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Military Museum display honors famed Doolittle Raid
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Military Museum display honors famed Doolittle Raid

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Famed pilot Lt. Col. James Doolittle and co-pilot Lt. Richard Cole, front row, stand with the crew that accompanied them in the lead plane of the Doolittle Raid on Japan on April 18, 1944. 

Sunday is the 79th anniversary of the famed World War II “Doolittle Raid” by the United States on Japan.

The idea for the April 18, 1942, raid was conceived in January 1942 in the wake of the Dec. 7, 1941 deadly attack by the Japanese on the U.S. Navy base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Two Montanans, Sgt. Edward J. Saylor and Cpl. David Thatcher, were among the crew members aboard the 16 American B-25 bombers, launched from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet 650 nautical miles east of Japan and commanded by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle.

Thatcher was an engineer/gunner on plane No. 7 “The Ruptured Duck” and Saylor was an engineer/gunner on plane No. 15 “TNT” aka “Democracy’s Ace in the Hole.”

Their planes ditched in the same vicinity in the ocean just off the China coast, after running out of fuel. Thatcher was credited with getting the other members of his crew to safety, all of whom were badly injured. He was awarded the Silver Star.

Saylor, who was born in Brusett, was an engineer and gunner on a plane that bombed an aircraft factory and waterfront targets in Kobe, Japan.

Running out of fuel, Saylor’s plane made an easier water landing near where Thatcher’s plane had ditched, and after getting ashore his crew was able to hook up with Thatcher’s crew. 

Thatcher and Saylor were two of the last four raiders remaining alive at the last annual “Doolittle Raiders” reunion in 2013 at Dayton, Ohio. That ceremony included Doolittle’s co-pilot Dick Cole, who died in 2019 at age 103. Saylor died in 2015. He was 94. Thatcher died in 2016. He was also 94.

Staff at the Montana Military Museum conducted interviews with both Saylor and Thatcher in 2014, which are part of an exhibit dedicated to the Doolittle Raid. The Montana Military Museum is at 1956 Mt. Majo St. on Fort Harrison just outside of Helena. It is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays. Private tours are available by request.

Admission is free and the telephone number is 406-324-3550.

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