ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Airman Edward Saylor didn't expect to come back alive when his B-25 set off for the first U.S. bomb attack on Japan during World War II.
Saylor and the other 79 "Doolittle's Raiders" were forced to take off in rainy, windy conditions significantly further from Japan than planned, straining their fuel capacity. None of the 16 planes' pilots had ever taken off from an aircraft carrier before.
"Some of the group thought they'd make it," Saylor said. "But the odds were so bad."
Saylor and two other raiders, Maj. Thomas Griffin and Staff Sgt. David Thatcher — all in their 90s now — recalled their daring mission and its leader, Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, at a commemoration Saturday aboard the USS Hornet in Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco.
Doolittle's mission has been credited with boosting American morale following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But it did not come without a price.
Three raiders were killed while trying to land in China. Eight were captured by the Japanese, of which three were executed and a fourth died of disease in prison.
The Japanese also killed Chinese villagers suspected of helping many of the airmen escape.