David Thatcher, one of the last living members of the famed World War II "Doolittle Raiders," was laid to rest on Monday in Missoula.
The "raiders" launched an aerial attack on Tokyo and surrounding areas following the bombing at Pearl Harbor, providing a huge morale boost to America in the early days of the war.
Thatcher was laid to rest in Missoula in the company of family, friends, and military personnel who honored his service and his life.
A B-1B Lancer from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, and a B-25, owned by John Sessions, performed slow-speed flyovers in Thatcher’s honor.
Thatcher was born in 1921 to a family of 10 children. After graduating high school in 1939, Thatcher enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. Soon after Japan bombed Pear Harbor in 1941, Thatcher and 78 others volunteered for a secret mission that would help change the course of World War II.
The mission was led by the legendary aviator Jimmy Doolittle, and the team was nicknamed "The Doolittle Raiders" after him. The raid involved hitting selected military and industrial targets in several Japanese cities.
But loved ones say it’s what happened next that defined Thatcher.
He was a tail-gunner and engineer on a plane called "The Ruptured Duck." The plane crashed, seriously injuring all the crew members except Thatcher, who was briefly knocked out.
After regaining consciousness, he saved the lives of his crew by gathering them on the beach, administering first aid, and making contact with friendly Chinese guerillas to help.
His son David says he will continue to honor the memory of his father and the Doolittle Raiders.
"I am a proud member of the children of the Doolittle Raiders. Our mission is to carry on their legacy. We will always remember," Thatcher said.
Following the Doolittle Raid, Thatcher served in England and Africa until 1944, flying in 26 missions before being honorably discharged from active duty in 1945.
Thatcher worked in Missoula as a clerk and later a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service for more than 30 years before retiring in 1980.
Thatcher’s death leaves just one one surviving Doolittle Raider, 100-year-old Richard Cole, who was Doolittle’s co-pilot, who says it was an honor to serve with him.
"To those who died and those who joined in since, may they rest in peace," Cole said.
Malmstrom Air Force Base shared the following information:
Thatcher was celebrated with military honors and multiple aircraft flyovers at Sunset Memorial Garden Cemetery.
Air Force officials, friends and family from across the country attended the ceremony. Also in attendance was retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole, the last surviving Doolittle Raider.
The Malmstrom Air Force Base Honor Guard rendered respects as a symbol of Thatcher’s legacy of promoting the mission and preserving a rich heritage.
The American flag-draped casket was carried by six Airmen to Thatcher’s resting place as a resounding silence spread throughout the crowd. A seven-member firing party delivered a 21-gun salute against the mountain backdrop, into the crisp blue horizon.
The sound of taps echoed from nearby trees as the flag was carefully folded, 13 times, leaving only the visible blue field with stars representing Thatcher’s service.
The flag was presented to Dawn, Thatcher’s wife of 70 years, on behalf of the President of the U.S., the Air Force and a grateful nation for his honorable and faithful service.
"My father was a very gentle, humble and compassionate individual," said Jeff, Thatcher’s son and president of Children of the Doolittle Raiders. "He was full of dignity and grace, with the soul of an angel and heart of a lion."
The B-1B Lancer from the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, and a B-25, owned by John Sessions, performed slow-speed flyovers in Thatcher’s honor.
Click here to read more at the Malmstrom website.