Col. Richard E. Cole, Doolittle Raider



(Image credit: U. S. Air Force.  Cole is on the front row, to Doolittle’s right.)

Just a little more than one month after the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942, details were released to the media about the military action.  The occasion was an award ceremony honoring pilots and crew of the historic attack.  In an Associated Press report out of Washington on May 22, the identity of the leader was revealed to be Brig. Gen. James H. Doolittle.  Coming only a few months after the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States into World War II, the raid shook the Japanese belief that the U.S. could not reach them on their own soil.  In addition, it greatly improved the morale in the United States at a time when it was extremely low.

Doolittle revealed that the targets included the navy yard south of Tokyo and talked about viewing a battleship or cruiser under construction that was left in flames in a matter of seconds.  An aircraft plant also received incendiary bombs along a quarter of a mile of its length.

Doolittle related that the B-25s got little notice from Japanese defensive facilities nor from aircraft as they made their approach to the military targets.  The U.S. Army Air Corps planes came in just over the house tops and climbed to 1,500 feet to drop the ordinance, making it hard for the crews to observe the results, though by appearances, most of the bombs hit their targets.  This was also verified by Japanese radio broadcasts that were monitored following the attack.  Doolittle said that it took several hours before the broadcasts settled down and returned to propaganda-oriented material.

One detail given by Doolittle that day was that one crew observed a baseball game in progress and could clearly see that the players on the field did not react to the planes’ presence or take cover until the aircraft had begun to exit the area, though the fly over only took a moment.

Doolittle noted that few people were aware of the preparations and the identity of himself and the crews since it was a tightly guarded secret.  Even after this event became more widely known, the location of the training base was not revealed.  On this occasion, the crew were each awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, though several had to be awarded posthumously or in absentia.  Three crew members died when their planes went down and another eight were captured and imprisoned by the Japanese.  Among the latter, those who survived were not repatriated to the U. S. until much later.

Doolittle’s copilot was Richard E. “Dick” Cole.  Cole had graduated from Steele High School in Dayton, Ohio.  He attended Ohio University for two years before enlisting in the U. S. Army in late 1940.  He received his wings and was commissioned as a Second Lt. in July 1941.  He heard about the request for volunteers for a secret mission and put in for it.  Fast forwarding to the raid, Cole vividly describes his experiences once the aircraft approached the China coast as the plane ran out of fuel at 9,000 feet.  They had been flying on instruments in a rain storm at about 166 miles per hour when the aircraft lost power.  The crew bailed out in the order of gunner, bombardier, navigator, co-pilot and finally pilot over Japanese-held territory.

At that airspeed, the crew was quickly separated.  In a 2017 video interview, Cole described his disorientation upon bailing out of the plane.  The storm turned him every way and he could not tell which direction was up or down.  He eventually landed and his parachute got caught in a tree.  Cole spent the night in the tree, evaded capture the next day, and walked in a westerly direction until he came upon a housing compound above which few the Chinese National flag, to his relief.  He was elated to find that Doolittle had been there earlier and had already been transferred to another location.  His account goes on to describe the remainder of his experiences until he was taken to Chunking.  The Japanese earnestly sought to capture the crews and an estimated 100,000 Chinese were killed as they retaliated against them for their part in the raid.

Once the crews were recovered, the surviving members were dispersed among the various theaters of the war after that mission.  Cole was pilot-qualified, remained in Asia and flew missions with the Ferrying Command, assigned to deliver aircraft and supplies to the Chinese over the dangerous “Hump” of the Himalayas.  Following a short rotation stateside in 1943, he returned to combat in support of the invasion of Burma.  After serving several more years in other locations, he retired from the Air Force and relocated to Alamo, Texas where he had a citrus farm.  He now lives in Comfort, Texas.

In 2014, Cole and one other survivor were honored by being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.  Over the years, he has spoken at many different venues and in 2015 his experiences were published in Dick Cole’s War: Doolittle Raider, Hump Pilot, Air Commando by by Dennis R. Okerstrom.  It is widely available for purchase in print and electronic media.

[Lt. Col. Cole died on April 9, 2019 in San Antonio, Texas at the age of 103 and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery.]

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