Retired Lt. Col. Dick Cole, the last surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders who rallied the nation’s spirit during the darkest days of World War II, has passed away.
Tom Casey, president of the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Association, confirmed to Air Force Times that Cole died Tuesday morning in San Antonio. His daughter, Cindy Cole Chal, and son, Richard Cole, were by his side, Casey said.
Cole, who was then-Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot in the No. 1 bomber during the daring 1942 raid to strike Japan, was 103.
The Doolittle Raid was the United States’ first counterattack on the Japanese mainland after Pearl Harbor. Eighty U.S. Army Air Forces airmen in 16 modified B-25B Mitchell bombers launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet, about 650 nautical miles east of Japan, to strike Tokyo. While it only caused minor damage, the mission boosted morale on the U.S. homefront a little more than four months after Pearl Harbor, and sent a signal to the Japanese people not only that the U.S. was ready to fight back but also that it could strike the Japanese mainland.
Cole’s influence is still very apparent in today’s Air Force, and he remains a beloved figure among airmen. In 2016, he appeared on stage at the Air Force Association’s Air Space Cyber conference to announce that the service’s next stealth bomber, the B-21, would be named the Raider. Hurlburt Field in Florida in 2017 renamed the building housing the 319th Special Operations Squadron the Richard E. Cole Building.
And when he turned 103 last Sept. 7, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein and his wife, Dawn, called him to wish him a happy birthday.
Cole was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. In a 2016 interview with HistoryNet.com, Cole said he first became interested in flying as a kid, when he would ride his bicycle to the Army Air Corps test base McCook Field and watch the pilots fly. He said he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in November 1940 because “it was a good job,” especially in the midst of the Great Depression, and after finishing training went to the 17th Bombardment Group at Pendleton, Oregon.
He was transferred to Columbia, South Carolina, in early February 1942, where he saw a bulletin board notice seeking volunteers for a mission. His entire group put in their names.