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Air Force Honors Doolittle Raiders, Tuskegee Airmen

By Mike Mitchell


Retired Lt. Col. Walter McCreary, retired Col. Charles McGee and retired Col. Elmer Jones hold the Lifetime Achievement Award Sept. 16, 2009, at the Air Force anniversary dinner held at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md. Colonels Jones, McGee and McCreary are members of the Tuskegee Airmen. The dinner was the end of the 2009 Air Force Association Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Desiree N. Palacios)


September 17, 2009, WASHINGTON, Several members of the Doolittle Raiders and original Tuskegee Airmen were honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards from Air Force Association officials Sept. 16 at the National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md.

During a special dinner at the 2009 Air Force Association Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition, AFA officials and more than 500 people in attendance paid tribute to two members who represented the 80 Airmen who flew the first bombing mission on Japan, and three members representing the first 14,994 African-American Airmen.

Retired Maj. Thomas Griffin and retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole received the Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the Doolittle Raiders. The Doolittle Raiders volunteered to bomb Tokyo in a mission designed and executed by then-Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle.

Sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers took off from the USS Hornet hours before their scheduled time due to being spotted by a Japanese trawler, and knowing they may not have enough fuel to reach auxiliary fields in China. Major Griffin was a navigator on B-25 No. 9 during the April 1942 raid, and Colonel Cole who was Gen. Jimmy Doolittle's co-pilot for the mission.


The planes found and bombed their targets April 18, 1942, just more than four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. Not one plane fell to the Japanese defenses, and all but one plane made it to China. Three of the raiders were lost on bailouts; eight were captured, tortured and spent the rest of the war in solitary cells; three were executed, and one died from malnutrition. The only aircraft that survived had engine trouble and landed on Russian soil where the crew was interned and eventually escaped and returned to duty. Of the 80 men on the 15 bombers, 64 of the Doolittle Raiders returned to America and only nine are still alive today.

When called heroes, Colonel Cole and Major Griffin humbly shook their heads. "Everybody had to do something," Major Griffin said. "America was fighting for its life. We just happened to be part of the 15 aircraft to be on the mission. We were at the right place at the right time."


The Tuskegee Airmen enlisted during World War II after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered the integration of African Americans into the military. The first recruits trained to fly at Tuskegee, Ala., and later officers were trained in jobs including to be pilots and in operations, meteorology, intelligence, engineering and medicine. Enlisted members were trained in aircraft and engine mechanics, armament specialists, radio repairmen, parachute riggers, control tower operators, policemen, administrative clerks and other skills necessary to fully function as an Army Air Corps flying squadron.

The Tuskegee Airmen were credited with shooting down 110 enemy aircraft and three of the first four jet aircraft used in combat. The men flew 15,000 combat sorties as the Tuskegee Airmen in their red-tailed P-51 Mustangs primarily escorted American bombers.

Although during the war they were segregated, their performance led to the subsequent integration by the entire military and was an important factor in the initiation of social change to achieve racial equality in America.

"We are proud to represent the 994 pilots and 14,000 support people who made up the Tuskegee Airmen," said retired Col. Charles McGee, who was one of the original Tuskegee Airmen present for the awards program along with retired Lt. Col. Walter McCreary and retired Col. Elmer Jones. "On their behalf, we say thank you to the Air Force Association family for this recognition."

Dr. James Schlesinger, a former secretary of Defense, also received a Lifetime Achievement Award during the evening's events.

Other awards presented by Air Force Association officials included the AFA Chairman's Aerospace Education Achievement Award for long term commitment to aerospace education making a significant impact across the nation to the ExxonMobil Foundation, the John R. Alison Award for outstanding contributions by industrial leadership to national security to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., the W. Stuart Symington Award for the most significant contribution by a civilian in the field of national defense to Senator Orrin Hatch, and the H.H. Arnold Award for the most significant contribution by a military member for national defense to Gen. John D.W. Corley.

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