EGLIN AFB — The legacy of the Doolittle Raiders lives on.
On the day of a memorial service was held to honor the late retired Air Force Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole, the last surviving Doolittle Raider, many people gathered at the Air Force Armament Museum on Thursday evening for a reunion of the families of the 80 Army Air Corps volunteers who bombed Japan during World War II.
Retired Army Maj. Charles Merkel Jr. led the crowd through the history of the Raiders and ended with a charge to "honor the past."
"It's up to a new generation to carry on the legacy," Merkel said.
In true Raiders spirit, a toast to the memory of the group was made with glasses of Hennessy cognac, a supporter of the event.
The reunion was hosted by the Children of the Doolittle Raiders, a nonprofit organization that continues traditions and educates people about the Doolittle Raiders. All proceeds from Thursday's silent auction went to the organization's scholarships, one of which is offered to Raiders' family members and the other offered in China.
Jeff Thatcher, president of the Children of the Doolittle Raiders, said the group holds gatherings and attends events to speak about the history of the Doolittle Raiders and their courageous mission.
"We do everything we can to get in front of people and speak what I call the gospel of the Doolittle Raid," Thatcher said.
Thatcher's father, Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, was the engineer gunner on crew No. 7. Thatcher's father died in 2016, a year after receiving a Congressional Gold Medal with Cole on behalf of the Raiders.
Led by retired Lt. Col. James Doolittle, the Raiders took off from the U.S.S Hornet in the Pacific Ocean in 16 B-25 bombers on April 18, 1942, to bomb Japanese cities. The raid was four months after Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Despite inflicting little damage, the men used American air power to strike fear into the Japanese.
"We're trying to keep that spirit of volunteerism alive," Thatcher said.