Montana's Home Front World War II

Edward Saylor: Doolittle Raider

Ed. Note – Lt. Col. Edward Saylor passed away last weekend at the age of 94 in Sumner, Washington.

Saylor was one of two Montana men who were ‘Doolittle Raiders,” along with David Thatcher. The two men were among the last four Raiders and participated in the final reunion in 2013.

On April 18, 1942 Col. James Doolittle led a daring raid of sixteen
B-25 bombers which took off from an aircraft carrier and
bombed several Japanese cities. Two of the 80 “Raiders”
were Montanans, David Thatcher of Billings and Edward
Saylor of Brusett, who had been a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps stationed at Ninemile. Both survived the raid and the subsequent crash landings in China and returned to Montana as heroes. Thatcher, a modest man who saved the lives of
the other four members of his crew, suddenly found himself
a celebrity. “When we were first told that the ‘special
mission’ was to be, I just thought it would be a lot of fun,
but I honestly never expected to come back.” After a harrowing
take-off from the deck of the USS Hornet, Thatcher
watched as his B-25, piloted by Lt. Ted Lawson,
skimmed over the ocean. They were flying so low that Japanese
swimmers waved as they passed over the beach and
headed for their target, the Nippon machinery works and
steel factory. “As we let go our first load I saw a great
column of black smoke and debris shoot into the air… The
antiaircraft fire was pretty heavy. It jarred the plane around
it was so close, but I’m sure we weren’t hit.” Flying on,
their B-25 eventually ran short of fuel and crashed in the
ocean just short of the China coast. All five members of
the crew made it to shore, but except for Thatcher they
were all badly injured. The young corporal from Billings
performed first aid on the four officers and found shelter
for them.
Chinese guerrillas helped the fliers elude the Japanese
patrols sent to find them, and all of the crew eventually
reached safety, but Lawson’s leg was so badly infected that
it had to be amputated along the way. Lawson wrote down
his experiences in the best-selling, “Thirty Seconds Over
Tokyo,” which was soon made into a major Hollywood
film starring Spencer Tracy and Robert Mitchum. Robert
Walker played the part of David Thatcher, the teenaged
flier from Billings. Thatcher won a Silver Star for his actions,
and according to an official War Department release,
“All this plane’s crew were either saved from capture or
death as a result of Corporal Thatcher’s initiative and courage
in assuming responsibility and tending the wounds himself
day and night and arranging for the transportation of
his companions.”
Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, chief of the Army Air
Forces, pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross on Thatcher
and Sgt. Edward Saylor of Brusett in Washington D.C. on June 28, 1942, before the two men returned to Montana in July. Edward
Saylor received a warm welcome as the guest of honor at a
Heroes Day parade and war bond rally at Dornblaser Field
in Missoula, while 1,000 people watched from the lawn of
the Billings courthouse as the Silver Star was pinned on
Thatcher. “Real heroes, it seems, are always modest,” said
the Billings Gazette. “For the uncrowned champion of the
Modest Heroes League, we raise to nominate Sergeant David
J. Thatcher, late of Shangri-la and Tokyo.” Thatcher
replied that “It’s funny to see my name in the paper. We
saw plenty of action over Japan, all right,” but added that
he would like to, “go over again.” After the war Thatcher
became a postman in Missoula. He attended the annual
Doolittle Raiders reunion including the last one in 2013.

Read more about Edward Saylor: Doolittle Raider and Montana’s Home Front During World War II

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