“Rosie the Riveter” re-enactors commemorate the contributions of women in factories during World War II across the United States building everything from planes to tanks. From left: Bette Kenward, of Sterling Heights, Mich.; Debbie Wake, of Plymouth, Mich.; Patsy Kemner, of Chelsea, Mich.; and Alison Beatty, of Ann Arbor, Mich. The four were at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force to mark the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raiders mission against Japan. BARRIE BARBER/STAFF

Crowds swarm AF museum as B-25s arrive to honor Doolittle Raiders

“It’s very, very thrilling to me,” said Greenlee, 81, an Army veteran from Gastonia, N.C., who arrived before the airfield gates opened. “I don’t know how they took off from an aircraft carrier. That’s what amazes me knowing they weren’t coming back to an aircraft carrier.”

Greenlee was among an estimated 5,000 people who turned out Monday for the rare sight of so many B-25s appearing together.

“You will never see this many B-25s again,” said Mick Vision, 78, of Centerville and a retired Navy commander as he scanned the array of B-25s on the runway.

Eighty U.S. Army Air Forces airmen volunteered for the April 18, 1942, secret mission to climb aboard 16 B-25 bombers launched off the deck of the USS Hornet to bomb Tokyo and other cities to retaliate for the Japanese attack against the U.S. naval fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The daring raid created little damage but boosted sinking American morale as the Japanese military advanced across the Pacific and forced Japan to bring troops home to defend the homeland. Legendary American airman Jimmy Doolittle led the raid, which ended for most with crash landings or bailing out over China.

RELATED:World War II 75 years later: 101-year-old Dayton native relives Doolittle Raid

The sole surviving Raider, 101-year-old Richard E. Cole, a Dayton native and co-pilot to Doolittle, is expected to be at a Tuesday memorial ceremony at the museum to mark the historic anniversary.

“He’s like a rock star,” said William Alan Miller, 53, who has flown with Cole in a B-25 in recent years.

“He has consistently been the most active because he feels he should carry on Doolittle’s legacy, and no one knew 25 years ago he’d be the last man standing but that’s part of what motivates him,” said Miller, who flew aboard the B-25 nicknamed “Betty’s Dream” from Houston, Texas, for the anniversary.

‘Most thrilling experiences’

Ben Best co-piloted the B-25 nicknamed “Yankee Warrior” from Grimes Field Airport in Urbana, where the planes landed this weekend from Texas, Minnesota, New York and Missouri, among other places. Part of the fleet of the Yankee Air Force, the plane Best flew is based at the historic Willow Run airfield near Detroit. Best also is a captain in the Michigan Air National Guard and flew an A-10 Thunderbolt II in Iraq.

“I’ve flown combat missions, I’ve flown flybys with the Air Force and flying in here today was probably one of the most thrilling experiences of my life, just getting that many B-25s taking off in close interval at Grimes and coming down here at Wright-Patt,” said Best, 33. “Seeing all those airplanes together and hearing all the radial engines, it’s just an amazing thing.”

When the gates opened to the museum’s airstrip Monday morning, a long line of traffic and a large crowd poured onto the grounds.

RELATED:B-25s rumble to AF museum to honor Doolittle Raiders

David Cottrill, 75, of Centerville, remembered the impact the Raiders had on changing the course of World War II in the Pacific. “It told the Japanese people they were not invincible, impregnable …. that they made a mistake” to attack Pearl Harbor, the retired Air Force chaplain said.

‘Very rare opportunity’

John Nicklin, 51, and Kimberly Adamonis, 46, drove to Dayton from Fort Wayne to see the seven-decades-old bombers up close.

“It’s a very rare opportunity to see these pieces of history,” Nicklin said.

“They’re awesome and beautiful actually,” Adamonis said.

Dressed as a World War II “Rosie the riveter,” 27-year-old Alison Beatty, of Ann Arbor, Mich., with three compatriots represented hundreds of thousands of American women who worked in wartime factories to build everything from airplanes to Jeeps.

“We came out to both honor the men who are flying the aircraft and who flew in the Doolittle Raid and to honor the women who built the planes that they went off to flight with,” Beatty said. “That’s why we’re here.”

Beattu represents organizers raising money to save part of a B-24 Liberator factory at Willow Run, Mich.

RELATED:Big celebration in Dayton next week to honor Doolittle Raiders

Also in a ceremony at Wright-Patterson Monday, a B-1B Lancer bomber that flew in from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., was renamed the “Ruptured Duck” after one of the bombers on the Raiders’ mission.