The four surviving members of World War II's famous Doolittle's Raiders met on Nov. 9, 2013, at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, Ohio, to make their final toast in honor of crewmates who died.
The original plan was to toast until only two men remain, but the four are in their 90s and decided to make this their last ceremony. Many news accounts mentioned that they drank from goblets donated by the city of Tucson. Here's the local history of those goblets, as described by Tucson Citizen reporter Paul Allen in 2006.
A set of 80 engraved silver goblets presented to “Doolittle’s Raiders” at their 17th annual reunion, held here in 1959, has become part of an exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
Army Lt. Col. James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle led an armada of 16 B-25 bombers on an attack on Tokyo and other Japanese cities on April 18, 1942, taking off from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.
The retaliatory attack was designed to “bring home” to the Japanese people the effects of World War II following the surprise attack by Japanese planes on Pearl Harbor five months earlier in Hawaii.
Eighty volunteers manned the planes; 73 of them survived the raid and its aftermath. Each year thereafter, they arranged a reunion. In 1959 they selected Tucson as the site for the get-together, in part because of the major roles Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, bomber construction in Tucson and pilot training at Marana played in the war.
In preparation for the gathering, the Tucson Sunshine Climate Club – forerunner of the Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau - decided to present the survivors with a special gift: a set of 80 silver goblets, each engraved with the name of a Doolittle’s Raider.
They were designed to serve as a “last man” memento, survivors each year honoring those who had died until only two remain. At that point, they are to open a bottle of 1896-vintage (Doolittle’s year of birth) Hennessey VSOP Cognac.
Tucsonans directly involved in the goblet project included Climate Club director Chuck Arnold; department store owner Leon Levy, who arranged procurement of the goblets at cost; and Ben Schermerhorn of Lumber Distributors Inc., who fashioned the wooden case for them.
The veterans group has seen to it that the goblets are shipped wherever their annual reunion is held, and arranged for them to be placed on display at the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colo., when they are not in use.
Unfortunately, in 1971, while the display was at the Academy, someone filched the bottle of cognac. “It’s not the brightest moment in Air Force Academy history,” said Col. Mark Wells, head of the Academy’s history department, in a 2004 Citizen interview.
He added that Doolittle, who died in September 1993 at age 96, took the missing cognac situation in stride, commenting at the time, “If I’d have been a cadet, I’d have probably stolen it, too.”
The 1971 graduating class of cadets replaced the purloined bottle with another of the same vintage, along with a letter of apology to Doolittle.
Today, 16 of the 80 raiders survive, and eight of them attended this year’s reunion at Wright-Patterson – the 64th anniversary of the historic raid.
Retired Lt. Col. Dick Cole, Doolittle’s co-pilot during the raid on Japan, made the formal presentation of the goblets to the museum, and quipped during the ceremony, “I’ve been wondering who the other guy is going to be to enjoy the bottle of cognac.”
The goblets will be displayed alongside a B-25 bomber at the museum, where more than 1 million visitors a year will have an opportunity to view them.
Tucson can be proud of having contributed what has become a poignant and lasting memorial to the sacrifice and dedication of a previous generation of American military volunteers.