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Air Force museum plans public events for WWII heroes

CINCINNATI (AP) — Military and history buffs will be able to watch online as surviving Doolittle Raiders make a final toast Saturday to comrades who died in or since their World War II bombing attack on Japan.

Last-Reunions Sidd

This Sept. 27, 2013 photo shows World War II veterans from the 57th Bomb Wing reflected in the memorial to the 57th Bomb Wing as they look at it during a reunion outside the US AIr Force Museum at Wright Patterson Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio. The 57th Bomb Wing flew missions over German-held Europe from North Africa and the island of Corsica during most of the war. Only nine veterans made it to this fall’s event. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, just a little over 1 million WWII veterans remain. They are in their 80s and 90s, and many are infirm or fragile. These sparsely attended reunions are yearly reminders of the passing of the Greatest Generation. (AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)

The Air Force plans to live-stream the annual ceremony at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton. There will also be news media coverage of what traditionally has been a private gathering.

Public events ahead of the invitation-only ceremony include a gathering to greet the Raiders as they arrive, a memorial service, a B-25 bomber flyover and movies such as the "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" depiction of the 1942 mission. Only four of the 80 Raiders are still alive, and one isn't able to travel.

For decades, the Raiders have offered a toast "to those who have gone" with specially engraved silver goblets at their annual reunions. After Maj. Thomas Griffin of Cincinnati died in February at age 96, the survivors decided that this year's annual April reunion would be the last and that they would gather for one last toast the weekend before Veterans Day.

"I'm looking forward to it," said David Thatcher, 92, of Missoula, Mont. His wife, children and other relatives will accompany him, he said by telephone this week.

He said he can't predict the emotions he'll feel at the toast ceremony.

"I don't have any idea what it will be like until we're there," said Thatcher, an engineer-gunner on the mission.

The toast grew from reunions led by Lt. Col. James "Jimmy" Doolittle, who commanded the daring mission credited with boosting American morale and shaking the Japanese after a string of military successes. Lt. Col. Richard Cole, Doolittle's co-pilot, plans to come to the ceremony from Comfort, Texas, while Lt. Col. Edward Saylor is expected from Puyallup, Wash.

Lt. Col. Robert Hite of Nashville, Tenn., 93, who was captured by the Japanese after the attack, won't be able to attend because of health problems but hopes to watch at home, a museum spokesman said.

The goblets, presented to the Raiders in 1959 by the city of Tucson, Ariz., have the Raiders' names engraved twice, the second upside-down. During the ceremony, white-gloved cadets pour cognac into the participants' goblets. Those of the deceased are turned upside-down.

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