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Smith: Here's to the last Doolittle Raiders reunion

  • Chris Smith.

Marian Campbell Mapes loved and revered her late uncle, Clayton Campbell. He was one of the 80 aviators who throttled up bombers on an aircraft carrier in April of 1942 and took off on one of history's most audacious airborne missions.

Mapes, who lives in Santa Rosa, is in Ohio this weekend for an historic moment: the final toast of the surviving Doolittle Tokyo Raiders.

Just four of the airmen whose strike at Imperial Japan rallied Americans' hopes in the dark months following the attack on Pearl Harbor are still alive.

One, Robert L. Hite, who was captured by the Japanese and imprisoned for 40 months, is unable to travel.

The other three — Richard E. Cole, Edward J. Saylor and David J. Thatcher — met Saturday near Dayton, Ohio, to repeat — for the last time — their annual rite of toasting with silver goblets all of their fellow Raiders who have passed on.

The plan has long been that the last two Raiders would open and drink from a bottle of Hennessy Cognac dated 1896, the year that leader James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle was born.

But the four survivors agreed that 71 years after the raid, they're so old that this year's toast will be the last.

Marian Mapes went to witness the opening of the bottle and the closing of a potent chapter in U.S. history — and to remember her uncle.

Clayton Campbell, a navigator on one of the raid's 16 B-25s, was 85 when he died in 2002 in Washington State.

Mapes wrote in an email from Ohio before the reunion of the three Raiders, “The atmosphere is one of great pride juxtaposed with great humility.

“Twenty-five of the original 80 Raider families have at least one family member present, along with many special friends and very significant public and private-sector benefactors.”

I'd so hoped that Santa Rosa's Frank Kappeler, who'd navigated another of the bombers, would make it to the final toast. But Frank, a rare gentleman, died three years ago at age 96.

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