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Woodbridge veteran Richard Best gets chance to visit survivor of famous World War II air raid

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Posted: Wednesday, August 15, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:27 am, Wed Aug 15, 2012.

Richard Best may have served a year in the Korean War, but he’s an avid World War II historian.

A Woodbridge resident since 1983, Best was excited to spend part of his Montana vacation this month at the home of one of only five surviving veterans of the Doolittle Raid, the first American air raid over Japan during the war.

“He’s a piece of living history,” Best said of Sgt. David J. Thatcher. “I saluted him and gave him a nice handshake.”

Thatcher, 91, is one of only five remaining survivors of the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo. Best found out from a friend in Montana that one of the Raiders lives in Missoula. The friend sent Best a clipping from a Missoula newspaper about Thatcher.

“So I went and gave him a call,” Best said. “He’s in the phone book.”

Best was able to visit Thatcher while he was visiting his daughter in Montana.

“He’s good,” Best said. “He can tell you pretty much what he’s done.”

Thatcher was one of 80 servicemen manning 16 B-25 bombers that dropped bombs in Japan during the raid, which took place on April 18, 1942. The bomber Thatcher served on ran out of fuel and went down over China, but the entire crew survived and, with the help of Chinese soldiers and civilians, evaded capture. Thatcher was the only crew member not seriously injured when the plane crash-landed.

The bombs dropped in the raid were what Best described as “conventional bombs” filled with nitrogen. Three conventional bombs weighing 500 pounds each and one incendiary bomb were dropped during the Doolittle Raid.

Three men were killed during the raid, and eight were captured by Japanese soldiers. Three of those captured were executed, and a fourth died while imprisoned.

A member of the Ed Stewart American Legion Post in Stockton, Best took a flight jacket owned by Stockton restaurant owner Larry Arroyo with him to Montana and had Thatcher autograph it. Thatcher also signed a photograph inside a book called “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.”

When not visiting military heroes in Montana, Best is chaplain and past commander of the Lockeford Veterans of Foreign Wars, a Woodbridge Sanitary District board member and an honor guard with the Ed Stewart American Legion Post.

Through his Legion post, Best participates in many military funerals at Cherokee Memorial Park and Lodi Memorial Cemetery.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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