Last Doolittle Raider turns 103
By Staff Sgt. Joshua Edwards, 17th Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published September 06, 2017
GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Retired Lt. Col. Dick Cole, the last surviving Doolittle raider, turns 103 years old on Sept. 7.
The Doolittle Raiders were a part of the 17th Bombardment Group, which later became Goodfellow’s 17th Training Wing.
During World War II, Cole was asked to volunteer for a top secret mission which entailed travelling to the Pacific to drop bombs on Tokyo in retaliation for the Pearl Harbor bombings.
In 1942, Cole, alongside Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, departed for Tokyo on the USS Hornet.
“We were both there and we both knew what we needed to do,” said Cole. “Him more than me of course. I was just a brand new second lieutenant and at that time in the military, second lieutenants were to be seen and not heard; but we were all part of his team.”
On the way to the raid launch point, a Japanese naval ship spotted the American ships carrying the 16 B-25 Bombers forcing the Raiders to launch nearly 200 miles early.
The Doolittle Raiders were still able to hit their targets with complete surprise.
“We didn’t have any Japanese aircraft try to intercept us,” said Cole. “When we got to Japan it was like flying into Miami Beach. People were playing on the beach and working on their boats, all kinds of activity.”
They also became the beneficiaries of a long tail wind allowing 15 of the 16 B-25s to make it to China and one of the aircraft landed in Russia, after the bombing.
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 prepared to venture out into the country the following day.
That was the best landing in that situation,” he said. “The terrain was very mountainous, so I was pretty lucky and waited until morning to cut myself loose.”
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.
Although the Doolittle Raiders didn’t do as much damage as planned, they let the Japanese know they could be attacked, and helped boost morale for troops and people in the United States.
After the raid, Cole continued to fly missions. He is the recipient of three Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star and two Air Medals. Throughout his career, he was involved in more than 500 combat hours and 250 combat missions.
Today, he spends his time working on his scholarship program that sponsors one student a year studying aerospace science or engineering.