The LAST WW2 Doolittle Raider, Lt. Col. Richard Cole, Dies at Age 103
America has lost another of it’s greatest heroes as we lay to rest, Lt. Col. Richard Cole, the last living Doolittle Raider! A career officer in the United States Air Force, Col. Cole died Tuesday, April 9, in San Antonio. His daughter, Cindy Cole Chal, and son, Richard Cole, were by his side.
The Doolittle Raiders rallied the nation’s spirit during the darkest days of World War II. Col. Cole was then-Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot in the No. 1 bomber during the daring 1942 raid to strike Japan.
Cole was the only one to live to an older age than Jimmy Doolittle, who died in 1993 at age 96.
Cole remained in China after the raid until June 1943. He served again in the China Burma India Theater from October 1943 until June 1944. Later, he went on to serve as the Operations Advisor to the Venezuelan Air Force from 1959 to 1962. He retired from the Air Force in 1966 and became the last living Doolittle Raider in 2016.
Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Cole said he first became interested in flying as a kid.
He stated that he would ride his bicycle to the Army Air Corps test base McCook Field and watch the pilots fly. He also said he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in November 1940 because “it was a good job,” especially in the midst of the Great Depression.
The Doolittle Raid was the US’ first counterattack on the Japanese mainland after Pearl Harbor.
Eighty airmen in 16 bombers launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet, about 650 miles east of Japan, to strike Tokyo.
The attack only caused minor damages but the mission was vital to boosting morale on the U.S. homefront in the months immediately following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The attack also sent a very strong signal to the Japanese people that the U.S. was ready to fight back. It also let them know the US had the full capability of reaching the Japanese mainland.
The Air Force Times tells the story:
Col. Cole was transferred to Columbia, South Carolina, in early February 1942, where he saw a bulletin board notice seeking volunteers for a mission. His entire group put in their names.
“Everyone wanted to go on that mission,” Cole said in a 2017 Air Force release.
Cole, who was then 26 years old, trained at Eglin Air Field in Florida for the secret raid.
Airmen with Crew No. 1 (Plane 40-2344), 34th Bombardment Squadron, U.S. Army Air Forces, were among those who conducted the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo on April 18, 1942. They are, from left: Lt. Henry A. Potter, navigator; Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, pilot; Staff Sgt. Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; Lt. Richard E. Cole, co-pilot; and Staff Sgt. Paul J. Leonard, engineer-gunner. (Air Force):
“We were confined to base, in isolated barracks, and told not to talk about our training,” Cole told HistoryNet. “We knew it would be dangerous, but that’s all.”
The B-25 typically needed about 3,000 feet to take off, Cole said, but they trained to get airborne in 500 feet. And when future Navy Admiral Henry Miller started teaching them how to take off from a carrier, they guessed they were headed to the Pacific to take the fight to Japan.
Then-2nd. Lt. Cole became Doolittle’s co-pilot by chance, when the pilot he had been training with fell ill. Doolittle’s intended co-pilot also became unable to fly.
The B-25s were stripped of all excess equipment, including their bombsights and lower turrets, and loaded up with extra fuel tanks that doubled capacity to about 1,100 gallons. They left port from Alameda, California, on April 2, 1942, and two days later were told they would strike Tokyo.
“We were pretty excited — above all, happy to know what we were going to do,” Cole said. “Things quieted down as people began to realize what they were getting into.”
After the Navy ran into a Japanese picket ship, Navy Adm. William “Bull” Halsey decided to launch the mission earlier than planned. Conditions were rough, Cole told HistoryNet — water came over the bow, and the planes started to slip around the deck. But the wind about doubled the carrier speed of 20 to 35 knots, which helped the planes get airborne.
A B-25 Mitchell takes off from the aircraft carrier Hornet for the Doolittle Raid over Tokyo April 18, 1942. (Courtesy of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio):
They reached Japan after a little more than four hours, flying at an altitude averaging roughly 200 feet, Cole said. When Doolittle and Cole neared Tokyo, it was bright and sunny. Doolittle pulled up to 1,500 feet, and bombardier Fred Braemer — then a staff sergeant — dropped the bombs. Cole said they “got jostled around a bit by anti-aircraft” fire, but didn’t think they got hit.
Doolittle’s crew intended to land in Chuchow, China, fuel up, and continue to Western China, but they hit a snag. They ran into a severe rainstorm with lightning. Cole said the Chinese also heard their engines and thought they were Japanese, so they turned off the electric power to the lights. The crew had no choice but to fly until they ran out of gas and then bail out, he said.
Cole’s parachute got stuck on a pine tree, 12 feet above the ground. After freeing himself, he walked west to a Chinese village. Cole rejoined the rest of the crew, who also bailed out successfully, and they were picked up by Chinese troops.
He continued serving in the China-Burma-India Theater until June 1943, and then volunteered for Project 9, which led to the creation of the 1st Air Commando Group.
Cole said that Doolittle feared his audacious mission had failed, because all planes and some of his airmen were lost. Three airmen died bailing out, and eight others were captured by the Japanese.
Thank you Sir, and Rest in Peace! It is so sad to continue to see the few remaining from the Greatest Generation leaving us!