by Pete Bruno
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, the last of World War II’s Doolittle Raiders, passed away in San Antonio according to accurate reports. Cole was 103 years old. Arrangements are being made for a memorial service at Randolph Air Force Base, and Cole will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
The 103-year-old Lt. Richard Cole was the last survivor of the 80 U.S. Army Air Corps airmen who flew the Doolittle Raid, a one-way airstrike over Japan during World War II. The raid, on April 18, 1942, came 133 days after the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and involved 16 B-25 crews trained primarily out of Eglin Auxiliary Field in Eglin, Florida.
Cole was the co-pilot of aviation pioneer and raid architect Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle. Their modified B-25 Mitchell bomber was the first to leave the flight deck of the USS Hornet at 8:25 a.m. One-by-one 15 others followed flying independently to bomb 10 military targets and industrial targets in Tokyo, and targets in Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka.
For a little more than two weeks in March 1942, they trained at Eglin Field for their incredible mission: launching stripped-down B-25 bombers off the deck of an aircraft carrier and flying hundreds of miles across the Pacific Ocean to bomb Japan. Less than a month after leaving Eglin Field, on April 18, 1942, the Doolittle Raiders, all volunteers, boarded 16 B-25 bombers on the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet in the Pacific to start their mission.
Three Raiders died trying to reach China after the attack, and eight were captured by Japanese soldiers. Three were executed, and a fourth died in captivity. Cole parachuted, and he and other Raiders were helped to safety by Chinese partisans. Recently, the 80 Raiders were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal for their “outstanding heroism, valor, skill and service to the United States.”
The bold raid is credited with lifting U.S. spirits and helping change the tide of the war in the Pacific. The Hangardeck.com flag is at half-mast. Lt. Col. Cole was a humble American hero that will be missed by all.