Only One Left

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Only one of the Doolittle Raiders left and it is Doolittle's copilot Richard E. “Dick” Cole from Comfort Texas.
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June 22 at 5:44pm ·


With profound sadness we must announce the passing of Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher, engineer-gunner for Crew 7 (Ruptured Duck), who passed early this morning of complications from a stroke he suffered on Sunday. He was 94. Lt. Col. Richard Cole, co-pilot for Crew 1, is now the lone surviving Doolittle Raider.

David Jonathan Thatcher, a longtime resident of Missoula, native Montanan and member of “the Greatest Generation,” was born July 31, 1921 in Bridger, Montana, to Joseph Holland Thatcher and Dorthea Steinmiller Thatcher. One of 10 children, six boys and four girls (two other siblings were stillborn), Thatcher was a child of the Depression, which instilled in him a strong work ethic throughout his life.

His parents homesteaded in Eastern Montana during the early 1900s. When Thatcher was born, they were living in a dirt enclosure built into the side of a hill. His early years were spent attending school and helping his father and brothers make a living for the family. Following graduation from Absarokee High School in 1939, Thatcher enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on December 3, 1940. In December 1941, he completed engine and airplane mechanic training in Lincoln, Nebraska.

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, drawing the United States into World War II, Thatcher volunteered for a secret mission that would help change the course of the war. Thatcher and 78 other volunteers, led by the legendary aviator Jimmy Doolittle, trained for approximately three months before embarking upon the mission, a raid involving 16 B-25 medium-range bombers on April 18, 1942 which hit selected military and industrial targets in several Japanese cities. The Doolittle Raid had been ordered by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt in retaliation for Japan’s raid upon the U.S.

Thatcher was the tail gunner/engineer on Crew #7, “The Ruptured Duck,” which was piloted by Lieutenant Ted Lawson. After bombing targets in Tokyo, Lawson headed the plane towards China. Running low on fuel, Lawson tried to land the plane on a beach in darkness and heavy rain, but instead crashed in the surf after hitting a wave causing the plane to flip over. The crash seriously injured all the members of the crew except for Thatcher, who was briefly knocked out in the crash but suffered only a bump to his head.

After regaining consciousness and making it to shore, Thatcher saved the lives of his crew by gathering them on the beach, administering first aid and making contact with some friendly Chinese guerillas who had come upon the crew. He convinced the guerillas to take the crew to safety in inland China. Over the next few days, the crew repeatedly barely escaped capture by Japanese patrols searching for the Raiders. For his bravery in saving the lives of his crew, Thatcher was awarded the Silver Star. His other decorations included the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Chinese Army, Navy and Air Corps Medal, Class A, 1st Grade.

In 1943, Lawson wrote the first account of the Doolittle Raid titled “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” which became a best-selling book and was subsequently made into an Academy Award-winning movie of the same name directed by Mervyn LeRoy and starring Spencer Tracey as Doolittle, Van Johnson as Lawson and Robert Walker as Thatcher.

Following the Doolittle Raid, Thatcher served in England and Africa until January 1944, flying in a B-26 bomber in 26 missions over North Africa and Europe, including the first bombing raid over Rome. He was honorably discharged from active duty at the rank of Staff Sergeant in July 1945.

In December 1945, Thatcher married the love of his life, Margaret Dawn Goddard Thatcher. They were married for 70 years and had five children, Sandy, Gary, Becky, Jeff and Debbie. Following his stint in the military, Thatcher worked as a clerk and later a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service delivering mail to houses in and around his neighborhood for more than 30 years before retiring in 1980. In his later years, he participated in camping trips with family and friends and maintained a meticulous vegetable garden in his backyard during summers. He was also active in the International Association of Odd Fellows (IOF) and his church, The First Baptist Church of Missoula, where he was a member for nearly 70 years. He also stayed in contact with the surviving members of the Doolittle Raid and attended nearly every reunion that the group held through the Final Toast in November 2013 and the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Museum of the U.S. Air Force in April 2015 that the Raiders received. Thatcher’s death leaves one remaining Doolittle Raider, 100-year-old Richard E. “Dick” Cole, who was Doolittle’s co-pilot.

Thatcher was predeceased by his parents, four brothers, Joe, Albert, Kenny and Dick; two sisters, Thelma and Ella; his son Gary, a U.S. Army Medevac helicopter killed in a helicopter crash in February 1970 while serving in Vietnam, and his daughter Debbie who died in June 2009 from complications of brain cancer.

Thatcher is survived by his wife, Dawn; brother, Frank; sister Mary Deffinbaugh (Bill); sister Bonnie Cooper; daughter Sandy Miller (Jeff); daughter Becky Thatcher-Keller (Allen); son Jeff (Janis); son-in-law David Gilcrest; grandchildren Amber Hudson, Jeremiah Hudson, Brooke Zimmerman, Benjamin Thatcher, Sarah Thatcher, Mackenzie Gilcrest, Abbey Gilcrest; and great-granddaughter RaeLynn Zimmerman.

Funeral arrangements are under the direction of Garden City Funeral Home in Missoula (http://gardencityfh.com/). A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. on Monday, June 27 at Garden City Funeral Home in Missoula. A full military ceremony with honors will follow at 11:45 a.m. at Sunset Memorial Gardens where Thatcher will be buried. In lieu of flowers, memorials can be given to the Doolittle Raiders Foundation for scholarships or the River Valley Church, 308 W. Pine St., Missoula, MT 59803.
---------------

Obituary courtesy of Jeff Thatcher.
 

opos

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When I hear about the loss of these icons it's sad...what makes me sad is that many of the younger generation have no idea what these men and women went through to insure our freedom...every time I hear of the Constitution being trampled, the freedoms being infringed and the disrespect for the military taking place it makes me very sad...Being an old man now I think back to the days of WW2 when I'd deliver papers on my paper route in Denver and see the blue star and gold star flags in the windows....my Aunt had a gold star flag...I''m not sure we could mount a defense of the Country these days as this kind of commitment and bravery simply does not exist in the mainstream..Thanks for posting the tribute
 
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Did you notice this in the Obituary? His son Gary, a U.S. Army Medevac helicopter killed in a helicopter crash in February 1970 while serving in Vietnam. That had to be tough. I assume he was a pilot.
If you haven't read the book " Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" by Ted Lawson you really need to.
 

protoolman

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I've kept a copy of 30 Seconds over Tokyo on my bookshelf after reading it in gradeschool. Time to re read an excellent book.
 

CGDustDevil

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Something inside hurts every time I read one of these. When I think about the guts these guys had, what they put on the line, and where we are today, I just have to shake my head.
 

graygun

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RIP to an extraordinary war hero.

I saw a "Veterans for Obama" bumper sticker yesterday and thought WTF !!!
 

737tdi

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CGDustDevil said:
Something inside hurts every time I read one of these. When I think about the guts these guys had, what they put on the line, and where we are today, I just have to shake my head.



That is a nice thought. Do you think any less of the soldiers and Marines who have given their lives in combat today? Everything in you soul should hurt when a current soldier dies.?? I love the WWII vets but it is still happening. Death that is. This predilection to WWII is harmful to the vets now fighting. There are Marines and Soldiers dying as we speak. Are they not worthy?

Come on Man, I don't know what else to say. Support the men who are doing it TODAY. Yes, you guys were so much better. Sickening to me.

Semper Fi:

Karl
 

contender

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Time will stop for none of us,,, yet as we lose more & more of these fine gentleman it serves as a reminder to not let their sacrifices go to waste.

And I did read all the obit. The part about his son Gary did stand out to me.
 

opos

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737tdi said:
CGDustDevil said:
Something inside hurts every time I read one of these. When I think about the guts these guys had, what they put on the line, and where we are today, I just have to shake my head.



That is a nice thought. Do you think any less of the soldiers and Marines who have given their lives in combat today? Everything in you soul should hurt when a current soldier dies.?? I love the WWII vets but it is still happening. Death that is. This predilection to WWII is harmful to the vets now fighting. There are Marines and Soldiers dying as we speak. Are they not worthy?

Come on Man, I don't know what else to say. Support the men who are doing it TODAY. Yes, you guys were so much better. Sickening to me.

Semper Fi:

Karl

Hey, Karl...easy friend. Being a man in his very late years my "touch stone" are the men and women that gave it all during WW2, Korea and Nam....certainly the warriors that do the fighting now are due full respect and appreciation but there are so few of the men and women that kept America safe and the population of the U.S. that gave up most everything as part of the war effort...

We were not better...and we do support the men and women doing it today....While you are being "sickened" at our memories...we try and do what we can to welcome home the warriors...I have taken quite a number of helicopter crew returnees from the sand box from Camp Pendleton ...free and full boat upscale to say thank you for their service...when was the last time you saw some old duffer that had a Korea or Nam baseball cap on and walked over and shook his hand?

Really sorry your are so sensitive.

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737tdi

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Opos: I think I am sensitive because I grew up when my cousins were coming home from Vietnam and treated like animals. They saw their fathers come home from WWII and treated as the heroes they were, and thought they would receive the same. As you know they were not. I think that a lot of people have forgotten that Soldiers and Marines are in harms way and giving their lives as we speak. I am not speaking of your memories, only of the lack of current support for our vets.


Karl
 
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Another shot glass turned over at the Air Force Museum :( That museum display in itself is a haunting reminder of lives gone since that daring raid on Japan. As I remember the story, when there were only two survivors left, they were supposed to open the bottle of Cognac? and toast each other with their respective shot glasses, but due to health and life in general- they instead left the bottle and all of the shot glasses to be on permanent display at the museum. As another dies, his personalized shot glass is turned over at the display.
 

opos

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737tdi said:
Opos: I think I am sensitive because I grew up when my cousins were coming home from Vietnam and treated like animals. They saw their fathers come home from WWII and treated as the heroes they were, and thought they would receive the same. As you know they were not. I think that a lot of people have forgotten that Soldiers and Marines are in harms way and giving their lives as we speak. I am not speaking of your memories, only of the lack of current support for our vets.


Karl

I live in San Diego..it's a huge military city..things must be much different here now than where you live...the returnees here now are the heros we recognize and they are treated very specially for the most part...perhaps being in another area we'd see different things but we treat our returnees very well...Nam was a tragedy as to the returnees, I agree and strangely, many of the returning vets today have parents that were part of the generation that was so insulted. We old duffers are pretty much relegated to paying taxes....doing our best to be patriotic and trying to help where we can. Please don't be insulted if we do some remembering and get a bit weepy about the dwindling few survivors of WW2..no disrespect to the current warriors, but if they are being mistreated or insulted you should look to the later generations that have done much to grab what they can and to hell with the rest of the world...they are so busy grabbing what they can to feather their own nests they elect and go along with people that are not hero prone...if the VA is in bad shape now...look to the current administration, not Harry Truman...but we have Truman as the touch stone of our younger lives.

Gloves are off....all returning heros demand and should get respect for their efforts...Like Nam it may be a way that nobody wanted and many would like to turn away and not look at the wreckage...a mangled body or a corpse has no idea what the politics of the day were...
 

contender

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The OP is about the loss of another old warrior.

All of our service members deserve respect, no matter what war they fought in. From all I've watched here over the years,,, I'm sure both opos & 737tdi both understand and believe this.

I think most here will agree that Korea seems to have been forgotten,,, and Vietnam was shameful in how the civilian population treated the returning troops. In WWII the entire country was involved in supporting the war effort. Donations, rationing, women working in factories building the stuff our troops needed. I think that due to the nationwide support, a lot of people call that era & it's troops the "greatest generation."
Many of us here had parents involved in WWII,,, so we remember things a bit differently than many of the "younger" folks who didn't have a direct connection to that era.
Sadly, Korean vets weren't as celebrated as WWII vets, & by the time Vietnam came along, many of the youth of that era were downright ignorant of what it means to serve in the military, or drank the kool-aid of the anti-establishment & totally disrespected our troops.

We all understand all of this.

Fortunately, we can still pause, grieve, and note the passing of yet another member of the "greatest generation" especially when it's one of the more famous ones we've studied & known about all our lives. And few will be as remembered as those of that generation.
But as a vet,,, with a family that did serve in WWII & Vietnam,,, I've always had respect for all vets. It hasn't been until recent years that you'd see old duffers wearing ball caps denoting their service. And as such a lot more of us have taken to stopping strangers & thanking them for their service. I did that myself ever since I served. When I was active, I served with a lot of Vietnam vets who chose to stay in & make a career of the Army. While few spoke much of it,,, I always mentioned how my brother did 2 tours, and I thanked them for their time there as well.
After I got out,,, if I happened to meet a Vietnam vet, I'd shake his hand & thank him as well & say; "welcome home brother." I recall in 1984, as I sat outside the VA hospital awaiting my ride home, (after a 14 day stay there,) a younger man, (as opposed to the many older WWII & Korean vets there,) & I struck up a conversation. While he was a few years my senior, he seemed to retain his youth a bit. Until we started talking. In his words,,,, I found a feeling of a much older, tired, yet still dedicated patriot. He had a lot of medical issues,,, but he related a lot to me that wasn't so much about him, as it was about being a soldier in a place & time that wasn't popular or respected. As my ride appeared, & I was about to leave, I shook his hand, looked him in his eyes, and told him that many, many true Americans did appreciate him & to He## with those who didn't. He hugged me & broke into tears. We stood outside the VA for a bit, in a silent embrace, as only two brothers could. Finally I wished him well & left.
Since that day, I made a stronger effort to thank ALL military vets.

So, when I see the loss of a Doolittle Raider, or even a homeless vet who dies alone in the street,,, I say a prayer.

And, now that many, many vets are now wearing ball caps showing their service, I have stopped many brothers in arms to thank them as well.

This post started as a notice of the loss of another warrior, and it should remain as a tribute to him. I know that even Karl & Opos can agree on that.
 

opos

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Absolutely...only trying to "defend" why guys like him are special to some of us...never meant to "ignore" the current crop of warriors...time for a deep breath and breakfast
 

mohavesam

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"Gentlemen, I have a mission requiring only volunteers. It is top-secret, and a one-way mission, and you most likely will not be coming back..."

These days that line would probably be used to 'weed out' the crazies from the unit... times have changed.
 

lgriff1968

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I saw a "Veterans for Obama" bumper sticker yesterday and thought WTF !!![/quote]

WOW, you saw John Kerry?!

Sometimes "veteran" and "patriot" do not equate..
 
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Well guys since I started this post let me say this about my take of the greatest generation. By the way my Son is the one who had the OP story on his Facebook. He is very much interested in the past and his roots.

I was born on 3-2-43 so don't really remember much about WWII. But I do very much know about the Americans that were involved in the war.
My dad as a B-17 gunner in Italy, my Uncle flew the Hump in China, my grandfather and mother both worked in the war effort. My mother was 16 when she had me. My grandmother took care of me while Mom worked. My other Grandparents were also involved in the war effort.
I spent a lot of time at the VFW when I was a teenager hanging out with all types of Warriors. Yes they did take my money in the Hearts card games.
So by living in a small Midwest town I pretty much knew the Greatest Generation first hand.
So until Tom Brokaw wrote his book I don't believe any of that generation would have called themselves that. They were all doing a job that they knew had to be done and that is all they thought about it. Everyone was involved in some way or another, so no one thought they were special. I know my family members didn't. I wish I could remember the stories from the VFW when the guys would start ragging on each other for having it easy.
Of course all the Vets would jump on my Dad and Uncle for being easy living flyboys. One Marine would rag on another for having an easy island to take and so it went. Yes they were all brothers and had a great deal of respect for the ones that didn't come home or did outstanding acts of heroism. Every Memorial Day my Dad would put on his uniform and go to the cemetery for the Memorial Service that the VFW put on.
My younger Uncle served during Korea as my Dad also did as a B-29 gunner. Well my uncle caught a lot of Flak at the VFW. You do know that Korea wasn't a real war don't ya :D :D
Anyway bottom line most didn't think they did anything special. They were just glad to be home and able to get to work building a GREAT Nation which they did.
If you have a family member from that time or if you want to learn what motivated that generation read Brokaw's book. After reading it I realized it fit my Dad and Uncle to a "T". I know it made me understand my Dad better, but unfortunately it was to late to talk to him about the things he did. An Aviator Warrior had Gone West.

With a Navy Captain Son and a Air Guard Lt. Col Daughter I have seen both ends of the Greatest Generation and they are also.

"Gentlemen, I have a mission requiring only volunteers. It is top-secret, and a one-way mission, and you most likely will not be coming back..."

Admiral to Son when son was at the Pentagon.
Commander Hayden You have been chosen to be the OIC of a ground unit in Afghanistan.
Son "I really would rather stay here since I just came back from a 6 month deployment"
Admiral " Son that is why we call them ORDERS and not a request. Go pack your bag" :D :D :D :D
But that Admiral made sure he got to be the CO of the Squadron Son wanted when he returned. :wink:
 

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