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Obituary for David J. Thatcher

David Jonathan Thatcher, age 94, a longtime resident of Missoula, native Montanan and member of “the Greatest Generation,” died of complications from a stroke on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 Thatcher was born 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), Thatcher was a child of the Depression, which instilled in him a strong work ethic throughout his life.

His parents homesteaded in Eastern Montana during the early 1900s. When Thatcher was born, they were living in a dirt enclosure built into the side of a hill. His early years were spent attending school and helping his father and brothers make a living for the family. Following 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.

After Japan bombed Pear Harbor on December 7, 1941, drawing the United States into World War II, Thatcher volunteered for a secret mission that would help change the course of the war. Thatcher and 78 other volunteers, led by the legendary aviator Jimmy Doolittle, trained for approximately three months before embarking upon the mission, a raid involving 16 B-25 medium-range bombers on April 18, 1942 which hit selected military and industrial targets in several Japanese cities. The Doolittle Raid had been ordered by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt in retaliation for Japan’s raid upon the U.S.

Thatcher was the tail gunner/engineer on Crew #7, “The Ruptured Duck,” which was piloted by Lieutenant Ted Lawson. After bombing targets in Tokyo, Lawson headed the plane towards China. Running low on fuel, Lawson tried to land the plane on a beach in darkness and heavy rain, but instead crashed in the surf after hitting a wave causing the plane to flip over. The crash seriously injured all the members of the crew except for Thatcher, who was briefly knocked out in the crash but suffered only a bump to his head.

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 upon the crew. He convinced the guerillas to take the crew to safety in inland China. Over the next few days, the crew repeatedly barely escaped capture by Japanese patrols searching for the Raiders. For his bravery in saving the lives of his crew, Thatcher was awarded the Silver Star. His other decorations included the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters, and the Chinese Army, Navy and Air Corps Medal, Class A, 1st Grade.

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

Following the Doolittle Raid, Thatcher served in England and Africa until January 1944, flying in a B-26 bomber in 26 missions over North Africa and Europe, including the first bombing raid over Rome. He was honorably discharged from active duty at the rank of Staff Sergeant 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. Following his stint in the military, Thatcher worked as a clerk and later a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service delivering mail to houses in and around his neighborhood for more than 30 years before retiring in 1980. In his later years, he participated in camping trips with family and friends and maintained a meticulous vegetable garden in his backyard during summers. He was also active in the International Association of Odd Fellows (IOF) and his church, The First Baptist Church of Missoula, where he was a member for nearly 70 years. He also stayed in contact with the surviving members of the Doolittle Raid and attended nearly every reunion that the group held through the Final Toast in November 2013 and the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Museum of the U.S. Air Force in April 2015 that the Raiders received. Thatcher’s death leaves one remaining Doolittle Raider, 100-year-old Richard E. “Dick” Cole, who was Doolittle’s co-pilot.

Thatcher was predeceased by his parents, four brothers, Joe, Albert, Kenny and Dick; two sisters, Thelma and Ella; his son Gary, a U.S. Army Medevac helicopter killed in a helicopter crash in February 1970 while serving in Vietnam, and his daughter Debbie who died in June 2009 from complications of brain cancer.

Thatcher is survived by his wife, Dawn; brother, Frank; sister Mary Deffinbaugh (Bill); sister Bonnie Cooper; daughter Sandy Miller (Jeff); daughter Becky Thatcher-Keller (Allen); son Jeff (Janis); son-in-law David Gilcrest; grandchildren Amber Hudson, Jeremiah Hudson, Brooke Zimmerman, Benjamin Thatcher, Sarah Thatcher, Mackenzie Gilcrest, Abbey Gilcrest; and great-granddaughter RaeLynn Zimmerman.

Funeral arrangements are under the direction of Garden City Funeral Home in Missoula, http://gardencityfh.com/. A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. on Monday, June 27 at Garden City Funeral Home. A full military ceremony with honors is planned at 11:45 a.m. with a fly over at 12 noon at Sunset Memorial Gardens where Thatcher will be buried. In lieu of flowers, memorials can be given to the Doolittle Raiders Foundation for scholarships or the River Valley Church, 308 W. Pine St., Missoula, MT 59803.

The Communities Foundation of Texas
General James H. Doolittle Scholarship Fund
5500 Caruth Haven Lane
Dallas, TX 75225
(214) 750-4222

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Life Story for David J. Thatcher

92nd ARW Public Affairs will be live streaming the military honors burial
service for Staff Sgt. David Thatcher June 27 at 11:45 a.m. (MDT). The
service will be broadcasted through the Fairchild Air Force Base Facebook
page.

All interested viewers will need to “like” the Fairchild Facebook page,
which can be found at www.Facebook.com/FairchildAFB.com The video should show
in the viewers’ personal feed once it begins, however, it will be accessible
on the Fairchild AFB page.
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