Montana icon and “Doolittle Raider” David Thatcher passes away

Posted at 4:14 PM, Jun 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-06-22 18:14:26-04

A piece of U.S. history has passed away, as David Thatcher, one of the last living members of the famed World War II Doolittle Raiders, died at age 94 on Wednesday in Missoula.

Thatcher received several medals and honors for his bravery in the Pacific and European theaters of battle.

Thatcher, who served in the Army Air Forces as a member of Flight Crew No. 7, was part of the air raid led by then-Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle. It marked the United States’ first strike on the Japanese islands in World War II.

He and fellow surviving Doolittle Raider Dick Cole were inducted into the Living Legends of Aviation at a ceremony hosted by John Travolta last January.

General Mark Welsh, the Air Force Chief of Staff, shared the following information on Facebook:

America and its Air Force lost a true hero this morning with the passing of Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, one of the two surviving Doolittle Raiders. Thatcher, then a corporal, was engineer/gunner in the back end of a B-25, one of 16 sent on that historic suicide mission to bomb Japan. They stunned that country, punctured its aura of invulnerability, and gave America hope just 4 months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. His actions were, in the words of the logistics officer for the mission: "Beyond the limits of human exertion, beyond the call of friendship, beyond the call of duty." He inspired a nation and lived a life devoted to all we hold dear as Airmen. Betty and I will keep Staff Sgt. Thatcher and all who loved him in our thoughts and prayers. r/mark

Calling hours for Thatcher will take place on Saturday, June 25 from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m. at the Garden City Funeral Home on West Broadway in Missoula.

Thatcher’s funeral service will be on June 27th at the funeral home and will be followed by graveside services with full military honors at Sunset Memorial Gardens.

There will also be a flyover at noon with a reception to follow at the Garden City Funeral Home.

Thatcher was born July 31, 1921 in Bridger, Montana, to Joseph Holland Thatcher and Dorothea Steinmiller Thatcher.

The U.S. Air Force website states: 

Prior to the raid, the ships carrying the B-25s were spotted by a Japanese naval ship, forcing the Raiders to launch nearly 200 miles early, resulting in them arriving over Japan at the height of day with little cover. The Doolittle Raiders were still able to hit their targets with complete surprise and out run interceptors.

After the raid, 15 of the 16 B-25s made it to China and one of the bombers landed in Russia. Three of the Airmen were executed after being captured by the Japanese, one died of disease while in a prison camp, another died parachuting from his aircraft, and two Airmen drowned while trying to ditch their aircraft.

“The Doolittle Raid has, over time, been misunderstood,” said Gary Boyd, the Air Education and Training Command historian. “Originally, I think we were content with calling it a psychological victory. In reality it changed all of World War II in the Pacific because it proved to the Japanese how vulnerable they were to air attack; it changed their mindset and sense of self protection. After the attack they recalled aircraft back to Japan and they became obsessed with increasing the zone of protection for the home empire.”

The decision to pull resources back to protect the homeland led directly to U.S. success at the Battle of Midway, Boyd said. “It was a tremendous victory at a time when we needed a victory of any kind,” he said. “At the end of the day, they were successful at changing the dynamic of the war.”

Click here to read the full obituary for David Thatcher.