Pelosi Remarks at Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony Honoring Doolittle Tokyo Raiders
“Good afternoon. Senator Brown, Representative Olson: thank you for giving us this opportunity today. It’s an honor to be with all of you. Lt. General John Hudson: thank you for your leadership. Just looking at the program, all of these names listed here – what a heavy list of honor, and valor and courage. How wonderful that we are honoring them today.
“It is fitting that we have come together today in Emancipation Hall. Because today marks the 150th anniversary of the death of President Abraham Lincoln – 7:22 a.m. this morning. As we gather to pay tribute to the impossible, incredible bravery of the Doolittle Raiders, President Lincoln’s words on the battlefield at Gettysburg ring true as ever: ‘The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did.’
“As a Representative of San Francisco, I take special pride because it was less than four months after Pearl Harbor, on April 2nd, 1942, that the USS Hornet steamed under the Golden Gate Bridge and out of San Francisco Bay. On her deck, 16 B-25 medium bombers; planes never intended to take off from an aircraft carrier; planes that could not land back on the Hornet once launched.
“Their crews had volunteered when they knew nothing more than that the mission’s importance would be matched only by its perils. Their training and preparation for an unprecedented action had been compressed into scant few months. Still, at every chance to back out, these 80 men kept stepping forward to see the raid through.
“And so, days later, hundreds of miles short of the planned launch point, 80 men in 16 planes vaulted into the sky – racing towards their targets in the enemy homeland, placing their hopes in a successful crash landing on the Chinese coast.
“Reeling from the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, with the forces of democracy being driven back in every theater, our nation needed a reason to believe. The Doolittle raid was just that. In a letter to Captain Ted Lawson after the war, the commanding officer of the USS Hornet during the mission wrote: ‘To Americans, grimly facing reverses on every front, it brought an electric shock of hope.’
“As General Jimmy Doolittle himself wrote years later, ‘Our country, faced with the greatest adversity we had ever experienced, had fought back.’ Some were killed or executed, some were grievously wounded, some faced harrowing years of captivity. But the Doolittle Raiders had pierced the invulnerability of the Axis war machines. They had given a rattled America reason to believe victory was within reach.
“For all those men who made it through the raid in one piece, the war was only just beginning – with many more dangerous missions ahead. More raiders would give their lives before final victory was won. ‘Toujours au Danger’ cried their motto, and ever into danger it was.
“I just want to say something to the families of our members of the Air Force – now it is the Air Force. As I travel in Europe and North Africa – my colleagues can attest to this – we always visit the American cemeteries there. And what is always remarkable to me is, as we look across at all the tombstones – and how proud and how brave they were, and how proud we are of everyone – we have to usually go to the wall to see the names of those who were in the Air Force. Because that’s the way it is. No remains.
“And I know that that is another gift that the families give us – not just the courage of their family members, but not ever to be able to come home; but nonetheless, to be recognized forevermore on those walls. And it’s not any surprise that, when we go to those walls, we are escorted usually by the Air Force, [and] everyone is in tears – because of the freedom that people have given us with their lives, with their entire being. So I thank you, families of the Air Force, for that history, those gifts to our country.
“After the raid, as before, these men believed they had a job to do, and they meant to see it through – no matter how long or how hard it would be. Seven decades later, we are still awed by the sheer audacity of the Doolittle Raid, and the incredible men whose grit and bravery made it possible. We are honored by their courage, inspired by their sacrifice, humbled by their humility, and their effectiveness, and their strength. Though time has thinned their ranks, it will never dim the daring of their deeds.
“For their service, for their valor, for awakening the indomitable spirit of our nation in the darkest hour of our need, we are proud to honor the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders with the Congressional Gold Medal, with thanks and respect. Thank you all.”