Major Thomas C. Griffin, one of the last of the Doolittle Raiders, died yesterday at the age of 96.
With the passing of Griffin there are now only four men alive who flew on the historic raid against Japan in the early days of World War II.
The Doolittle Raid, named for its commander Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, was an audacious plan to attack the Japanese home islands less than five months after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
On April 18, 1942, 80 men in 16 B-25B Mitchell bombers took off from the deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet on a one-way mission to bomb Tokyo. Although the raid caused only slight damage the attack showed the Japanese that they were not impervious and raised American morale at a dark time in the war.
The mission was unique in that it was the only time twin-engined Air Force bombers launched from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. The B-25B was never designed to fly from a carrier deck and the pilots had to be specially trained to take off in the much shorter space. Because the planes could not land back on the carrier, once launched, the mission was one-way only. The B-25’s were specially modified with extra fuel tanks and were stripped of all unneeded weight to extend their maximum range well beyond that of the round-trip range of conventional carrier aircraft.
Of the 80 Raiders, seven died in the raid or in Japanese captivity afterwards. Four more were held prisoners by the Japanese until the end of the war.
Griffin bailed out over China with his crew and they eventually returned to Allied lines. He returned to combat in Europe where he was shot down on a mission and spent the rest of the war in German captivity.
The loss of Griffin comes just a couple months before what is scheduled to be the last Doolittle Raider reunion on April 18, 2013. The four surviving Raiders are Richard E. Cole, Robert L. Hite, Edward J. Saylor, and David J. Thatcher.
Read the article "Four Doolittle Raiders talk about their mission 70 years later" to watch an interview with Griffin and the other three Raiders who attended the 70th Doolittle Raider reunion at Air Force Museum in Dayton in 2012.
For more information on the 2012 Doolittle Raiders reunion read: