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Doolittle Raider Thatcher diesDoolittle Raider Thatcher dies

Editor's note: This story was updated July 14 with information from the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Association sergeant at arms.
David J. Thatcher, who was an engineer gunner on the mission to bomb Tokyo under the command of then-Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle, died June 22 at the age of 94 in Missoula, Montana. Richard Cole, Doolittle’s copilot on the mission, is the last surviving Raider.
David J. Thatcher

Thatcher was a member of crew No. 7 on the April 18, 1942, raid, manning the top turret of a North American B-25B Mitchell bomber. After bombing Tokyo, the crew flew toward China but ran low on fuel and ditched in waist-deep water off the coast, Thatcher recalled for AOPA Pilot during the Raiders’ seventieth reunion event in Dayton, Ohio. (See “Secret Mission.”) The aircraft flipped inverted, and Thatcher was the only crewmember who was able to walk. The Chinese helped Thatcher and the rest of his crew evade the Japanese and make it to a hospital a few days later, he said. He received a Silver Star for his efforts.

Thatcher served as an engineer-gunner on a B-26 in North Africa before being discharged from the military in 1945. According to his obituary, Thatcher also received the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Chinese Army, Navy and Air Corps Medal, Class A, 1st Grade.

"He was a true hero," said Brian Anderson, Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Association sergeant at arms. Anderson described Thatcher as a kind, gentle man, who "always had time for you." 

The Doolittle Tokyo Raiders were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2015, and Thatcher and Cole were on hand for a ceremony April 18, 2015, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, to donate the medal to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Anderson, who had led the effort to get the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders honored with the medal, presented it to them at the Ohio ceremony.

Thatcher is survived by his wife, Dawn; daughters Sandy Miller and Becky Thatcher-Keller; son Jeff; grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. Thatcher’s funeral, as well as a full military ceremony with honors and flyover, will take place June 27 in Missoula.

Donations can be made in memory of Thatcher to the General James H. Doolittle Scholarship Fund or to the River Valley Church in Missoula. Details to donate to the funds are available on the Garden City Funeral Home website.

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Miller

AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor
AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Miller has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.
Topics: Pilots

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