The last pilot from the Doolittle raid, Col Bill Bower, USAF-Ret., passed away Jan 10 at his home in Boulder CO:

Bill Bower, last surviving bomber pilot of WWII Doolittle Raid, dies at 93

Capt. Bill Bower was the last surviving bomber pilot in the Doolittle Raid against Japan in April 1942. Pictured are Col. Bower's crew from the raid. From left to right, William Pound, navigator; Bill Bower, captain; Waldo Bither, bombardier; Thadd Blanton, co-pilot; Omer Duquette, flight engineer. (Family photo via Washington Post online)

As a 25-year-old first lieutenant, Col. Bower commanded one of the 16 Army Air Forces’ B-25s in the top-secret mission under the direction of then-Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle. Col. Bower and the 79 other men who participated in the bombing run came to be known as the Doolittle Raiders . . . After skimming the waves during the 600-mile flight to Japan, Col. Bower directed his plane toward Yokohama and was stunned by the island’s natural beauty.
“I had the impression that, my gosh, what peaceful, pretty countryside that was,” Col. Bower later said. “What do they want war with us for?”
When Col. Bower arrived over his target in Yokohama, about 25 miles south of Tokyo, he encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire. His crew dropped the plane’s 2,000 pounds of ordnance on Yokohama’s dockyards and an oil refinery.
Col. Bower then throttled on toward China, where the Americans had tentatively planned to land and regroup in Chuchow, 200 miles south of Shanghai.
But plans changed. The planes encountered strong headwinds and stormy weather that burned fuel
.

Like many of those who survived and made it back to the States, Col Bower continued to fight:

After the Doolittle Raid, Col. Bower flew missions in England, North Africa and Italy. He became an officer in the Air Force when it was formed in 1947. He served as the commander for an Air Force Arctic supply unit and later commanded Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, Ga. He retired from the military in 1966.

With his passing, there remain five survivors in toto of the raid to carryout the annual toast:

(Click on thumbnail to enlarge - note the inscription on the goblet - SJS)

At every reunion, the surviving Raiders meet privately to conduct their solemn “Goblet Ceremony.” After toasting the Raiders who died since their last meeting, they turn the deceased men’s goblets upside down. Each goblet has the Raider’s name engraved twice — so that it can be read if the goblet is right side up or upside down. When there are only two Raiders left, these two men will drink one final toast to their departed comrades.

From another time – another war echoes an age old sentiment: “Where do we get such men?”

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  10. Flightdeck Friday: A Family Remembers a Father, Naval Officer and Former Vigilante B/N
  11. Out of the Box Thinking and Execution 68 Years Ago: The Doolittle Raid
  12. The ENTERPRISE Petition – A Gentle Reminder
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  14. A Golden Anniversary: The Hawkeye At 50
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  16. Project CADILLAC: The Beginning of AEW in the US Navy (Part II)
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  19. An Open Letter to “The 100th Anniversary of Naval Aviation Foundation”
  20. U.S. Naval Aviation – 100 Years
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13 Comments

  1. bizjetmech

    My heart broke when I read the headline.

    • True – but “the time is coming and soon will be upon us” when the last of these warriors will have left us behind. All the more reason to celebrate and acknowledge them now.

  2. A couple (or more) years ago, I talked to the PBR driver who picked up Dolittle from his temporary island home. I will have to scour through the files to find my notes. I also have a recording of one of the Raiders talking about how they survived at sea on their raft. Really fascinating stuff!

  3. Mike Voorhees

    I am looking for a story that was printed in one of Max Lucado’s books. I believe it had to do with three surviving members of the Doolittle Raiders that crashed in the Pacific Ocean and was adrift for a couple of months. They were about to give up hope ever being rescued when a sea gull landed on their raft and they caught it and ate it. This helped them survive. Does anyone remember that story and maybe where I can get a copy of it.

    Thank you to all who have served this great nation.

    MIKE

  4. Mike:

    You may be thinking of Max Lucado’s book “In the Eye of the Storm” (1991) that tells the story of Eddie Rickenbacker (WWI Ace) who ended up on a raft in the South Pacific for over a month after their B-17 had to ditch. Hope this helps –
    w/r, SJS

  5. There is a story, I don’t know how true, about Rickenbacker being so grateful to the seagull that he used to feed the flocks every night when he was back home in Florida.

  6. A Story About Gratitude
    Eddie Rickenbacker and the Seagulls
    In the Eye of the Storm, a 1991 book by Max Lucado, tells the true story of a man who couldn’t go a week without saying “thank you.”

    “About sunset, it happened every Friday evening on a lonely stretch along the eastern Florida seacoast, you could see an old man walking, white-haired, bushy eye-browed, slightly bent, one gnarled hand would be gripping the handle of a pail, a large bucket filled with shrimp. There on a broken peer, reddened by the setting sun, the weekly ritual would be re-enacted. At once, the silent twilight sky would become a mass of dancing dots, growing larger. In the distance, screeching calls would become louder. They were seagulls, came from nowhere on the same pilgrimage; to meet an old man. For half an hour or so, the gentleman would stand on the peer, surrounded by fluttering white, till his pail of shrimp was empty. But the gulls would linger for a while. Perhaps one would perch comfortably on the old man’s hat, and a certain day gone by would gently come to his mind. Eventually, all the old man’s days were past. If the gulls still returned to that spot, perhaps on a Friday evening at sunset, it’s not for food, but to pay homage to the secret they shared with a gentle stranger.

    Anyone who remembers October of 1942 remembers the day that the World War I air ace, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, was lost at sea. Captain Eddie’s mission had been to deliver a message of the utmost importance to General MacArthur. MacArthur was headquartered in New Guinea, and Rickenbacker was given a B- 17 and a hand-picked crew to take him there. But there was an unexpected detour which would hurl Captain Eddie into the most harrowing adventure of his life. Somewhere over the South Pacific, the flying fortress became lost beyond the reach of radio. Fuel ran dangerously low, and the men decided to ditch the plane in the ocean. The B-17 stayed afloat just long enough for all aboard to get out. Then slowly the tail of the flying fortress swung up and poised for a split second, and then the ship went down leaving eight men in three rafts and the horizon.

    For nearly a month, Captain Eddie and his companions would fight the water and the weather and the scorching sun. They spent many sleepless nights recoiling as giant sharks rammed their rafts. Their largest raft was nine by five; the biggest shark ten feet long. But of all their enemies at sea, one proved most formidable – starvation. Eight days out, their rations were long gone or destroyed by the salt water. It would take a miracle to sustain them. And a miracle occurred.

    One of those men had a small Bible. They took turns reading from it each day. On the afternoon of the ninth day, they read from Matthew, “Take no thought of what to eat or drink. Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you.”

    In Captain Eddie’s own words, Captain William Cherry, the B-17 pilot “read the service that afternoon, and we finished with a prayer for deliverance and a hymn of praise. There was some talk, but it tapered off in the oppressive heat. With my hat pulled down over my eyes to keep out some of the glare, I dozed off. Something landed on my head. I knew that it was a seagull. I don’t know how I knew; I just knew. Everyone else knew, too. No one said a word. But peering out from under my hat brim without moving my head, I could see the expression on their faces. They were staring at the gull. The gull meant food, if I could catch it.” And the rest, they say, is history. Captain Eddie caught the gull. Its flesh was eaten; its intestines were used for bait to catch fish. In a little while they ran into a rainstorm, which brought fresh water. There were no longer any unbelievers in the life rafts. They came to believe that God was with them, in answer to prayer. They drifted two weeks longer. On the twenty-first day, they were spotted by search planes, and rescued. The survivors were sustained and their hopes renewed because a lone seagull, uncharacteristically, hundreds of miles from land, offered itself as a sacrifice.

    Former television “Tonight Show” host, Jack Parr, loved to tell this story of how, when much later, he lived near Rickenbacker on the coast. He said he would often see the Captain out along the shore, feeding the seagulls. “I used to wonder,” Jack said, “if somehow he was repaying them for the one they lost to him.”

  7. ELIZABETH McQUEEN

    I’m trying to get a list of names of the Flying Tigers. I had a girlfriend, years ago, whose father was Robert Prescott (I believe that is his last name) and was interested in this group of pilots. If I remember correctly Prescott and one other from this group started The Lobster House Restuarants in CA, flying Main lobster directly from the east coast to Los Angeles.

  8. This ought to get you started: AVG Roster
    w/r, SJS

  9. Bill Levernier

    I first read the story of Capt. Rickenbacker & the seagull in a book called “We thought we heard the angels sing” By a man named Whitacre, who, I think, was the navigator on the B-17. As I recall, they believed the navigation equipment was damaged in a hard landing, and lead them off course.

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