Dick Cole, Last Doolittle Raider Dies at 103

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Dick Cole, one of four surviving members of Doolittle’s Raid, answers question about the raid during a luncheon in honor of the event at the Army Navy Club in Washington. Doolittle’s Raid was an April 1942 air attack on Japan, which launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet and was led by Army Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford/Released)

The last living Doolittle Raider has died, at the age of 103. Richard “Dick” Cole was Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s copilot in the first B-25 bomber to lift off from the aircraft carrier USS Hornet to bomb Tokyo in revenge for Pearl Harbor.

Noted aviation historian and artist John Mollison eulogized Cole thusly:

“Dick was a tireless advocate for the power of duty, honor and country.  He spent his precious time meeting with people, telling the Doolittle Raid story to anyone, from packed auditoriums to a phone call to a stranger.   Though years ticked off and his fellow Doolittle Raiders “head west” one at a time, he kept their legend alive, never (ever) promoting himself over the rest. Would he (fly the Raid) again?  Of course.  Service to something greater trumps self.

The Doolittle Raid

The crew of B-25 serial # 40-2344 posing on the deck of the USS Hornet prior to takeoff :
Front Row (L-R) Lt.Col. James Doolittle, pilot; Lt. Richard Cole, copilot
Back row (L-R) Lt. Henry Potter, navigator; SSgt Fred Braemer, bombardier; SSgt Paul Leonard, flight engineer/gunner

Sixteen of the US Army Air Force medium bombers had been loaded by crane onto Hornet for the raid. It was a long-distance, one-way mission, to strike a symbolic blow against the “invulnerable” Empire of Japan, as Allied territory across the Pacific fell to the invaders.

Doolittle’s (and Cole’s) B-25 taking off from the USS Hornet

This would be the B-25 Mitchell’s first combat mission. It would also be the longest combat mission of the B-25 for the entire war.

Unexpected Chance

Originally, Dick Cole had trained for the Raid with the pilot of another bomber. By a quirk of fate, Cole’s pilot fell sick, and Doolittle filled in for him for some training flights. Doolittle was so impressed with Cole and the other crew, that he took the pilot’s place permanently. As a result, that B-25 became the lead plane for the raid on Tokyo, and Cole became Doolittle’s #2.

After the Raid

Lt. Cole stayed in the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater for more than a year after the Raid, flying transport planes over “The Hump.” In July 1943, he volunteered for “Project 9”, which became the 1st Air Commando Group, where he took part in the first all-aerial invasion by the Allies in WWII.

Lt. Col. Richard Cole in his Doolittle Raider flight jacket, in front of a B-25 Mitchell medium bomber.

Richard “Dick” Cole retired from the US Air Force in 1967 with the rank of Lt.Colonel. He was awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses (his first one for the Doolittle Raid), the Bronze Star, and the Air Force Commendation Medal.

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