MISSOULA, Mont. — One of the last two surviving members of the Doolittle Raiders — who bombed Japan in an attack that stunned that nation and boosted U.S. morale — has died in Montana, his family said.
Retired Staff Sgt. David Jonathan Thatcher died Wednesday in a Missoula hospital. He was 94. He suffered a stroke on Sunday, Thatcher’s son Jeff told the Missoulian newspaper (http://bit.ly/28V8l2c).
Thatcher’s death leaves Retired Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole of Comfort, Texas, as the only living airman from among 80 who took off from an aircraft carrier on 16 B-25 bombers to target factory areas and military installations in Japan on April 18, 1942. Afterward, the planes headed for airfields in mainland China, realizing they would run out of fuel, according to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
The mission lifted American spirits five months after Pearl Harbor was bombed and forced the Japanese to spend resources defending their home islands.
Thatcher was engineer-gunner aboard the plane nicknamed “The Ruptured Duck.”
After the bombing, Thatcher’s plane — running low on fuel — crash landed in the ocean near China. The plane flipped over and all the crew members except for Thatcher were seriously injured. Thatcher was knocked out, but soon regained consciousness, gathered the rest of the crew, administered first aid and convinced some Chinese guerrillas to take the crew to safety in inland China.
Thatcher received a Silver Star for gallantry in action.
The crew’s crash-landing and evasion of Japanese troops in China was depicted in the movie “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” based on the book written by the plane’s pilot, Lt. Ted Lawson.
Because the bombing run was so dangerous, all those involved were volunteers. Thatcher said they gave little thought about earning a place in history.
“We figured it was just another bombing mission,” he told The Associated Press in an interview in March 2015. In the years afterward, though, he said, they realized: “It was an important event in World War II.”
After his military career, Thatcher worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 30 years as a clerk and later a letter carrier. He retired in 1980. He stayed in contact with the surviving members of the Doolittle Raiders and attended nearly every reunion the group held through the Final Toast in November 2013.
In March 2015, Thatcher and Cole presented the Raiders’ Congressional Gold Medal for heroism and valor to the Air Force museum for permanent display.
Thatcher was born on July 31, 1921 in Bridger, Montana, one of 10 children. He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Dawn; three of their five children and seven grandchildren.
Thatcher’s funeral is scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday at Garden City Funeral Home, followed by burial with full military honors at Sunset Memorial Gardens.