Retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole — who was the last living member of World War II’s Doolittle Raiders and a Dayton native — died April 9 at the age of 103. But, Ohio’s two senators have introduced legislation to posthumously promote Cole from lieutenant colonel to colonel.
“Dick Cole was a son of Dayton, Ohio and an American hero,” Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a prepared statement. “During a dark time in our history, he and the Doolittle Raiders launched an audacious attack that succeeded against all odds and provided a spark to the morale of the American people that carried us through to eventual victory in the Pacific.
During World War II, Cole was then-Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot in the lead bomber in a historic 1942 raid to strike Japan. Also known as the “Tokyo Raid,” the raid was the United States’ first counter-attack on Japan, happening just four months after the attack against Pearl Harbor.
Eighty airmen of the U.S. Army Air Forces in 16 modified B-25B bombers launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet, about 650 nautical miles east of Japan, to strike Tokyo. The plan was to fly low, bombing targets in Japan then continue to fly west to China.
Perilously low on fuel, fifteen of the planes crash-landed in China while one landed in the Soviet Union.
Many Airmen had to parachute out into the night and Cole jumped out at around 9,000 feet, according to the Air Force. Cole, who had never parachuted before, landed in a tree and used his parachute as a hammock to sleep in until morning.
Of the 80 mission participants, 77 initially survived. The Japanese captured eight airmen in China and held them as prisoners. Five were executed.
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“The Doolittle Raiders came from a generation that spoke proudly of service to their country. They rarely drew attention or talked much about their own courage…And now that these men are no longer with us, it’s all the more important that we continue to tell their story,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a prepared statement.
Cole graduated from Steele High School in Dayton in 1938 and he attended Ohio University for two years before enlisting as an aviation cadet in November 1940, according to the Air Force. He retired from the Air Force in December 1966 as a command pilot with more than 5,000 flight hours in 30 different aircraft, more than 250 combat missions and more than 500 combat hours.
“Richard Cole was an icon to a great many of us. While well aware of the importance of the Doolittle Raid in history, he never made it about himself,” Tim Holbert, senior vice resident and executive director of the American Veterans Center said in a prepared statement. “He was a humble hero, whose legacy deserves to be remembered.”
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