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Last survivor of Doolittle Raid dies at 103

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Cole, the last surviving Doolittle Raider (Senior Airman Gwendalyn Smith/U.S. Air Force)
April 09, 2019

The last survivor of the 1942 Doolittle Raid in World War II has died at the age of 103.

Lt. Richard Cole, a U.S. Army Air Corps airmen who flew in the infamous airstrike over Tokyo, died Tuesday following a brief hospital stay last week, the New York Times reported.

Cole was the co-pilot for Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle, who became one of World War II’s first heroes and received the Medal of Honor. The pair were the first to head the strike in a revised B-25 Mitchell bomber headed for their targets in Japan.

Cole was the last survivor of the 80 men that made up the Doolittle Raid.

The raid initiated on April 18, 1942 — 133 days after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor — and consisted of 16 B-25 crews trained primarily out of Eglin Auxiliary Field in Eglin, Fla. Their instructions were to launch an air attack on 10 military targets and industrial targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe, and Osaka.

During the flight, the aircraft ran out of fuel and the crew was forced to parachute from the plane.

Tom Casey, the Doolittle Raiders’ business manager, said, “When they got to the point, they had to leave the aircraft, that was the time Doolittle finally turned around and reported to the crew and we have to evacuate. Of course, Doolittle was going to be the last one out. Col. Cole went out before Doolittle.”

Casey added, “Col. Cole reminded people back then, none of these guys on the raid, none of these 80 raiders except Doolittle, ever jumped out of an airplane before. This was a first for all of the ones who went out. Richard said his worst moment was looking out that black hole, which was a hatch right behind the pilot area, and falling out. He was instructed to count to 10 when he did bail out. As soon as he left the airplane he said, “10,” and pulled the ripcord. He pulled it so hard he hit his nose.”

Fortunately, a wind current took the parachutes to the coast of China and they were able to find each other relatively soon.

“The Japanese knew about the tailwind; they called it the divine wind. That wind, which a lot of pilots and crews said was ‘God’s hand,’ was able to get most of the B-25s over the China coast,” Casey said.

Fifteen Doolittle Raiders’ planes crashed. Three members died on bailout, eight were apprehended by the Japanese, three were executed, one died in prison, and one plane and crew landed in Russia, later escaping through Iran.

“The Doolittle Raiders attack on Japan brought new life to Americans broken after the attack on Hawaii,” Casey said. “This country came off its knees, and it put a whole new spirit and it became a whole new world for them. Now (the Japanese) had American bombers in downtown Tokyo three months after the war [started]. It demoralized the Japanese.”

On Sunday, Cole was honored for his service during a fundraiser for the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Education Fund.