The First of the Generation Xers Starting (Gulp) to hit the Big 50

Published in the Woonsocket Call on January 10, 2016

With the New Year’s celebration on January 1, the first of America’s 62 million Generation Xers are on AARP’s radar screen as potential members. These individuals have hit a demographic milestone, turning age 50 this year.  Now, it’s time for the generation that is following the Baby Boomers, to begin thinking about their later years and what resources they will need if they are thrust into the role of caregiver for their parents and grandparents.

Demographers says that Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1979) is the middle generation, sandwiched between Baby Boomers and Millennials.  “As they grow older, it is important to acknowledge that they are having a different experience than their cohorts, and that they are more than just an unsung demographic who wore parachute pants and acid wash jeans,” says a recent AARP press statement, announcing the first arrival of this generation into their fifth decade.

The First Vanguard of Gen Xer’s Turn 50

AARP notes in 2015, 4.4 million Gen Xers hit the big-5-0.  This year another 4.1 million are expected to join the ranks of Americans over age 50, notes AARP, predicting that this generation will take on the role of challenging “outdated perceptions of aging and empower people to take control of their futures”

“AARP is excited to welcome Generation X to the 50-plus community and be a resource for them as they embrace their age and live the life that they want,” said Sami Hassanyeh, AARP Chief Digital Officer. “They face different challenges and have different goals than their predecessors, and deserve every opportunity to explore the possibilities that lie ahead.”

According to the Washington, D.C.-based AARP, the nation’s largest aging organization, Generation Xers carry far more fiscal responsibilities than previous generations have or even the next one, the Millennial Generation.  Now, in their 40s and 50s, this generation is financially supporting their children while being caregivers for their aging parents.  With life expectancy increasing Generation Xers must continue working to pay the bills, but like the aging baby boomers must rethink the concept of growing old and where they will put their time and energy in retirement.

“Though Generation Xers feel less financially secure than their parents in regards to retirement, they also plan to work longer and embrace new opportunities in this evolving life phase. Most people turning 50 today can expect to live another 30-plus years, and many are already taking steps towards increasing their longevity – 87% consider themselves in good health and 55% maintain a healthy diet. They are re-imagining this life transition and expect their future years to be more flexible and rewarding than ever before,” says the AARP statement.

Key Generation Xer’s Metrics

AARP Research provides a snap shoot the Generation Xers (  As to diversity: sixty percent are white; 18 percent Hispanic/Latino; 12 percent are African and 7 percent Asian.  Most are married (64%) but one in five (19%) have never married.  Fifty percent of Generation Xers have children age 18 years or younger living at home while 67 percent of this generation have children of any age living at home.  This generation is well-educated with 35 percent receiving a Bachelor’s degree or higher (35%). Twenty seven percent have some college education.  The median income of this generation is $70,501.

Fifty six percent of this generation feels overwhelmed with financial burden (carrying an average debt of $111,000). Fifty five percent use the internet for on-line banking.

But, when thinking about retirement, 35 percent are confident they will have enough income to live the life they envision in retirement.  But, few Generation Xers are confident Medicare (34%) and Social Security (24%) will be available to them like it is for those currently receiving the retirement checks.

Looking at health, Generation Xers say that “the number one element for a good life is good health.”  They take responsibility for maintaining their health and well- being, too. Eighty six percent of this generation has health insurance.  Seventy two percent say that they trust their physicians the most for health information.

“From my perspective, this age group entering our membership demographic signals an opportunity for AARP to build our relevance in the lower end of the 50+ population,” said John Martin, Director of Communications at AARP Rhode Island. “When I meet these folks I get excited because more likely than not, they have been connected to the Internet for some time and are up to speed when it comes to technology and social media.

Time is on Their Side

“Generation X, the research shows, is quite forward-looking – as well as motivated — when it comes to working and living in one’s 50s with an eye toward health & fitness, retirement planning and having a say in making sure one’s community is heading in the right direction. The good news for Generation X, I would say, is that time is on their side. They can make changes during the final 15-20 years of their work life that will make everything after much better. So, when they embrace online resources and I can keep them current via email on issues relevant to the road ahead it is very exciting,” Martin added.

“I am pleasantly surprised when I meet people across Rhode Island who declare ‘now that I’m 50’ it’s time to join AARP. To me, what they are saying is that they get it,  that membership represents a transition that is all about fulfilling their aspirations and building confidence that they will live out their lives with independence and dignity.”

AARP is no longer the membership organization for just the Greatest Generation (1900 to 1924), the Silent Generation (1925 to 1944) and Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964). It is fr Gen Xers (1965 to 1984), too, especially if they want to take control of the quality of life they will experience in their retirement years and beyond.

For more information about AARP, go to





Pausch’s The Last Lecture is a Must Read

Published in Pawtucket Times, January 30, 2015

Sometimes you may just pick up a good book to read, especially during a storm when the Governor’s call for a State of Emergency three days ago because of the blizzard. Yes, being homebound because of bad weather does have its advantages. It gives you time to read books, especially if you still have electricity.

For years, my wife has gently suggested that I read a book, lying on her night stand. She told me that “it’ll help you put life’s priorities in order.” But, I never did, until this week when I finally picked up that nationally acclaimed book, “The Last Lecture” coauthored by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow. I quickly devoured the 206 page book, published by Hyperion in 2008, in just one day.

Thoughts of a Dying Professor

Doctors gave Pausch, a 47-year-old father of three, from three to six more months of “good health” when they diagnosed him with pancreatic cancer in August 2007. Just one month later, the dying Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) professor would address a packed auditorium for his afternoon lecture, addressing over 400 students, colleagues and friends. His talk was part of an ongoing CMU lecture series where top academics gave their “final talk”, revealing what really matters to them and the insights gleaned over their life if it was their last opportunity. Sadly, Pausch literally got his last chance.

Pausch was an award-winning professor and researcher, in the Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction, and Design at CMU in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He passed away from complications from his disease on July 25, 2008. Zaslow, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, attended the last lecture, and wrote the story that helped fuel worldwide interest in it.

According to Wikipedia, “The Last Lecture became a New York Times bestseller in 2008, and remained on the prestigious list for 112 weeks, continuing into the summer of 2011. The book [ISBN: 978-1-4013-2325-7] has been translated into 48 languages [including Italian, German, Chinese, Arabic and more] and has sold more than 5 million copies in the United States alone, states the free internet encyclopedia.”

The CMU shot a video (one hour and 16 minutes in length) of Pausch’s last lecture—and soon the footage began spreading across the internet, on You Tube, popping up in tens of thousands of websites. Pausch’s inspirational talk, which has been viewed today by more than 17 million people today on You Tube can now be seen on CMU’s website, at His book and e-book can also be purchased on this website or at any bookstore, including your favorite neighborhood store.

Pausch’s Last Hurrah

Pausch’s lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” wasn’t about his dying. But, he freely admitted that he would rather have terminal cancer than being hit by a bus and suddenly killed because if he was hit by a sudden accident he would not have time to spend with his family and getting his house in order. He moved from Southern Virginia to Pittsburg so his wife, Jai, and his children could be near family.

Meanwhile, the CMU lecturer humorously begins by noting that while he had cancerous lesions throughout his body, outwardly he looked healthy. At one point, to prove his point, he dropped down to the floor and did push-ups on stage.

Throughout his talk, Pausch reeled off his unique insights gained from his four plus decades of life experience, specifically surmounting the challenges in your life he calls “brick walls.” He says, “Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something,” he said. Seize the moment, he adds, because, “time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think”

One of his dreams was becoming a Disney Imagineer. Three rejection letters and a Dean who attempted to block his efforts were an insurmountable “brick wall.” He ultimately would accomplish that childhood dream. He met William Shatner, won large stuffed animals, floated in zero gravity and even authored an article in the World Book encyclopedia. Although he never played for the NFL, he learned about life from his football coaches in his early school years.

So, while Professor Pausch stresses his talk was about achieving childhood dreams, it’s really about how to lead your life, he admits. “If you live your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself,” he believes. Oftentimes referring to ‘head fake’ throughout the lecture, meaning we tend to gain the most experience or lesson when guised by something else. But, at the lecture’s conclusion, Pausch freely admits the ‘last lecture’ was the biggest head fake of them all – for it wasn’t for those in the room but for his children, all under 7 years old. His talk is sprinkled with things he wants his children to learn and wants them to know about him, including personal stories of his growing up, his courtship with their mother, and ways to succeed in life. So, there are many levels and points Pausch gets across in his lecture, detailed in his bestselling book.

Pausch practiced what he preached, telling the packed auditorium to enjoy life and just have fun, like he did. Live life to the fullest because one never knows when it might be taken away, the terminally ill professor warns, who has just months to live.

Loyalty is important so “dance with the one who brings you,” says Pausch. He quotes Seneca, the Roman philosopher born in 5 B.C., “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. With this quote, “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” He reminds us not to focus on the little issues while ignoring the big ones. “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand,” he says.

Pausch tells a story of his father’s “heroic achievement” for bravery awarded to him by the commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division in War II. The 22 year old solider, like many of the Greatest Generation, never mentioned his bronze star, which he only discovered after his death. It just never came up, stated Pausch, but revealed volumes about the importance of being touted their awards, never revealed to mother.

The CMU Professor would even award the “First Penguin” to students who failed to achieve their goals in his “Building Virtual Worlds” course, even though they took a risk using new technology or ideas in their design. He says this award was for “glorious failure” and “out-of-the-box thinking and using imagination in a daring way.”

The Last Lecture is a great read for those who seek a road map for living a better more productive life. It’s jam-packed with Pausch’s wisdom that will certainly come in handy throughout one’s journey in life especially when you confront the “brick walls” or challenges in your personal and professional careers. Take time to live your dreams to be crossed off your bucket list. Sometimes life can be unexpectedly too short, just like Pausch ultimately found out.

The Greatest Generation’s Last Hurrah

Published in Pawtucket Times, November 15, 2014

The G.I. Generation, born between 1901 to 1924, (coined the “The Greatest Generation” by nationally acclaimed journalist Tom Brokaw), grew up in the Great Depression, and went on to fight World War II, considered to be the largest and deadliest global military conflict in the world’s history. The world-wide war directly involved more than 100 million people from over 30 countries.

With the enactment of a formal declarations of war in Dec. 1941, the ranks of the United States military, by draft and voluntary enlistment, ultimately swelled to
16 million soldiers. Ultimately, those serving in World War II came from every state, ethnic group and race, from poor and well-to-do families.

World War II veterans put their youth on hold to defend the country. Their ages ranged from ages 17 (with parental permission) to 37 years. When discharged a grateful country’s G.I. Bill Education benefits would send them to college, propelling them into professional careers, giving them a good income to raise a family and to economically spur the economy. .

Brokaw, a well-know American television journalist and author best known as the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, who now serves as a Special Correspondent for NBC News and works on documentaries for other news outlets, claims that this was “the greatest generation any society has ever produced.” He asserted that these men and women fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was just the “right thing to do.”

The Last Man Standing

In their middle years, America’s “The Greatest Generation” would see the passing of the last Civil War veteran. On August 2, 1956, the 20th century veterans would learn about the death of Albert Henry Woolson, 106, the last surviving member of the Grand Army of the Republic, who fight in the nation’s bloody American Civil War. In 1864, Woolson had enlisted as a drummer boy in Company C 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment.

Woolson is considered to be the last surviving Civil War veteran on either side whose status is undisputed. At least three men who died after him claimed to be Confederate veterans but their veteran status has been questioned. .

According to the August 3, 1956 issue of the St. Petersburg Times, upon Woolson’s death, President Dwight D. Eisenhower stated: “The American people have lost the last personal link with the Union Army. His passing brings sorrow to the hearts of all of us who cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War Between the States.”

In 2011, a World War I veteran was nationally recognition, like Civil War Veteran Woolson, for being the last American doughboy. Frank Buckles, 101, had the distinction of being the last survivor of 4.73 million Americans who fought in the “War to End All Wars.” The 16-year old enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1917 and served with a detachment from Fort Riley, driving ambulances and motorcycles near the front lines in France. Buckles left military service with the rank of corporal.

In his final years, Buckles served as Honorary Chairman of the World War I Memorial Foundation. As chairman, he called for a World War I memorial similar to other war memorials inside the Washington, D.C. Beltway. He would campaign for the District of Columbia War Memorial to be renamed the National World War I Memorial.

Upon Buckles passing, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, issued a release, stating, We have lost a living link to an important era in our nation’s history,” whose distant generation was the first to witness the awful toll of modern, mechanized warfare. “But we have also lost a man of quiet dignity who dedicated his final years to ensuring the sacrifices of his fellow doughboys are appropriately commemorated,” adds Shinseki.

The Twilight Years of WWII Veterans

On November 11, there were fewer aging World War II veterans attending ceremonies held throughout the nation honoring them. With their medium age pegged at 92 years, many of these individuals are quickly becoming frail, their numbers dwindling as the years go by.

Over the next two decades, America’s World War II soldiers are dying quickly. We will again see another generation of soldiers passing, like Woolson or Buckles.

At the end of World War II, there were 16 million who served our nation in that horrific war. Thirty years ago, when President Ronald Reagan traveled to the battle site of Pointe du Hoc, located at a 100 ft cliff overlooking the English Channel on the coast of Normandy in northern France, there were only 10.7 million U.S. veterans left. The President came to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Normandy invasion, recognizing the American Ranger team that took heavy casualties in capturing the German-occupied cliff.

According to the U.S. Veteran’s Administration, in 2014, our frail World War II veterans are dying at a quick rate of just 555 a day. This means there are only 1.34 million veterans remaining. By 2036, The National World War II Museum predicts there will be no living veterans of this global war that took place from 1939 to 1945, to recount their own personal battle experiences. When this happens their stories, like Woolson and Buckles, will only be told in history books or by television documentaries or by historians and academics.

Last Tuesday, Veterans Day ceremonies and activities were held in 15 Rhode Island communities to honor those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Today, there are only 3,951 World War II veterans alive in the Ocean State. The elderly veteran’s numbers dwindle at these celebrations and even at their reunions because of their frailty and health issues.

We are posed to see a generation of veterans vanish right before our eyes. I say, cherish them while you can. Urge those around you who fought in World War II to tell stories and oral histories, for the sake of future generations. They have much to say, we have much to learn.

The National World War II Museum in Louisiana. To learn more about the Greatest Generation and the global war they fought in, go to

My commentary is dedicated to Second Lt. Frank M. Weiss, my father, who died in 2003 at 89 years old.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at

Duffy’s Legacy as Coach and Educator Lives On

Published in Pawtucket Times, February 7, 2014

            One of Rhode Island’s “Greatest Generation,” Pawtucket native Tom Duffy, passed away on Feb. 2, leaving behind a legacy in the Ocean State’s College sports world.  As a life-long educator, who now resides in Little Compton, he inspired and personally touched the lives of tens of thousands of Pawtucket students, as a teacher and educational administrator, when he worked in the Pawtucket school system.

            Duffy’s , (the son of the late Thomas L. Duffy and Mary (Kennedy) Duffy), educational ties to Pawtucket began early in his life. He attended St. Joseph’s School, later graduating in 1942 from St. Raphael Academy.  During high school, the young man’s leadership skills became quite visible to all when he was elected class president and became captain of the school’s 1942 Class B championship basket ball team.

            Once graduating, like many of his generation, Duffy enlisted in the United States Army (from 1942 to 1946), serving as a water purification engineer in the Philippines campaign.  As luck would have it, he fell into playing basketball for the U.S. Army basketball team.  “.  As his daughter, Barbara A. Duffy-Protentis, remembers, he would say, “I never got shot at, I got fouled a lot.”

             After his honorable discharge from military service, he would attend St. Anselm’s College in New Hampshire, receiving his Bachelors Degree.  Later on, he completed a Masters in Education degree from Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

            Duffy’s professional journey, as a teacher, basketball coach and principal in the Pawtucket School System, began in 1950, where he drew Sayles Junior High for his first teaching assignment.  Leaving the City in 1956 to teach English at Warren High School, he also served at this school as assistant basketball coach for three years and head coach for one year.

            In 1960, Duffy, returned to Pawtucket, serving as guidance counselor at Jenks Junior High for seven years.  Then, for thirteen years (two as assistant principal and 11 as principal) he was at Slater Junior High School.  At age 56. as principal he took the reins of the former Pawtucket West High School (now called Shea) for three years, where he also served as the baseball coach for two seasons.   Turning fifty nine years old, he had a cerebral aneurysm, forcing him to ultimately retire two years later from teaching the public school.   His love for teaching would bring him out of retirement to be the Assistant Principal at St. Teresa’s School in Pawtucket for the remainder of his career.

            Later, Duffy was inducted into the Bryant University Hall of Fame and the City of Pawtucket Hall of Fame. He served as chairman of the Rhode Island Interscholastic Athletic Association and Chairman of Pawtucket’s Centennial Committee.  For several years, Duffy also served as the Chairman of the Rhode Island Secondary Principal’s Association.

Inductee in Pawtucket’s Hall of Fame

             Duffy’s passion for teaching and his impact on students was captured in the 2000 Pawtucket Hall of Fame program where he was inducted into this prestigious group:

             “Tom’s thoughts and actions always had the basic theme. Is it good for the kids?”  But, words from former students and fellow educators best describe him, notes the program: “He was principal and number one cheerleader for Slater.” “He turned a school (Slater) around from a so-called tough school to one that had a positive attitude, strong academics and a wide range of extra curricular activities.”

             “Tom was known as an administrator that teachers knew they could go to for extra materials or to add a new club or to fundraise for projects.  Tom’s theory was if it’s for the students then I’m for it.  He truly lived the motto of Slater – loyalty, perseverance and cooperation.”

One of the Greatest Coaches

            From 1962 to 1969, Duffy would take on new professional challenges while teaching in Pawtucket School System.  He became head basketball coach at Bryant University.  His teaching skills would translate well to the basket ball court with his basketball players breaking all records.

             According to Bryant University’s athletic department, “Tom Duffy was one of the greatest coaches in the school’s history, serving as the men’s basketball coach from 1964-68, going 70-22 during that time period for a .760 winning percentage that still stands as the best in the school history.

            The University’s athletic department noted that among Duffy’s many sports achievements was a 1966-67 team that went undefeated in the regular season and set the school record for wins in a season with 22.  This winning streak earned the squad a place in the Bryant Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007.  Duffy’s team was considered to be one of the best small university basketball ball teams nationally, even capturing the Naismith Conference Championship and advanced to the NAIA District 32 National Tournament.

            Furthermore, in addition to the induction of the team itself, four members of the unit would see themselves inducted as individuals, including all-time scoring leader Tom Smile, Don Gray, Tony DeQuattro and even Duffy himself.

            “Tom was a great coach, a great mentor to numerous Bryant basketball players, had a great sense of humor and, above all, was a great family man, stated Mike Fisher, Bryant University Chairman of the Board and a member of the Hall of Fame 1966-67 team. “He was a very important part of building the foundation for Bryant’s many years of successful men’s basketball.

            In 1967, the Rhode Island Association of Sportswriters and Sportscasters, named Duffy the “coach of the year.” This marked the first time a Bryant coach had received this prestigious honor.  One year later, he chose to step down as the University’s head basketball coach, choosing to continue to teach in Pawtucket’s public schools rather than taking on a full-time position as Athletic Director and basketball coach.

 Remembering Father

             Barbara A. Duffy-Protentis, 55,  remembers her father as being “the most godly human I knew.”  While he put his family first, he never forgot others.  “He spent his entire professional life doing things for people,” said the resident of Easton, Massachusetts.

             After Duffy’s death, Protentis noted that she found a letter in her father’s personal papers that he had saved for 36 years.  The young student, living in a bad home environment, wrote to thank him for constantly checking in every day to “see how she was doing.”  She also noted his prediction was correct, that she ultimately became the only person in her family to make it.  “You will never know the impact you had on me.  I went to College and because of you I became a teacher,” she said.

             “The best thing he instilled in his children was “we are put on this earth to help others,”  adds Protentis.  This philosophy ultimately drove her younger sister, Mary, into the teaching profession and Protentis entered a field to assist at risk 14 to 22 year olds.

            Mary Tetzner, 54, (married to Ed Tetzner, an official of the Doyle Administration) recalls how her father and mother took in young students from bad home situations, to live with them.  In one instance, Duffy bought a young girl a prom dress because her family was unable to purchase one.  No one knew except the Duffy’s and the girl, says the Greenville resident.

            Even in his final days, Duffy remained a teacher.  At the Rhode Island Veterans Home, he tutored employees, helping them get through their GED courses.  “Even though he was not in a class room he was always a teacher,” notes Tetzner.

            Duffy was married to his wife, Barbara (Molloy) Duffy, a former school nurse, for over 59 years.  After three weeks of dating, he proposed to her and later married. He leaves two daughters (Protentis and Tetzner) and grandchildren, Elizabeth (Tetzner) Shactel, Thomas Tetzner, Sam Duffy-Protentis, Alexis Duffy-Protentis, Nicole Duffy-Protentis, Jack Duffy-Protentis and his great-grandson, Benjamin Shactel.

            Duffy’s funeral is scheduled for tomorrow, Feb. 8, 2014 at 9:00 am, at the MANNING-HEFFERN FUNERAL HOME, 68 Broadway, Pawtucket. There will be a Mass of Christian Burial in St. Teresa’s Church, 358 Newport Avenue, Pawtucket at 10:00 am. His calling hours will be Friday from 4-8 pm in the funeral home.

            Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, medical and health care issues.  He can be reached at

Sipping Cognac Signals an End of a Generation

Published in Pawtucket Times, November 15, 2013

On November 11, fewer aging World War II veterans attended ceremonies held throughout the country honoring them. With their medium age pegged at 92 years, many of these individuals known as the “Greatest Generation), are quickly becoming frail, their numbers dwindling as the years go by.

According to the Veteran’s Administration, our elder Word War II veterans are dying at a rate of just over 600 a day. This means there are approximately only 1.2 million veterans remaining out of the 16 million who served our nation in that war. By 2036, The National World War II Museum predicts there will be no living veterans of this global war that took place from 1939 to 1945, to recount their own personal experiences. When this happens there stories would only be told in some history books or by television documentaries.

The G.I. Generation, (coined the “The Greatest Generation” by nationally acclaimed journalist Tom Brokaw), grew in the Great Depression, and went on to fight World War II. Brokaw’s 1998 best seller, The Greatest Generation, put this generation, born between 1901 to 1924, firmly on the public’s radar screen.

Brokaw, a well-know American television journalist and author best known as the anchor and managing editor of NBC Nightly News, who now serves as a Special Correspondent for NBC News and works on documentaries for other news outlets, claims that this was “the greatest generation any society has ever produced.” He asserted that these men and women fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was just the “right thing to do.”

A Gathering to Remember

As with others of G.I Generation, old age and infirmity took its toll on the 80 members of the famed Doolittle Raiders. On Nov. 9, three of the remaining survivors gathered once more on Veterans Day weekend to honor their 76 fallen comrades-in-arms and made a final toast to them. While not related by blood, these surviving members (plus one not attending) had history that bound them tightly together.

At this invitation-only ceremony, at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, the surviving three members of the famed Doolittle Raiders, Lt. Col. Richard Cole, 98, Lt. Col. Edward J. Saylor, 93, Staff Sgt. David J. Thatcher, 92, coming as far away as Texas, Montana and Washington State, came to honor their 76 deceased bomber crew members.

Health issues would keep Lt. Col. Robert L. Hite, a native of Ohio, from attending the ceremony. Hite watched the ceremony with his family members from Nashville, Tenn. Wearing the traditional dress for reunions, a blue blazer and gray pants and a Raider tie, Hite gave his own personal salute to his fallen brothers with a silver goblet a few days earlier

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

Over seventy-one-years ago, sixteen U.S. Army Air Force B-25 Mitchell medium bombers, carrying 80 army air force volunteer, took off from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Hornet, to bomb industrial and military site in Tokyo and four major cities in Japan. This was America’s first air raid on the Empire of Japan that took place 133 days after Pearl Harbor, the Doolittle Raiders bailed out or crash-landed their planes (that ran out of fuel) in China, and most were led to safety by Chinese villagers and soldiers. According to the Doolittle Raiders organization, over a quarter million Chinese men, women and children were killed by the Japanese for aiding the Raiders to escape.

Although the “psychological” air attack was in retaliation for the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, this top-secret mission, led by Lt. Col. James Doolittle, had an added benefit of boosting the sagging morale of the American public.

Meanwhile, due to the surprise attack on the Japanese homeland, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who planned the raid on Pearl Harbor, decided to save face by moving up his battle plans by eight months to attack Midway Island. American code breakers were able to give date and location of this planned attack allowing the U.S. Navy to move three carriers — U.S.S Hornet, U.S.S. Enterprise, and the U.S.S. Yorktown — to ambush Yamamoto’s naval force, ultimately sinking four Japanese carriers, destroying 350 airplanes.

Later on, the Tokyo raid was credited in turning the war around in the Pacific because of the devastating defeat of the Japanese at the Battle of Midway in June 1942… The Japanese military machine could not replace those carriers nor could it replace the trained pilots and mechanics lost in the naval battle.

The Final Toast

According to Tom Casey, Business Manager for the Doolittle Raiders, on Nov. 9, an estimated ten thousand spectators, many young children, and aging veterans, lined the streets on the military base waving American flags, waiting to meet the three Lincoln sedans carrying the three Raiders who came to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, Ohio.

After an afternoon memorial service with speeches and taps, a wreath was laid by the Doolittle Raider monument outside the museum as five B-25 bombers flew low over head in the famous missing man formation as a tribute. The Raiders made their last toast that evening to comrades who died in the air attack or since their mission, says Casey.

The original plan for the last toast called for the last two Raiders standing to break open the bottle of cognac, toasting each other and their departed members, stated Casey, who noted that this signify the end of the Doolittle Raider’s mission.

However, Casey remembers the two major changes were made last October at meeting in Washington, D.C. by the four surviving Raiders. Their first decision was to schedule their last public reunion in April 2013 at Fort Walton Beach Florida, the home of Eglin Air Force Base where the Raiders trained for their mission.

“They were also getting older, and travel was getting more difficult, so the second decision was made to not wait until there were only two standing members as initially planned, Casey recounts, stressing that it was important to bring together the five remaining Raiders together while they were physically able to meet to officially close their mission. Unfortunately, Major Thomas C. Griffin passed away weeks later. With the urging of General Hudson, Director of the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, with the agreement of the surviving members the last toast would be scheduled for November 2013 on Veterans Day.

At the evening ceremony, before attending family members of their deceased crew members, air force leadership, and other invitees, a historian read the names of all 80 Doolittle raiders, with the three surviving veterans calling out “here.”

Among the many speakers, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh told over 600 attendees, “As far as I’m concerned, this is the greatest professional honor I’ve ever had to speak here with this crowd at this event.”

Welsh admitted that first book he read as a youngster was Thirty Seconds over Tokyo. “It was given to me by my father, also a World War II vet, with the words that I should read it closely because this is this what America is all about. I’ve never forgotten those words,” he said.

“The Doolittle raiders have been celebrated in book and in journals … in magazines … in various papers. They’ve had buildings named after them … had streets named after them. People play them in movies,” Welsh added.

“They [the survivors] hate to hear this, but Jimmy Doolittle and his Raiders are truly lasting American heroes, but they are also Air Force heroes. They pioneered the concept of global strike … the idea that no target on earth is safe from American air power, states Welsh.

Concluding the emotional ceremony, Cole, representing his fellow Doolittle Raider survivors, opened the 1896 Cognac (denoting Doolittle’s birth year) and gave his final toast.

Casey notes that this bottle was presented to General Doolittle on his sixtieth birthday by a representative of the Hennessy Cognac Company. “That evening was the first time ever the bottle was taken out of its original box and shown to the public and displayed,” he said.

“Gentlemen, I propose a toast,” Cole told the remaining Doolittle Raiders. “To the gentlemen we lost on the mission and those who have passed away since. Thank you very much and may they rest in peace,” then he sipped the cognac from an engraved silver goblet.

The 80 silver goblets in the ceremony were presented to the Raiders in 1959 by the city of Tucson, Ariz. The Raiders’ names were engraved twice, the second upside-down. During the ceremony, white-gloved cadets presented the personal goblets to the three survivors, while their long-time manager poured the 117 year old cognac into the into the participants’ goblets. Those of the deceased were turned upside-down.

The four remaining members of the Doolittle Raiders will continue to keep their heroic tales alive by personally sharing their experiences. When the last cup is turned upside down, it will be their oral histories, history books or documentaries that will give us an impersonal small glimpse of what it took to answer the call to duty and to do that job well.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at