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Group wants to honor Doolittle Raiders with SC museum

Crew 16 of the Doolittle Raiders. Left to right: Lt George Barr, Lt William G. Farrow, Sgt Harold A. Spatz, Lt Robert L. Hite, and Cpl Jacob D. DeShazer.
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Crew 16 of the Doolittle Raiders. Left to right: Lt George Barr, Lt William G. Farrow, Sgt Harold A. Spatz, Lt Robert L. Hite, and Cpl Jacob D. DeShazer.

A veterans group is trying to raise millions of dollars to build a museum in South Carolina honoring a group of 80 men who went on a daring bombing raid over Tokyo just months after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II.

The Doolittle Raiders started their training in Columbia, and the city hosted reunions before the final members of the group died in the past decade.

The American Heritage Foundation wants to build a museum to honor the raiders near the Columbia Metropolitan Airport, said Larry Russell, a 75-year-old Army veteran and member of the planning group.

"There is no museum in the country dedicated to the Doolittle Raiders," Russell told The State newspaper.

The Doolittle Raiders were led by Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle who rounded up 80 men to fly what they thought could be suicidal missions from carriers in the Pacific Ocean to drop bombs on Japan just four months after the December 1941 Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

The men knew they couldn't make it back to the carriers. Three died during the bombing run. Eight were captured by the Japanese after crash landing in China and other places, with three of them executed.

The raid didn't cause excessive damage to Tokyo, but it was a psychological blow showing the Americans were going to fight back after Pearl Harbor and Japan wasn't safe across the Pacific Ocean.

There is an 80th anniversary celebration scheduled to Honor the Doolittle Raiders on Sunday at a club near the Columbia airport. There will be a history presentation, 1940s-era music from a live big band, restored World War II vehicles and people in uniforms from the period.

Russell said the American Heritage Foundation will also be raising money for that museum. The group owns property near the airport it would like to use for the building. An architect is already working with a planning group.

The museum could show off restored B-25 bombers similar to what the raiders flew and include history about World War II, the raiders and how Columbia helped the World War II effort, Russell said.

"History teaches you what not to do as well as what to do," Russell said. "In order for youth to grow up and be a good citizen you have to have a good understanding of where we came from."