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Doolittle Tokyo Raiders earn Congressional Gold Medal

The Doolittle Tokyo Raiders flew 16 B-25s off the carrier USS Hornet on April 18, 1942, to launch the first strike on Japan’s homeland in World War II.

In recognition of “outstanding heroism, valor, skill, and service to the United States in conducting the bombings of Tokyo” a Congressional Gold Medal will be struck in their honor and displayed at National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Potential designs for the gold medal that will honor members of the 17th Bombardment Group led by Col. Jimmy Doolittle were reviewed Oct. 14 by the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee.

“I am amazed to find myself here playing this role where each of us gets to be a part of the history of the Tokyo Doolittle Raiders,” said CCAC Chairman Gary Marks.

Obverse design 3

Obverse design number 3

Fourteen obverse and nine reverse designs were presented for consideration by the U.S. Mint.

“I want to compliment our artists for another great portfolio,” Marks said. “We have fabulous work to look at today.”

The collection included a mix of images from the realistic to the abstract.

“The people we are honoring are virile men, strong, courageous, bold and daring,” Marks said. “I hope we don’t pick designs that don’t measure up to that.”

Brian Anderson, Doolittle Raiders sergeant at arms, said the group prefers obverse design No. 3 of a plane taking off from the carrier in choppy water and reverse design No. 4, which depicts aircraft launching from the USS Hornet and the four patches representing the four squadrons that make up the 17th Bombardment Group.

Reverse design number 4

Reverse design number 4

Anderson said it was important to the Doolittle Raiders to also honor the men on the carrier.

“The carrier got the guys to that point,” he said. “It was a brand new carrier, hadn’t been to war yet. This was its first official foray into it.”

Ultimately the CCAC recommended obverse design No. 2, a variation of the design preferred by the Raiders. Three B-25s launch straight ahead off the carrier as it breaks through the rough waters.

CCAC member Heidi Wastweet said the design gives the feeling that the viewer is the target.

“That shows to me the force,” she said. “It’s coming right at me. I’m the enemy and I’m scared. It’s a powerful, forceful thing. I feel the fear of having that coming at me.”

Obverse design number 2

Obverse design number 2

The depiction of the planes launching, from small to large, provide a unique perspective, she said, and the waves coming up against the bow create a nice pattern.

Wastweet suggested it be paired with reverse No. 8, which portrays a bird’s eye view of four aircraft as they reach their target seen below.

“Now we see a different point of view,” she said, “a harmonious pattern. We are now looking down at them so we are one of them, we are part of the team looking down on our fellow pilots. The map connects us with what is going on on the ground.”

And while she called the Raiders’ preferred reverse No. 4 a fine design, she felt the patches crowded the design.

CCAC member Mary Lannin echoed Wastweet’s sentiments. The obverse design No. 2 is powerful and direct with the planes coming right at you, she said, while reverse design No. 8 puts you in the plane looking down at the target.

Reverse design number 8

Reverse design number 8

Marks lobbied for obverse design No. 6, a symbolic presentation described by the U.S. Mint as depicting “a seahorse, eagle, and 16 stars.  The seahorse represents the USS Hornet and is symbolic of knowledge, strength, and being the ruler of the sea.  The eagle represents the B-25 Mitchell and is a symbol for ruler of the sky.  Lightning bolts are included to symbolize the 17th Bombardment Group’s ability to strike fast and with precision.  The 16 stars represent the 16 flight crews that took part in this combat mission.”

He asked the committee to consider the role art plays in creating a compelling medal. A design like No. 6 is a piece of art, he said.

“It addresses symbolically the pilots and aircraft,” Marks said. “The lightning bolts are symbolic of the strike on Tokyo.”

It is a design that would endure, he said.

“I truly believe decades later this is going to be a standout,” Marks said. “Years later people are going to turn to this one and the question will be raised, who are these men, who are behind this work of art?”

Obverse design number 6

Obverse design number 6

In the end the CCAC recommended the design of the planes launching from the carrier and the eagle’s eye view of the planes over the target.

It asked the Mint to remove the words “First Strike” from the obverse since it is repeated on the reverse design and replace it with the date of the raid, April 18, 1942. It also asked that the squadron name be removed from the reverse.

The recommendation goes to the Secretary of the Treasury. The Commission of Fine Arts will also review the designs.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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