Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, May 22, 2012

70th Doolittle Raiders Reunion

The largest collection of B-25 Mitchells gathered since World War II

On Tuesday morning, a rare sound rattled the city of Urbana as 20 B-25s started turn over at 06:40 for the scheduled 07:00 launch to Wright-Patterson AFB. Larry Kelly of Panchito organized The Gathering of B-25s to Urbana and led the brief the night before the flight. At the beginning of the brief, we were honored to have Navy Chief Petty Officer Allen Josey, an electrician on the Hornet the day the Raiders launched for Japan, recount his stories to us. It was a great way to put into perspective the mission over the next couple of days. It can't be stated enough just how dedicated the B-25 flight crews were in order to attend the event that day. Some flew for 12 hours through very nasty weather and some, like Grumpy III, didn't arrive until late Monday night.

The boys of the Texas Legends Flying Museum pose in front of their B-25, Betty's Dream. The nose art of Betty's Dream was a huge crowd draw, keeping the Texas gang talking well into the evening.
I was incredibly fortunate to make the flight this morning in the nose of Arizona CAF B-25J Maid In The Shade. It cranked at 06:53 and taxied into position for takeoff. At 90-second intervals, the 20 B-25s roared out of Grimes and flew over to Wright-Patterson, where they landed and parked wing tip to wing tip, staging for the massive group portrait of aircraft and crews. The gates opened at 10:00, and the crowds flooded in. It was great to see young and old stroll among the B-25s, asking questions, examining the planes and buying t-shirts from all the crews. At 17:00, the four Raiders arrived and went down the line of B-25s big-eyed, looking at the planes they flew 70 years ago over Japan and thanking the air crews for flying them in for the ceremony. Once the crowds had left for the day, the B-25s were turned over, taxied to the end of the runway and parked like they were on the morning of April 18, 1942, on the deck of the Hornet.

It was a gorgeous morning on the 18th, quite the opposite of that morning 70 years ago on the deck of the Hornet. At 12:20, Panchito was the first to take off from Wright-Patterson, and then one by one, in the same order they launched from Grimes the night before, the 20 B-25s took to the air to start forming up for the flyover. The fences surrounding the field were packed with onlookers taking in the sights and sounds of the launch. Michael Polly of Pacific Princess said that while forming up over Dayton, he could see people coming out of office buildings, getting out of cars and looking up. It was simply an amazing sight!

The 20 B-25s flew from Grimes to Wright-Patterson, and after landing and staging, taxied to the display area to get ready for the crowds. Even though there was a gathering at Grimes, there was a whole new energy and socializing once all the planes were in line on the strip at Wright-Patterson. It's doubtful we'll see these many B-25s gathered in one place again. At exactly 13:00, the B-25s, in flights of four, winged over the memorial to the delight of the crowd.
At exactly 13:00, the wave of B-25s started to fly over the memorial site where the four Raiders watched. In echelons of four, the B-25s roared overhead in the blue backdrop, white-cloud dotted skies. There was hardly a dry eye on the field as the sound of the flight thumped in everyone's chest. As the flight went overhead, you could see the aircraft turn clockwise and form up for their second pass. In an even tighter formation, the B-25s came back over. As the last echelon passed overhead, we saw a flight of four continue on around clockwise over the field. A few minutes later, Panchito, Betty's Dream, Pacific Princess and Miss Hap performed a missing-man formation, with Pacific Princess pulling up and out of the formation. (Sixteen of the B-25s returned to Grimes field after the flyover at Wright-Patterson, four flew back home.)

This was the start of the ceremonies, which continued on at the memorial directly afterward and didn't end until Friday. During that time, the Raiders were at various luncheons, banquets, autographing sessions and functions. It was great to see these gentlemen be honored by thousands of people! A very stirring moment was Thursday morning, when the Raiders came to Grimes for a breakfast to say thanks to the B-25 aircrews for all they did to make the celebration and flyover happen. Cole, Thatcher and Saylor attended, talking with crew members and then posing with each crew for portraits. You've never seen so many smiles or heard as many laughs as stories were exchanged among all.


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