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
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.
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.
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.
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.