At age 94, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Edward Saylor has done many things in his life and some, he admits, he can’t clearly remember.
But the harrowing mission he shared with 79 other men as part of the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo 72 years ago is etched in his memory.
“I remember the raid better than other things I did,” said Saylor, a Puyallup resident. “It all comes back to me.”
At the age of 22, Saylor volunteered for the raid that occurred April 18, 1942. It was the first attack on the Japanese mainland by U.S. forces in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“President Roosevelt was anxious to hit Japan,” Saylor said. “When we bombed Japan, that changed everything. We were given credit for changing the tide of the war in the Pacific.”
The Doolittle Raid represented a “tremendous morale boost” for U.S. forces after Pearl Harbor, Saylor said. The Battle of Midway that followed was also successful. The U.S. was on the offensive and Japan was retreating.
Saylor served as the flight engineer crew chief on one of the 16 B-25 bomber jets that flew the mission. Saylor’s B-25 was crew No. 15. Just days before the bombers were to launch from the USS Hornet, Saylor’s bomber was found to be inoperable because of an engine malfunction. Lt. Col. James Harold “Jimmy” Doolittle asked Saylor to fix the engine. Without the adequate tools to do the job, Saylor still was able to fix the engine and his bomber was able to participate in the mission.
After the mission, Saylor went on to complete 28 years of service in the Air Force. He spent the remaining part of World War II in Europe. He retired Oct. 1, 1967.
On Saturday, Saylor, one of four surviving participants of the raid, will join Doolittle’s granddaughter Jonna Doolittle Hoppes as a keynote speaker at Seattle’s Historic Flight Foundation commemoration of the 72nd anniversary of the Doolittle Raid.
Saylor said he will encapsulate his story about the mission in an hour presentation.
“There are not many veterans today and people are curious about World War II,” Saylor said. “It’s good to remember what happened.”
The commemoration will take place Saturday at Paine Field in Everett. Kickoff will be at 8 a.m. and the daylong celebration will include a behind-the-scenes look at vintage warbirds, a history of the B-25 bomber and a B-25 aerial demonstration. Six people will be picked to fly in a B-25 bomber.
“We think the Doolittle Raid is immensely significant in history,” said John Sessions, founder and chairman of the foundation. “It was a psychological boost for the country. We want to remind people of that. That great things do occur.”
Michael Kopp, a volunteer at the Historic Flight Foundation, said Saylor is an essential link to a critical time in history.
“For me, being able to recognize Ed’s service and making sure their stories continue to be told is important,” Kopp said.
Saylor married his wife, Lorraine, a week after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Because the Doolittle Raid was top secret, Saylor never told his wife he was overseas. She discovered his whereabouts when he appeared on a newsreel at a movie house after the mission became known.
Lorraine died two years ago. The couple have three children.
If you go
Seating for the Saturday evening celebration, which includes a dinner and the screening of the film “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” is available for 250 people. Tickets are available at brownpapertickets.com/event/578946. Proceeds benefit the Edward J. Saylor Aviation Scholarship Fund. People can also enter to win a free flight on a B-25 bomber by entering before noon Friday at historicflight.org/hf/ doolittle-flight-contest.
Andrew Fickes: 253-552-7001 andrew.fickes @puyallupherald.com Twitter: @herald_andrew