On July 4, 1943, a week shy of his 26th birthday, Griffin was shot down over Sicily and taken prisoner by the Germans. “It was a long 22 months,” says Griffin, now 95. “I spent it trying to think up ways to escape. It was our job to keep the Germans busy, so we gave them as much trouble as we could.”
When the war ended, he returned home and opened an accounting office in Cincinnati, Ohio. Because tax time is the busiest period for accountants, he was able to begin attending the mid-April reunions only after he closed the practice in the early 1980s. Two other Raiders attend the reunions: Ed Saylor, an engineer on bomber 15, TNT, and Bob Hite, copilot on bomber 16, Bat Out of Hell, are not pictured. At a final reunion, the last two are to open a bottle of Hennessy cognac from 1896 (the year Doolittle was born) and toast their departed colleagues. Says Griffin: “Dick Cole and I have a big thing going about that, who’s going to be the last. We say it’ll be us and we’ll be having that toast.”
Historians say that although the raid caused minimal damage, it had great strategic impact. American morale, still hurting over Pearl Harbor, soared, and Japan at once saw itself vulnerable to air attack. That impression pushed the Japanese navy to try to capture Midway Island, a decisive loss that heralded Japan’s defeat.
Paul Hoversten is the executive editor at Air & Space/Smithsonian.