‘To Those Who Have Gone’: AFA Revives Doolittle Raiders’ Toast in Worldwide Event

April 26, 2024   |   By Patrick Reardon

It’s been eight decades since AFA’s founding president, Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, and his fellow Raiders first raised a glass to their fallen comrades of the legendary air raid over Tokyo in 1942, and five years since the last surviving Raider passed away. But on April 18—the 82nd anniversary of the raid—hundreds of Airmen, Guardians, veterans, and AFA members around the globe revived the Raiders’ time-honored tradition by toasting “to those who have gone.”

The worldwide event was organized by the Doolittle Leadership Center (DLC), AFA’s leader-development program, and was hosted at AFA’s operations center in Arlington, Va. Dozens of distinguished guests attended the in-person portion of the ceremony, including Gen. Jim Slife, the Air Force’s Vice Chief of Staff; Dr. Ravi I. Chaudhary, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Energy, Installations, and Environment; and retired Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson, former USNORTHCOM Commander. The event was sponsored by Northrop Grumman.

Gen. Thomas A. Bussiere, Commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, was the toastmaster and keynote speaker.

“The Airmen that performed this raid, those 52 officers and 28 enlisted warriors, were ordinary American Airmen,” Bussiere said. “Ordinary American Airmen that did extraordinary things when the challenge or the opportunity presented itself—that’s the secret sauce of American warriors. That’s the secret sauce of America when challenged and attacked. Whether it’s 1941 and ’42 or 2023 and 2024, our nation knows how to come together, pick the right leader, develop a team, and launch with a vengeance. We’ve done it before, and make no mistake about it: if challenged, we will do it again.”

While some 70 people attended the toast in person, more than 250 organizations, Air Force units, AFA Chapters, and interested individuals tuned in for the live ceremony via YouTube. Virtual toasters participated all over the world, from the 673rd Air Base Wing at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska to Headquarters French Strategic Air Forces in Taverny, France; and from Air Force veterans and personal friends of the Doolittle Raiders to a host of officer candidates and cadets from Air Force ROTC, Officer Training School, and Civil Air Patrol units around the nation. Many AFA Chapters integrated the nationally broadcast toast into their own traditions and celebrations of the raid’s anniversary.

“Many of [AFA’s] chapters have honored the Doolittle Raiders over the years, especially the Central Oklahoma Gerrity Chapter, which kept this tradition going and inspired the national event,” said Chris Canada, AFA’s Vice Chair of the Board for Field Operations.

With a glass of Jimmy Doolittle’s favorite cognac in hand, Bussiere led the global assembly in toasting the Raiders’ legacy with the traditional words used by the Raiders for decades: “A toast to those who gave their all in success of their mission, and to those who have since joined them. Our fondest memories, sincere appreciation, and gratitude—to those who have gone.”

This was the first official toast to the Raiders since 2022, when Air Force leaders gathered in memoriam of Col. Dick Cole, Doolittle’s co-pilot, whose passing in 2019 marked an end to the tradition. The 80 silver goblets engraved with the Raiders’ names and once used during their annual reunions are now a part of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, but AFA’s Doolittle Leadership Center is ensuring this storied Air Force tradition remains relevant for years to come.

“This historic [raid] and the courage, selflessness, and innovation that enabled it are truly worth celebrating and internalizing,” said DLC Director and retired Air Force colonel Dr. Patrick Donley. “So too are the tremendous sacrifices of the Raiders’ families, and the hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens who lost their lives at the hands of their Japanese occupiers in retaliation for their efforts to save the Raiders in China. This is truly an event that all Airmen—no, all Americans—can get behind and celebrate. We sincerely hope this toast becomes a tradition that continues to grow each year.”

The event simultaneously commemorates an important piece of Air Force heritage while also looking into the future. The spirit of the 80 Doolittle Raiders in 1942 stands as “an exemplar of courage and leadership” for the forces of tomorrow, Bussiere said.

“That’s the spirit that we hope to see in our Airmen and our Guardians, in our Air Force and in our Space Force, in our partners and our allies, as we move forward in this century,” said AFA’s President & CEO Lt. Gen. Burt Field, USAF (Ret.). “We need that spirit of boldness, of audacity, of leadership, and of vision and courage to face the threats that we see around the world today.”