The award is presented each year to outstanding American citizens, or organizations, who symbolize the spirit of freedom and independence on which our country was founded.
This year it was presented to the Doolittle Raiders; accepting the award for the Raiders was Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, age 98. He was the co-pilot with Doolittle in the first plane that took off from the USS Hornet.
After the Empire of Japan attacked the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941, Lieutenant Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle led a group of 79 other volunteers on a secret and dangerous retaliatory mission against the Japanese. The men did not know the details of their mission until they were aboard the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carrier USS Hornet.
The mission of the Doolittle Raiders, also known as the Tokyo Raiders, involved flying 16 U.S. Army B-25B Mitchell bombers off of the USS Hornet in a bombing run aimed at the Japanese mainland.
Because it would be impossible to land the bombers on the aircraft, after the crews dropped their bombs, they were to land in China. However, still 650 nautical miles from Japan, the USS Nashville sunk a Japanese patrol boat, sending warning to Japan that an attack was coming.
Doolittle decided to launch the attack 10 hours and 170 miles ahead of schedule. The Raiders hit their targets in Japan, but lacked the fuel to reach the safe airfields in China. Fifteen of the 16 crews crash-landed or baled out; one landed in the Soviet Union.
Three men drowned crashing into the ocean, while eight were taken captive by the Japanese. Three of the captives were executed, and the other five were imprisoned. Four men survived the imprisonment, but one did not make it through the deplorable conditions.
Despite the fact that the raid did not cause the amount of damage as was hoped, it was still viewed as a success because it proved that the Japanese were not as impervious to attack as once believed. It also boosted the morale of United States’ soldiers and citizens alike.
After the attack on Japan, many of the Doolittle Raiders continued to fight in the war. Twelve of the surviving Raiders were killed in combat.
For their bravery and valor, all 80 Raiders received the Distinguished Flying Cross. The men who were imprisoned were awarded the Purple Heart, two men received the Silver Star and Doolittle earned the Medal of Honor.
While in Shreveport, Cole was able to visit Barksdale Air Force Base where he was honored at a luncheon and toured a B-52 bomber.
During the Independence Bowl there was a flyover of a B-25 bomber.
Here is video (around 1:26) of Lt. Col. accepting the award:
Go here to learn more about the Doolittle Raiders.
(H/T: Tim Fletcher)
Photo credit: Doolittle Raider