts had an enormous impact in history, not only on the psyche of the Japanese warlords but on our own American troops. We won the Battle of Midway about a month and a half later, and the Doolittle men certainly played a role in this."
Of the 80 young men to depart from the USS Hornet that fateful day, three were killed in the course of their mission.
Eight of them were captured behind enemy lines, with three of the captives executed. Another man died of fever and malnutrition during the period of confinement, while the remaining four were eventually freed after being imprisoned for 33 months.
Seventeen other Raiders were killed in battle during later incidents on the battlefield.
"It was basically a suicide mission," Anderson said. "God's hand certainly had providence that night as they ran into a storm and tailwinds safely guided them over the Chinese mountains."
Today just four of the Raiders are still living: Ohio native Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, the co-pilot of Crew 1; Montana native Lt. Col. Edward D. Saylor, an engineer with Crew 15; Montana native Sgt. David J. Thatcher, an engineer gunner with Crew 7; and Texas native Lt. Col. Robert J. Hite, co-pilot with Crew 16 and former prisoner of war.
This past spring, three of the four surviving Raiders met for a reunion in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
Hite was unable to attend due to declining health, though Cole had the chance to fly a B-25 bomber plane one final time.
The Andersons have been traveling the nation seeking support for Senate Bill 381 and House Bill 1209, with the approval of 67 senators and 290 congressmen required in order to pass.
As of last week, 24 senators, including U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and 121 members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Carol Shea Porter, D-N.H., had agreed to co-sponsor the bills.
Right now, the Andersons are petitioning U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., to garner further legislative support.
"We're asking people to take a moment and write to their legislators," Anderson said. "These four men are true, American heroes and we need to honor them while they're still here among us."
For more information on the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, visit www.doolittleraider.com.
Those with questions regarding the pending legislation may contact Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org.