Sunday, July 3, 2016

Toujours Au Danger

Slightly less than seventy-five years ago, things looked fairly bleak for the people of these United States.  America's participation as a combatant in World War II began on a sun-drenched, Hawaiian Sunday in December, 1941.  As openers go, Pearl Harbor was an almost unfathomably difficult defeat from which to respond.  


On April 18, 1942, less than six months after the Japanese sneak attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor had crippled America's naval presence in the Pacific,  Eighty men - flying in sixteen B-25 Flying Fortress Bombers that took off from the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet - launched an aerial attack on Tokyo and other Japanese cities located on the island of Honshu.  The mission's goal was not to end the war, but, rather to disabuse the Japanese of the notion that they were invincible. 

To borrow a phrase from the great American poet, Michael Tyson, 

After five-plus months of getting pummeled, America punched Japan squarely in the face on April 18, 1942, courtesy of the heroics of Lt. Colonel Jimmy Doolittle and the other seventy-nine Raiders. Sadly, time takes a toll on everyone and everything.  Doolittle's Raiders are no exception.  Seventy-four-plus years after those eighty men risked their lives to throw a punch, only one of them is still alive.  Dick Cole of Comfort, Texas, who was Doolittle's co-pilot in the No. 1 Bomber, is the last of the Raiders.  He shall be 101 this September.    

The penultimate Raider died less than two weeks ago.  David Thatcher was the Engineer and Gunner on the No. 7 Bomber, nicknamed "The Ruptured Duck", piloted by Ted Lawson.  In April, 1942, Sergeant Thatcher was the only member of his five-man crew who was not seriously injured when Lawson had to crash-land "the Duck" near a beach in China's Zhejiang Province and it was Thatcher who saved the lives of his crew mates by convincing the local Chinese guerillas to move the injured men inland to safety - and medical care.  

David Thatcher was ninety-four years old when he died on June 22, after having suffered a massive stroke on Father's Day.  He is survived by his wife of seventy-plus years, Dawn, and three of the couple's five children.  The Thatchers' son Gary, a U.S. Army Medvac, was killed in action in Vietnam in 1970 when the helicopter he was in crashed.  Brain cancer killed the couple's daughter, Debbie, in 2009.  

A single moment of daring.  Indeed it was.  And in that moment, everything changed.  Food for thought on this Independence Day Eve?  

I hope so. 


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