WWII hero and Doolittle Raider David Thatcher dies at 94


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Former U.S. Army Air Forces Staff Sergeant David Thatcher, one of the two remaining Doolittle Raiders, died Wednesday morning in Missoula, Montana.

The Doolittle Raid was an air raid led by pilot Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle on Tokyo on April 18, 1942. Sixteen B-25 Mitchell bombers carrying 80 crewmembers bombed military targets on the island of Honshu.

Thatcher was the engineer-gunner on the seventh B-25 to take off from the USS Hornet. After bombing its assigned targets, the aircraft crash landed off the coast of China. Thatcher was the only crewmember not seriously injured in the crash, so he took charge getting his fellow airmen medical attention. He persuaded Chinese fishermen to carry his injured crewmates to temporary safety. In doing so, he saved the entire crew from capture. For his leadership on this day, he was awarded the Silver Star.

Thatcher received an honorable discharge from the Army Air Forces in July 1945.

Fairchild Air Force Base held a commemorative event in April to honor the 74th anniversary of the raid.

“I hope that airman will continue to honor the raid and remember what was done,” Thatcher said, at the event.

Thatcher was recently VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay in honor of the raid’s anniversary.

Lt. Col Richard Cole is now the last surviving Doolittle Raider.

Author

Timothy Lawson

Timothy Lawson has been a member of VA’s Digital Media Engagement team since April 2016 and is the host of VA’s official podcast, Borne the Battle. He graduated from American University’s School of Communications in 2016 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Tim is a Marine Corps Veteran having served as a Marine Security Guard posted at embassies in Algeria, Russia, and Peru.

Comments

  1. Susan Powers    

    I will never forget what our fighting men & women have done for this country and I will remind those who have!
    S. Powers, USA/Retired

  2. T Covin    

    I’m a combat vet, I just can’t find the words to say that would describe how honored it has been to be able to serve in the same us armed forces as did these heroes. My God bless all of them and their families.

    Sgt T. Covin
    USMC RETIRED/DISABLED

  3. Robert Day    

    RIP
    Staff Sgt Thatcher a True Hero.

  4. John Coates    

    Unmentioned in all stories about the raid is the consequences of this raid. Although it was a great morale builder for the U,S. , for the Chinese people it was a disaster. The Japanese army went berserk in the aftermath, raging through the area where the planes crash-landed, murdering up to 200,000 chinese civilians. (read the wikipedia article).Only one raider remains alive, at age 100.

  5. Brice Boxum    

    Rest in Peace.
    I read somewhere, not exactly sure now, that the Dolittle Raiders held reunions annually, or regularly, at the Air Force Academy. Goblets with each mans name were used for a toast, if a man had passed away his goblet was returned to the cabinet but turned upside down. That it would be done until the final airman would perform the tribute.

    Can anyone confirm this or am I mistaken?

  6. William J. Bruno    

    NCOs lead the way. They were and continue to be the backbone of the military services. Thank you, SSG Thatcher. Well done, good and faithful servant.

  7. Walter Meade    

    NWG7
    Remember: the Doolittle raid was retailiation, of Course, but the Japanese Navy had attacked the West Coast of California and Oregon in preparation for a potential invasion of Anerica. after they could win the battle of Midway Island, they hoped, would clear the way.

  8. S Fafalios    

    It was an honor to meet SSgt Thatcher years ago with my son. To this day we talk of the bravery he and the other Raiders showed us all. To his family – may his memory be eternal. Here’s a toast to the host of the men we boast – the USAF!

  9. HMC Gerald Burns, USN Retired    

    So sad to see the passing of another genuine American hero. May you rest with God. Thank you for your contribution to American history.

  10. Izzy Fromm    

    I too, was part of the United Sates Army Air Corps having enlisted in July ,1940. The Doolittle Air Raid was a suicide mission meant to be a moral booster for our country that was desperately in need for some good news. Sgt Thatcher, I salute you .

    Izzy Fromm ( mgt )

    frommizzy@gmail.com

  11. SMSgt Chris Huss    

    I would imagine that the entire squadron is patiently awaiting the last member’s arrival. What a reunion it will be.

  12. Jim Gordon    

    As I was reading this article I got tears in my eyes and cried. I was only 3 years old when this happened. I was also proud to wear the uniform of the U.S. Army from 1958-1966. There is no better Generation that has given us the freedom we enjoy to this day. IF any one who has answered this article or those who still might, I would suggest the if they can with all the electronic gadgets find the movie “THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO” it may be a Hollywood movie, but really shows what that mission was like and it was based on these true facts. GOD BLESS ALL THOSE WHO SERVED AN GOD BLESS THE U.S.A.

  13. SSgt Jack Burke USAF    

    When one is a true Hero, one does not need nor desire world-wide acknowledgment. A nod and that knowing eye contact from those who also go in harms way is enough.
    The world is a safer and better place because of you, SSgt Thatcher US Army Air Corps

  14. CW4 Clyde Spady (RET)    

    A special man from a special era…

  15. Kevin Goodwin    

    RIP SSgt Thatcher… Thank you for service and for all you did for our country… A nation salutes you sir!

  16. HHHargis    

    Thank You Staff Sergeant, God has a new best friend and a man of Honor.

  17. Juan Quiles    

    Thank you for your sacrifice and service. God bless you. May you and your fellow raiders rest in peace. I had the honor of meeting General Doolittle during my time in the Air Force. My youngest daughter had the honor of meeting Lt. Col. Cole when she she was in the JRROTC program. It’s men like you and the rest of the other Raiders that made me proud to serve my country.

  18. Thomas M. Hughes    

    A most honored soldier. He was truly one of the members of the Greatest Generation.

  19. ROBERT SPEAKMAN    

    RIP Sergeant, you will not be forgotten

  20. Rick Luquias    

    I can’t improve or add much to the heartfelt thank yous and respect others have left here before me. I would only add my fervent hope that SSgt. Thatcher was honored in life as he was in death. I suspect that is not the case as we all tend to forget or take for granted the sacrifices made by veterans of every war. Very sad to think there is only one remaining of this group of heroes, I for one will be attempting to reach out to Lt. Col Richard Cole to try and thank him while he is still with us.

  21. Colleen Cavin    

    I remember and I encourage others to learn about the Doolittle Raid and hold these heroes in high esteem.

  22. LEE SCHMIDT    

    I would of like to what this Brave Crew did!
    Too bad I was not born earlier.
    Well anyway I did served in Vietnam 1969

  23. Ronald Hill    

    RIP SSG Thatcher. Job well done. Your shoes can’t be filled.

  24. Bruce Denney, MAJ (RET)    

    What courage and selflessness SSG Thatcher exhibited; he is an example of what a true American Hero is. I can only laugh at our “new generation” when I hear they need “safe zones” in colleges so they won’t hear hurtful words.

  25. AL Rudy    

    We and our children and granchildren can never earn the pride that the greatest generation preformed. They were raised with little benefits and went trough the great depression. I was born into the depression and understand what they all went through. These greatest generation men and women will nwever pass through again. We owe so much to them all.—AL Rudy,Korean War vet.

  26. Harold Schmidt    

    God bless you, and may you rest in peace along with others including my Father who passed away in February of 2016. The greatest generation!

  27. Robert Vick    

    A VETERAN DIED TODAY
    He was getting old and paunchy
    And his hair was falling fast,
    And he sat around the Legion,
    Telling stories of the past.

    Of a war that he once fought in
    And the deeds that he had done,
    In his exploits with his buddies;
    They were heroes, every one.

    And ‘tho sometimes to his neighbors
    His tales became a joke,
    All his buddies listened quietly
    For they knew where of he spoke.

    But we’ll hear his tales no longer,
    For ol’ Joe has passed away,
    And the world’s a little poorer
    For a Veteran died today.

    He won’t be mourned by many,
    Just his children and his wife.
    For he lived an ordinary,
    Very quiet sort of life.

    He held a job and raised a family,
    Going quietly on his way;
    And the world won’t note his passing,
    ‘Tho a Veteran died today.

    When politicians leave this earth,
    Their bodies lie in state,
    While thousands note their passing,
    And proclaim that they were great.

    Papers tell of their life stories
    From the time that they were young,
    But the passing of a Veteran
    Goes unnoticed, and unsung.

    Is the greatest contribution
    To the welfare of our land,
    Some jerk who breaks his promise
    And cons his fellow man?

    Or the ordinary fellow
    Who in times of war and strife,
    Goes off to serve his country
    And offers up his life?

    The politician’s stipend
    And the style in which he lives,
    Are often disproportionate,
    To the service that he gives.

    While the ordinary Veteran,
    Who offered up his all,
    Is paid off with a medal
    And perhaps a pension, small.

    It is not the politicians
    With their compromise and ploys,
    Who won for us the freedom
    That our country now enjoys.

    Should you find yourself in danger,
    With your enemies at hand,
    Would you really want some cop-out,
    With his ever-waffling stand?

    Or would you want a Veteran
    His home, his country, his kin,
    Just a common Veteran,
    Who would fight until the end.

    He was just a common Veteran,
    And his ranks are growing thin,
    But his presence should remind us
    We may need his likes again.

    For when countries are in conflict,
    We find the Veteran’s part,
    Is to clean up all the troubles
    That the politicians start.

    If we cannot do him honour
    While he’s here to hear the praise,
    Then at least let’s give him homage
    At the ending of his days.

    Perhaps just a simple headline
    In the paper that might say:

    “OUR COUNTRY IS IN MOURNING,
    A VETERAN DIED TODAY.”

    God bless you, Sgt David Thatcher!

    1. LTC (R) Jeff Owens    

      Excellent tribute to SGT Thatcher and to vets, Mr Vick.

  28. James H Humphrey    

    Thank You Staff Sergeant Thatcher and all crew of the Raiders, only one left now. Your jobs completed, inspired those behind to continue the job of winning the war, your dedication, living up to the highest standards, to give your life for your country. I was stationed at Field #3, Eglin AFB, FL where the Raiders trained and later served aboard the USS Shangri-La CVA-38 that was named as inspiration from the reply to Japan, “They came from Shangri-La”. I have long known the story and long admired these Heros, “Well done”, may you and your fellow airmen rest in peace, America salutes you and owes the debt for Freedom to all Veterans, Thank You again and may God Bless.

  29. Derek Pinkley    

    Rest in peace my friend! You surely will be missed! Great American hero from the Greatest Generation!!

  30. Steve    

    David Thatcher was a crew man on ” The Ruptured Duck ” . His part in the Doolittle Raid was in the great war movie ever ” 30 seconds over Tokyo “. He was uninjured, and helped save his crew. he later helped with other crews. He was called ” A One Man Air Force/Army “. General Doolittle recommended and it was approved for David to earn the DSC, but it was down grated by the ” War Lovers ” and ” Lotus Eaters ” in Washington to a Silver Star.

    He is what a good NCO is and does. Take over the mission, carry out the mission and take care of Your men always. May he find in Heaven a B-25 standing by to take Him to His Promise Land. RIP David.

  31. Jerry Behymer    

    Mission accomplished Staff Sergeant David Thatcher, job well done. RIP

  32. Allan Melillo    

    RIP, It was individuals such as this Staff Sergeant who was willing to sacrifice everything they had including their lives to keep our country free. I hope the younger people of today, if given the chance also continue to show the same fighting spirit, our forefathers bestowed upon them. Unfortunately, over time, other occurrences, events, and issues overshadow how the younger generations look at our country and forget about the times gone by. One such way is by not giving our men/women in uniform the respect and distinction every single one deserves.

    This article is a prime example with regards to the people in our government who represent the citizens of the United States. Here we have a Staff Sergeant, who exemplified himself in the Doolittle raid. He cared for his fellow airmen, by getting medical attention and persuading Chinese fishermen to carry his injured crewmates to temporary safety. In doing so, he saved the entire crew from capture and brought them home. I do not know the whole story in regards to this heroic incident. However, the way I look at it, he should’ve received the “Medal of Honor”, not the silver star, as a minimum for what he accomplished. This is my own personal opinion…………..

  33. Dean Jay    

    Sergeant Thatcher thank you for your bravery and service. All of us NCO’s are strengthened and encouraged by your actions. May God be near your family during this time.

  34. Quentin Niles II    

    Many thanks to one more of the “Greatest Generation” who kept our world safer from tyranny in WWII. May we all take up the flag they protected and keep it close to our hearts and protect it still from modern forms of tyranny!!
    God bless these veterans!!

  35. David Meshirer    

    Thank You Staff Sergeant for making us proud to have you make us realize what being proud to be Americans really is.

  36. BB    

    Truly apart of American history and an American Hero.

  37. Anthony D Morris    

    What a true Hero during a period when young men were just doing a job that had to be done. May he Rest In Peace, with his fellow Raiders. Staff Sergeant Thatcher was an example of courage, tenacity, and honor of men serving during WWII, what a gentleman. A silent Salute to you and your family.
    Sgt Tony Morris USAF

  38. Alan Butterworth    

    Sad to see our greatest generation pass on. A little known part of that history is that missionary /Army Lt John Birch assisted some of the airmen to escape captiverty. Read the Life of John Birch by Robert Welch.

  39. Ray Brown    

    Wasn’t Ted Lawson the pilot of the “Ruptured Duck”, one of the B-25’s used in the raid? I only mention this due to the coincidence of the author of the articles last name. SSG Thatcher rest in peace and join your fellow warriors.

  40. Bill Green    

    God bless all veterans who willingly risked everything . Every war has people who are willing to step up and take on the impossible mission. There are some who even go beyond those select few and do what the Doolittle Raiders did. To the Doolittle Raiders and all like them I say THANK YOU for your personal sacrifice.

  41. Joseph Smith    

    As an oldest son of that “Greatest Generation”, men like these men are getting “as scarce as hens’ teeth”.
    I speak very well remembering my father & father in law, both WWII veterans. My wife & I count it a high privilege to be their descendents. Jos. Smith

  42. Roger Janosek    

    Bless his soul. What a hero we had with us for many years. Its too bad that we have a president who does not care to recognize these heroes and would rather spend millions on illegal aliens than U.S. Veterans.

  43. Specialist Deborah Shaffer Turner US Army Honorably Discharged '81    

    The amazing human spirit can mobilize our weak bodies to do the heroic when we just put one foot in front of the other till we either succeed at our mission or our spirits go home. It’s attitude, not brawn, that win Silver Stars, Gold Medals, or Purple Hearts. God Bless all the spirits who have gone before giving all they had for we, the Living, to pursue Life, Liberty and Happiness.

  44. george m rosselli    

    good man ,great job

    goerge m rosselli
    dv vietnam vet
    uss newport news ca 148
    greyghost east coast

  45. Wes field    

    My granddaughter has a dream of being a air force pilot. I hope she gets to live her dream and can become all that those airmen were and more. God blessed those men. They will never be forgotten.

  46. Robert Kelly    

    God Bless All The Men Of The Greatest Generation and of the Greatest Mission ever. May Your Eternal Life Be As Great As your life was here on earth . RIP TAPS…….

  47. David Mullikin    

    I never knew or met the Honorable Sgt. Thatcher but I would have been Honored to have known him except threw history & Movies I am a Marine & I served during Vietnam war from Jan. 1970 til May 1973 had I met Sgt. Thatcher I would’ve said thank you & Semper Fi Sir I am honored that he and so many others went on that raid so I could grow up a free man. Thank you just seems to cheap & pail for he many other like him deserved much much more. I can only say this now Sgt. Thatcher God Bless You & May You rest in peace sir.

  48. A.J. Schmidt    

    All I can say is THANK YOU AND THE PILOTS OF THE RAID< GOD BLESS YOU

  49. James bennett: USN RETIRED    

    Sir, (your family) I did not know you but I will forever honor your duty and NEVER take for granted the service you and the others performed that day. It was due to soldiers as yourself that lead the U.S. to victory.

  50. Gary D. Manning    

    That man, means more to this nation than any of us can comprehend. How do you return from a confirmed and accepted suicide mission? This man did it and lived a long, deserved life for his dedicated sacrifice. We could never repay him, now we surely can’t. Hero? Heroes hero….jus sayin…

  51. peter bremer    

    above and beyond the call of duty

  52. John burford    

    Sir thank you for saving our world from the most evil one The devil. The raiders were the most brave and Honarable men in the world. Rest in peace with all of your friends. All great warriors become Angels in heaven.

  53. Harry Green    

    The crews left knowing they would not be able to return to immediate safety. They expected to die or be captured by the Japanese. The best case was to get help from the Chinese. Amazing courage!! Special men!

  54. Herbert Jones    

    The passing of David Thatcher, a Doolittle Raider, bring back the memory of my whereabouts at the time. We were aviation cadets at an airbase in Texas and the base commander ordered all personnel onto he the parade ground. He told us all of the news of the raid and I,m sure that our cheers were heard in Oklahoma. So proud to be an American!! Herb Jones

  55. Mike Thornton    

    The flight that Staff Sgt Thatcher is now on will land safely at a Heavenly location. Thank you for serving. God bless you and all the members of your raid.

  56. David Robert Lee    

    As per Comment #2, that bravery – faced to a greater or lesser degree by all who flew bombing missions during the war – is the reason there’s a DFC next to the Star, though it is not mentioned in the article.

  57. Dale Snoddy    

    God Bess you and keep you Staff Sergeant Thatcher. Thank you, and everyone else who sacrificed their time & their youth, putting their very lives in jeopardy every day, during this conflict. It is very sad to me, that in this time so many, very few of our citizens are willing to make any sacrifice for their country, let alone the kind you and your fellow comrades did.

  58. Henry c Renaud    

    A great American what more can I say rest in peace God bless you. May we forever be grateful for mr. Thatchers sacrifice

  59. Henry c Renaud    

    A great American what more can I say rest in peace God bless you. May we forever be grateful for mr. Thatcher sacrifice

  60. CaptGene    

    Rest in peace, Sir. You were one of the Greatest Generation and an American hero.

  61. David Milchert    

    Rest in peace my brother.

  62. Michael M Nelson    

    As a young child of 10;. I read everything about this raid and the war in the Pacific. I am 58 now. My grandfather always told me,. Serve your country as a military man as to leave no doubt of your allegiance to God and country. These men inspired me to join the US Air Force in 1976. Duty, Honor, Country;. RIP my brother.

  63. Clyde Henry Johnson    

    What the shame is that this man put his life on the line. Knowing it could be a one way trip And he gets a fair well from the military and VA. Mohammed Ali dies a draft dodger and has world wide coverage. People have forgotten what is right and what is wrong. The GREATEST GENERATION did it right.

    1. Glenn Weyant    

      I can agree with that.

  64. Clyde Henry Johnson    

    God Bless you Sir. Thank you for your sacrifice. You are one of the Great Soldier, Pilot, Sailor to ever serve. We are all forever in your debt. TAPS………..

  65. Mike Davis    

    Nice article and graphic presentation on Doolittle Raider David Thatcher. Good work.

  66. Sharon Scarlett Williamson    

    God Bless the memory of Staff Sgt. Thatcher and his family! Thank You for all you have done for our nation as a member of the Greatest Generation!

  67. Hegman HarrisSr    

    I love this experience and information

  68. Jim Weeder    

    The type of courage that the Doolittle Raiders showed was outstanding! Just think about it, take a aircraft that is a land based aircraft and launch it off a aircraft carrier without a catapult, fly over hostile territory, to land in another country using dead reckoning, not knowing if you would have enough fuel to accomplish the mission. Also knowing that you may not survive. That is uncommon valor!

    1. Geraldine Taylor    

      The Doolittle Raiders are an inspiration for all Americans none of these fine young men even thought twice to step forward for this very dangerous mission that will be remembered for all time. May they rest in God’s heavenly peace.

  69. Mike Kelly    

    A sad passing as real American heroes begin to fade away. Rest in Peace.

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