Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, the last surviving member of the famed Doolittle Raiders of World War II, passed away on Monday at age 103.
Cole served as Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot in the lead aircraft of the 16 B-25B Mitchell bombers which led a bombing run on Tokyo, Japan on April 18, 1942. Launched from the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet in the Pacific Ocean, Doolittle’s Raiders gave America an emotional lift only four months following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
Born in September 1915, Dick Cole, as he preferred friends to call him, went on to serve during the Korean War. He remained very active through 2018, attending air shows and public events.
“Being like the rest of the crew, we were just hoping to keep Col. Doolittle happy,” Cole remarked during an Air Force interview in 2017. “He was a very nice person. He didn’t expect problems to crop up. He had that much confidence in us.”
Dick Cole was a 26-year-old aviator at the time. Seventy-five years later, he could still recall the events of that day.
“(Doolittle) told us all that it was a dangerous mission,” Cole added as he reflected on the historic secret mission. “That if we volunteered and changed our minds later, that there would be no repercussions. But that’s all I can tell you.”
(Charles A. Atkeison reports on aerospace and science. Follow his updates on social media via @Military_Flight.)