The last Doolittle Raider

Retired Lt. Col. Dick Cole, co-pilot of Aircraft No. 1 of the Doolittle Tokyo Raid, raises a glass to toast the 74th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid April 18 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. On the same day in 1942, Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle led a select team of 80 pilots, gunners, navigators and bombardiers to execute a surprise attack over the islands of Japan in retaliation after the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.  Cole, at 100-years-old, is one of two remaining survivors of the Doolittle Raid.  Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, who was unable to attend, is the second survivor.

Retired Lt. Col. Dick Cole, co-pilot of Aircraft No. 1 of the Doolittle Tokyo Raid, raises a glass to toast the 74th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid April 18 at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph. On the same day in 1942, Lt. Col. James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle led a select team of 80 pilots, gunners, navigators and bombardiers to execute a surprise attack over the islands of Japan in retaliation after the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. Cole, at 100-years-old, is one of two remaining survivors of the Doolittle Raid. Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, who was unable to attend, is the second survivor.

A small scale model representing the aircraft carrier the Doolittle Raiders took off from sits on display during a Q-and-A session with one of the last Doolittle Raiders at the Event Center on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, Nov. 12, 2015. Retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, Doolittle Raider, spoke to an audience of more than 200 individuals. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Edwards/Released)

A small scale model representing the aircraft carrier the Doolittle Raiders took off from sits on display during a Q-and-A session with one of the last Doolittle Raiders at the Event Center on Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, Nov. 12, 2015. Retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, Doolittle Raider, spoke to an audience of more than 200 individuals. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Joshua Edwards/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Down, 17th Training Wing Commander, and Retired Lt. Col. Dick Cole present the Unit of the Year award to Lt. Col. Achilles Hamilothoris, 17th Medical Support Squadron Commander at the Cactus Hotel in San Angelo, Texas, Feb. 3, 2017. Cole is the last remaining Doolittle Raider. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caelynn Ferguson/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. Michael Down, 17th Training Wing Commander, and Retired Lt. Col. Dick Cole present the Unit of the Year award to Lt. Col. Achilles Hamilothoris, 17th Medical Support Squadron Commander at the Cactus Hotel in San Angelo, Texas, Feb. 3, 2017. Cole is the last remaining Doolittle Raider. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Caelynn Ferguson/Released)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Retired Lt. Col. Dick Cole, the last surviving Doolittle raider presented the Unit of the Year to the Medical Support Squadron during the Goodfellow Annual Awards at the Cactus Hotel Feb. 3.

On April 18, 1942, Cole, alongside Lt Col. Jimmy Doolittle, departed for a mission to drop bombs on Tokyo. The crew had to take off much sooner than planned because of escalating conflict; the aircraft fuel levels were low. They took off knowing it was likely a one way mission and they would end up in the Chinese fields. If they survived.

"Since we were in the first airplanes, we were loaded with incendiary bombs and the target was a bombardier’s dream, because all we had to do was set the northwest part of Tokyo on fire," said Cole. "Security was a big problem at that time, I did not tell my family anything."

Nonetheless, the crew met the challenge with a "gung ho" attitude. "We were determined to get the job done and get the heck out," said Cole.

The early take off worked much to the crew's advantage. They became the beneficiaries of a long tail wind allowing them to make it to China after dropping bombs over Tokyo and bailing out of their aircraft.

When Cole made it to the ground, he was in enemy territory. His only hope was to find a Chinese nationalist establishment. He made a hammock out of his parachute and slept in a tree. He prepared to venture out into the country the following day.

He walked all day until he saw a building with Chinese national flags. There he was reunited with Doolittle and a few other crew members.

"I felt very lucky to have met the nationals," said Cole.

Out of the 80 crew members involved in the raid, 64 returned.

Throughout his career, Cole was involved in more than 500 combat hours and 250 combat missions.

Cole's decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Bronze Star Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, and Chinese Army, Navy, Air Corps Medal, Class A, 1st Grade.

His advice to young Airmen is to pick out a training specialty and go as far as you can, keep up with the training and do your best.