Posted on June 24th, 2016 by:

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David Jonathan Thatcher, age 94, of Missoula, Montana died of complications from a stroke on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. Thatcher was born on July 31, 1921 in Bridger, Montana to Joseph Holland Thatcher and Dorothea Steinmiller Thatcher. One of 10 children, six boys and four girls (two other siblings were stillborn). His parents were homesteaders in Eastern Montana during the early 20th century. When Thatcher was born, his home was a dirt enclosure built into the side of a hill. He worked from an early age. After graduation from Absarokee High School in 1939, Thatcher enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps on December 3, 1940. In December 1941, he completed engine and airplane mechanic training in Lincoln, Nebraska.

doolittle raider

Staff Sergeant David J. Thatcher

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Thatcher volunteered for a secret mission with 78 other volunteers, led by Jimmy Doolittle. They trained for about three months before flying sixteen B-25 Mitchell medium bombers on April 18, 1942 on a mission over Japan which became famous as the “Doolittle Raid”.

Thatcher was the tail gunner/engineer on crew #7, “The Ruptured Duck,” piloted by Lieutenant Ted Lawson which headed towards China after dropping their bombs. Running low on fuel, in the dark and in heavy rain, Lawson tried to land the plane on a beach but instead crashed in the surf after hitting a wave which caused the plane to flip over. The crash seriously injured all the members of the crew except for Thatcher, who was only briefly knocked out in the crash with a slight head injury.

After regaining consciousness and making it to shore, Thatcher saved the lives of his crew by gathering them on the beach, administering first aid and making contact with some friendly Chinese guerillas who had come after seeing the plane crash. Over the next few days, the crew had many close escapes from Japanese patrols who were searching for the Raiders. For saving the lives of his crew, Thatcher was awarded the Silver Star. He was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Chinese Army, Navy and Air Corps Medal, Class A, 1st Grade.

doolittle raider

David Thatcher in later years

In 1943, Thatcher’s pilot, Ted Lawson, wrote the first account of the Doolittle Raid in his book “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo”. The book became a best-seller and was subsequently made into an Academy Award-winning movie of the same name directed by Mervyn LeRoy starring Spencer Tracey as Doolittle, Van Johnson as Lawson and Robert Walker as Thatcher.

Following the Doolittle Raid, Thatcher served in England and Africa, flying 26 missions in a B-26 Marauder including the first bombing raid over Rome. He was honorably discharged from active duty in July 1945.

In December 1945, Thatcher married the love of his life, Margaret Dawn Goddard Thatcher. They were married for 70 years and had five children, Sandy, Gary, Becky, Jeff and Debbie. After the war, Thatcher worked as a clerk and later a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service before retiring in 1980. In his later years, he loved going on camping trips with family and friends and taking care of his vegetable garden. He attended nearly every Doolittle Raider reunion including the Final Toast in November 2013 and the presentation of the Doolittle Raider’s Congressional Gold Medal to the Museum of the U.S. Air Force in April 2015. Thatcher’s death leaves only one remaining Doolittle Raider alive, 100-year-old Richard E. “Dick” Cole, who was Doolittle’s co-pilot.

For More About the Doolittle Raid Check Out:

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

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  • Bill Getz says:

    One by one we go,
    Warriors of long ago.
    To where we go nobody knows,
    From whence we came nobody cares.
    But our deeds as warriors live on.

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