Seventy Years After - April 17-18, 2012
Given that I had several months advance warning, you'd think I'd get this one right. Nope. My missteps on the seventieth reunion of the Doolittle Raiders started early. Tickets available to the public for the two luncheons and one dinner were limited and hot. They were long gone when I got around to checking just two days after they went on sale. Some number of B-25 bombers would be flying to the National Air Force Museum as part of the celebration though, when I spoke to someone at the museum during a recent visit, my understanding was that arrival of the planes would not be coordinated and that they would be landing throughout the morning on Tuesday. On Monday evening, I checked the museum website and discovered a March 29 update that explained that the airplanes would actually be arriving throughout the weekend and Monday at Grimes Field in Urbana and would be taking off for the museum starting at 7:00. I could easily make that if I left home around 5:00. I woke up at 5:20. I was on the road quickly and thought I might reach the field before all planes had departed but that didn't quite happen. As I neared Urbana, I spotted one of the planes headed south and desperately fired my camera in its direction as it passed. There was another and then, as I reached the edge of the airport, I heard the last plane take off and I glimpsed it briefly between buildings and trees. This was clearly a case of Doolittle, too late.

The first picture is that first desperate shot from near Urbana. The next two were taken through a fence on the south side of the museum where quite a few folks had gathered to watch the planes land. That had sort of been my original plan but the futile trip to Urbana had guaranteed I was late for that, too. All the B-25s were on the ground and parked by the time I reached Dayton. The cluster of people around the parked plane is made up of media folk. The next two pictures were taken on my walk out from the museum. Public access to the static display was officially scheduled for 10:00-6:00 but both cars and walkers were allowed through the gate about 9:45.

Those twenty vintage bombers comprise the largest gathering of B-25s since World War II. The previous record was seventeen set at the 68th reunion which was also held in Dayton. The privately owned planes came from as far away as California and Oregon and from as nearby as Urbana and Cincinnati. The last picture in the second row is of Champaign Gal whose home is the host airport, Grimes Field in Champaign County. She, along with the Yellow Rose in the preceding picture, offer fine examples of a particular sort of nose art popular during the war. It's still popular today as these examples show: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. The overhead shot was taken from the top of a set of stairs which were provided at both ends of the line of planes for just that purpose. As I walked back past the planes, I continued to wander back and forth between them but grabbed some pictures of tail art and tail passengers. The Miss Hap is the oldest B-25 still flying. Her first flight was on December 7, 1943. The name comes from her assignment as General "Hap" Arnold's personal plane.

I returned on Wednesday for the flyover to discover a much bigger crowd. That first picture was taken on the museum grounds after I'd sat in considerable traffic on Springfield Street. I know museum personnel are somewhat used to huge crowds and they certainly handled this one quite well. I stayed near the fence and got photos of every plane as they took off in quick succession. The two flyovers were very impressive in both sight and sound. It's not every day you get to hear forty big radials rumbling overhead. Some of the pilots had absolutely no experience flying in formation and I believe that what might have looked like a few stragglers were actually some otherwise skilled flyers keeping things safe.

I couldn't get anywhere near the front of the memorial service that followed the flyovers but a large screen (another nice move by the museum) let me see everything. There are five living Doolittle Raiders. One, Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite, was too ill to attend. I grabbed a picture of the other four from that screen. They are Lt. Col. Edward J. Saylor, Maj. Thomas C. Griffin, Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher, and Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole.

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