Crowds line up to meet Doolittle's Raiders for last time

Doolittle Raider Lt. Col. Dick Cole stands in front of a B-25 at the Destin Airport in Destin, Fla., before a flight as part of the Doolittle Raider 71st Anniversary Reunion, April 16, 2013. Cole was Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle's co-pilot during the raid. The Doolittle Raiders launched the first American attack on Tokyo during WWII on April 18, 1942. Eighty men took off in 16 B-25 bombers. Eleven were killed or captured and 13 more died later in the war. This is the last year that the surviving members of the Doolittle Raiders will participate in a public reunion.
Nick Tomecek/AP/Florida Daily News

(CBS News) FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. -- It's easy to spot Doolittle's Raiders. They're the guys in the white hats. Take a good look at Edward Saylor, David Thatcher and Richard Cole. This is the last time you'll see them together.

Edward Saylor
Edward Saylor CBS News

"If you didn't decide to wind it down, you might end up having to plan a reunion and so forth and end up with no people," Cole says, when asked why they decided to stop participating in public reunions.

They're all in their 90s now, but in the darkest days of World War II, they were daring young men who launched the first American attack on Tokyo, flying B-25 bombers that were never meant to take off from an aircraft carrier.

It's been 71 years.

David Thatcher
David Thatcher CBS News

"We thought they'd forget about it by now," Cole says.

Not a chance. The line for autographs at a museum in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., was over an hour long. Paul and Danna Fleming, of Maryland, took their children out of school to see them.

"Drove straight through, 16 hours straight to get here for today," Danna says. "We drove all night," adds Paul.

Phyllis Green got there early to be at the front of the line.

Richard Cole
Richard Cole CBS News

"I wanted to take the opportunity to see them and thank them for their service," she says.

Eighty men took off in 16 bombers. Eleven were killed or captured. Thirteen more lost their lives later in the war. These three survived the enemy and the actuarial tables but found out being on a pedestal can be tough work.

"People want to hear all about it," Saylor says. "OK, we'll tell them."

They certainly made Ramon Cruz's day. He got their autograph.

There is one other living raider, Robert Hite, who survived capture by the Japanese. He was not well enough to join the others for their last hurrah: a parade past one more cheering crowd, a flyover by a lone B-25 and one final entrance to a banquet in their honor. Take a good look.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.