Doolittle Raider Dies Ahead of Medal Award Ceremony

by Mike Unser on March 31, 2015 · 6 comments

Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite, one of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders from World War II, died Sunday in a Nashville nursing home. He was 95.

Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite, captured

Robert L. Hite, then a lieutenant, was blindfolded by his captors and led from a Japanese transport plane by his captors. He was held for 40 months before being liberated in 1945. Hite was the co-pilot of Crew No. 16 (B-25B, Plane No. 40-2268 – “Bat out of Hell”, 34th Bomb Squadron) of the “Doolittle Raiders.”

On April 18, 1942, Hite and 79 other men, led by Lieutenant Colonel James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle, took off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet in sixteen B-25’s to conduct the first air raid over Japan. A co-pilot of Crew No. 16, he was one of eight crewmen captured and spent 40 months in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Thirty-eight of them were in solitary confinement.

Hite was one of the four captured crewman to return home. Three, including the pilot and the gunner of Hite’s plane, were shot by a firing squad. Another died of disease in captivity. Hite was liberated by American troops on Aug. 20, 1945. He weighed just 76 pounds at the time. Four Japanese officers were eventually tried and found guilty for war crimes against the captured Doolittle Raiders.

Robert L. Hite in 1942

Robert L. Hite in 1942

Hite’s passing leaves just two other surviving Raiders: retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole, 99, co-pilot to Lt. Col. Doolittle, and Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, 93, engineer-gunner of Crew No. 7.

On April 15, 2015, the Doolittle Raiders will be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal. Three days later, on April 18, which is the 73rd anniversary of the mission, the medal will fly on a B-25 from Andrews Air Force Base for presentation to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. The gold medal will go on display at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, joining a public exhibit on the Raiders and their mission.

Candidate designs of the medal were reviewed last year. The selected obverse and reverse designs are not expected to be seen until the award ceremony on April 15. On the same day, the United States Mint will offer bronze duplicates of the gold medal in 1.5-inch and 3-inch sizes.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

S. Buckles March 31, 2015 at 10:52 am

What a shame! These should have been awarded decades ago!

Joe C. March 31, 2015 at 12:40 pm

As usual, it takes congress a little time to get things done. I salute these veterans for their service.

john kruger March 31, 2015 at 2:52 pm

These days everybody is a ” hero”… but these men were the real deal..The Greatest Generation

John March 31, 2015 at 7:38 pm

Amazing any of them survived at all. American Grit

Kenneth Mclaws April 2, 2015 at 9:34 pm

I wish my uncle would have survived, I would have loved to see him there to receive the medal. His name is Melvin Gardner and he was one of the gunners on the Hari-Karier 11. It is really sad to think that if Congress would have done this year’s ago many of the greatest would have been there too receive it. Along with my uncle and those that didn’t make it, many did and now all but 2 are alive and I pray they will be able to attend the ceremony and show the world the strength of our American heroes. Please support all of our military and teach others why we do.

James April 11, 2015 at 8:52 pm

These were real men. May our children’s children learn of them and what their sacrifices meant to the land we love. My sincere prayer would be that somehow men like these RAIDERS will one day soon, return our America to its former self.

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