June 04, 2014 - In the wake of America's darkest hour, they served as a beacon of light and helped change the course of a war that would determine the fate of the entire world.
Former Oxford resident Brian Anderson (standing, second from left) and Lt. Col. Dick Cole (fifth from left) watch as President Barack Obama signs the legislation awarding the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders the Congressional Gold Medal. Photo submitted. (click for larger version)
Seventy-two years later, a courageous band of warriors, known as the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, was finally honored with a Congressional Gold Medal for the "outstanding heroism, valor, skill and service" they exhibited when they bombed Japan's main island and capital city during World War II.
It was a former Oxford man who lobbied all 535 members of Congress to make it happen.
"Not to sound corny, but mission accomplished," said Brian Anderson, who was a resident of the Oxford-based Camp Oakland (now Crossroads for Youth) in the 1960s.
"It was something that I had set out to do. Many people told me that we would not succeed; it wouldn't happen. By God, we made it happen. I felt they were deserving."
Anderson, who's the sergeant at arms for the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Association, was present in the White House's Oval Office May 23 when President Barack Obama signed the legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the brave group of flyers.
"(Obama) invited us in and was very personable. He opened the door to the Oval Office for us. He said, 'C'mon in,'" Anderson said. "We were in there for about 25 minutes. It was awesome. He shook all of our hands. It was just so surreal."
The medal will hang "for all to see" in the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, according to Anderson.
Bestowed by the United States Congress, the Congressional Gold Medal is one of the two highest civilian awards in the nation.
Since the American Revolution, Congress has awarded gold medals as the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions.
There is no standard design for Congressional Gold Medals. Each is different in appearance because they're specifically designed to commemorate a particular individual and/or achievement.
The impact of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders on both American and global history is immeasurable.
Following the Japanese Empire's Dec. 7, 1941 sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, to say things were not going well for the United States would be an understatement.
Imperial Japanese forces rapidly advanced across the Pacific Theater and seized the Philippines, a key American territory at the time. Many American soldiers were captured, which led to the infamous Bataan Death March.
"We were at an all-time low," Anderson said.
Uncle Sam desperately needed a win.
That's where the Doolittle Raiders came in.
Led by then-Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, 80 brave volunteers divided amongst 16 B-25 bombers took off from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet on April 18, 1942.
They bombed multiple industrial and military targets in the Japanese capital Tokyo and other places on Honshu Island.
"They took on a mission that was basically a suicide mission," said Anderson, who now lives in Salem, New Hampshire. "They got spotted early. They left without having enough gas. They didn't know what was going to happen. Nobody backed out and they still went."
The Doolittle Tokyo Raiders attacked the Japanese on their native soil just as America had been attacked four months earlier. The raid was a success in two ways.
"When the guys attacked Japan, it was a huge morale boost for us here back in the homeland, but it also made the Japanese realize they were vulnerable," Anderson said.
This caused the Japanese high command to shift critical resources to the defense of their home islands.
"They didn't send all (of their) assets to Midway," Anderson said. "That allowed us to win the Battle of Midway. Otherwise, the outcome may have been a little different."
The Battle of Midway (June 4-7, 1942) is the American victory that began to turn the tide of the Pacific War in the Allies' favor.
"The raid and the raiders helped change the course of the war," Anderson said. "These guys were some of the first heroes (of WWII)."
Anderson got involved with the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Association about 12 years ago.
He started his mission to get the Raiders a Congressional Gold Medal back in 2011.
"Other World War II groups had gotten the Congressional Gold Medal, so I thought, well, let's see if we can work this out," he said.
In order to get a gold medal, two-thirds of the membership of both the House of Representatives and the Senate must cosponsor the necessary legislation.
Anderson and his wife, Cyndee, visited the offices of all 100 senators and all 435 congressmen, lobbying to make this medal a reality for the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders.
"We gave them a packet of information and a little blurb on what we were up to and why we were doing it," he said.
They needed 67 senators and 290 congressmen to sponsor the bills. They ended up with 79 senators and 309 House members.
"I got every congressman in Michigan to sign up for my initiative but two," Anderson said. "We did a full-court press on Michigan."
The Senate approved the legislation in November 2013 and the House approved it on Monday, May 19. Anderson was in the gallery when the House voted.
The legislation went back to the Senate for some tweaking on May 21 and it was on the President's desk, awaiting his signature, on May 23.
Anderson said he did all this to "keep the history alive."
"The World War II generation, they're leaving us very fast," he explained. "The Raiders will be gone before we know it. I wanted to leave a legacy for them."
Of the 80 men who took part in the raid, only four are still around to tell the tale.
"They're all in their 90s," Anderson said.
The four remaining Raiders are:
n Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, of Texas. He was Doolittle's copilot with Crew #1 and will turn 99 in September. "He is like the Energizer Bunny," Anderson said. "He just keeps going and going."
n Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, of Montana. He was the engineer-gunner aboard the B-25 nicknamed "The Ruptured Duck." He was part of Crew #7. At 92, he's the youngest.
n Lt. Col. Edward Saylor, of Washington State. A sergeant at the time of the raid, he was an engineer-gunner for Crew #15. He's 94.
n Lt. Col. Robert Hite, 94, of Tennessee. He was the copilot for Crew #16. Hite was one of eight Doolittle Tokyo Raiders captured by the Japanese. Of those eight, only four returned home. Three were executed and one died of malnutrition.
"You couldn't ask for a nicer bunch of guys," Anderson said. "They don't think of themselves as heroes or anything great. They look at it as we just did our job."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.