Story by Phil Raschke; Photos by Mitch Dowler
The Mount Rainier Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) proudly hosted Doolittle Raider Ed Saylor, 88, at its recent membership picnic held at McChord AB. Saylor is one of eight surviving crew members of the famous April 18, 1942 Doolittle Raid on Tokyo.
Saylor was Flight Engineer-Gunner on Crew Number 15. His crew was part of a flight of 16 Army B-25 medium bombers placed aboard the aircraft carrier “Hornet”. Their mission was to fly the bombers off the carrier and conduct the first raid on Tokyo since the start of WW II. The daring raid changed the course of the war in the Pacific and became the subject of two major Hollywood films.
Doolittle Raider Ed Saylor shares a flying memory with Vietnam veteran Phil Raschke at the MOAA annual picnic at McChord AB.
Saylor said taking Army bombers off the deck of an aircraft carrier had “never been done before”, but mission leader, Lt. Col James Doolittle (later Lieutenant General) convinced President Franklin Roosevelt it could be done.
The raid, according to Saylor, was supposed to launch from the Hornet about 400 miles off the coast of Japan on the afternoon of April 18. After launch, they were to fly to Tokyo, bomb the city at night and fly on to bases in China arriving just after sunrise. But, Saylor said, the carrier was spotted by a patrol boat on the morning of the 18th and had to launch the bombers much earlier than planned. This forced the entire flight and bombing of Tokyo to be done in daylight.
Worst yet, Saylor said, the ensuing flight to China was done at night with little hope of reaching the landing fields because of limited fuel. Saylor’s B-25 and most of the other Raiders were forced to ditch or bail out over the Japanese occupied Chinese coast. Saylor’s plane ditched in darkness and light rain in waters near Sangchow. All five crew members escaped the sinking aircraft and eventually reached safety with the help of local Chinese citizens. Saylor. who cannot swim, credits his life vest with saving him from drowning. According to Saylor, the night ditching was the most “frightening part of the mission”.
Of the 80 pilots and crew who took part in the famous raid, three died from bailout, eight were captured by the Japanese with three being executed and one dying in a POW camp. Ten surviving members later died in action in Europe and four became German POWs. One aircraft, Crew 8, knowing it could not make China because of a lack of fuel, flew north and landed at Vladivostok, in the Soviet Union where the aircraft and crew were interned.
The Doolittle Raid single-handedly turned the tide of battle in the Pacific from a feeling of defeat and despair to one of optimism and victory. Doolittle was awarded the Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt for his daring raid on the Japanese homeland.
Ed Saylor was 22 years old at the time of the raid and received the Distinquished Flying Cross (DFC).
All MOAA members at the event agreed it was an honor to have Saylor in attendance and plans are underway to have Saylor for another visit in October of this year.
Special Note: In honor of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, the citizens of Tucson, Arizona presented a set of 80 sterling goblets to the Raiders following WW II. Each goblet has the name of a Raider and are housed in a special trophy case guarded by military personnel at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. The case also contains a bottle of brandy to be used by the last two remaining Raiders to toast their departed comrades.