With Lt. Richard Cole standing near him in the Oval Office, President Barack Obama signed a measure Friday awarding a congressional gold medal to the 80 American airmen who electrified the nation in 1942 with a daring daylight bombing raid over Tokyo and at least one other Japanese city.

Cole, 98, who grew up in Dayton and is one of four living survivors from the April mission 72 years ago in which 16 medium-ranged B-25 bombers performed a near-technological miracle of taking off from the aircraft carrier Hornet and flying more than 600 miles to drop their bombs.

Cole served as co-pilot to the B-25 flown by squadron commander, Lt. Col. James Doolittle. Hollywood film director John Ford filmed Doolittle’s plane as it roared down the rain-swept decks of the Hornet.

Although the raid did not cause much damage, it was a thundering boost to American morale which had been battered by a series of Japanese victories during the first five months of the war – from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the capture of Wake Island, to the destruction of an Allied fleet off Java, and the surrender of 78,000 American and Filipino troops on Bataan.

One American newspaper reported news of the attack in a headline: “Doolittle Did It.”

One B-25 landed safely in the Soviet Union, while the other 15 crashed in China, although most crew members survived the crashed landings or bailed out, as Cole did. Eight fliers were captured by the Japanese and three were executed.

The White House event was closed to reporters and TV cameras for reasons not explained by Obama’s advisers. A still photograph was released to the Associated Press.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who sponsored the bill, attended the signing. Both the House and Senate this week approved the measure awarding the Doolittle fliers a gold medal.

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