The last of the Doolittle Raiders has passed...

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tbarlow

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Unread post09 Apr 2019, 23:55

https://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local ... lDNgwLKVtc

Dick Cole, the last of the legendary Doolittle Raiders who boosted American morale with a daring air raid on Japan in the fifth month of World War II, died Tuesday morning in San Antonio at 103.

A longtime resident of Comfort, Cole recently was hospitalized at Brooke Army Medical Center, where a series of high-profile visitors dropped by to see him, including the Air Force’s chief of staff, Gen. Dave Goldfein. Cole in recent years had become the most celebrated of the 80 Raiders because he managed to outlive all the others. He responded to the attention with a sense of humor and ready one-liners.

Once asked for the secret to longevity, Cole replied, “For me, I think the secret is you’ve got to keep moving like the sheriff is after you.” His daughter, Cindy Chal, said he died peacefully.

On ExpressNews.com: Doolittle raiders look back on mission

Goldfein, whose parents live in San Antonio, said Cole was unable to talk in the hospital Sunday but was able to communicate with his big smile and “just as firm a handshake as ever.”

“And I told him that we were thinking about him, his Air Force was thinking about him, and … (that) the long blue line is carrying the torch that he had handed to us, and he nodded his approval and smiled,” Goldfein said. “And I'll tell you, there will never be anybody like him.”

The combat flight for which Lt. Richard Eugene Cole became famous was his first, as it turned out. At 26, he was Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot on the April 18, 1942, Tokyo Raid, flying the lead aircraft of 16 two-engine bombers from the USS Hornet.

The all-volunteer crews and their charismatic leader had practiced short takeoffs in the B-25 Mitchells in Florida. They had done it off a carrier flight deck only once before. The plan required careful timing for a pass over Tokyo, Nagoya and Yokosuka, followed by landings at friendly airfields in China.

A Japanese trawler was spotted more than 200 miles from the expected launch point, and to preserve surprise, Doolittle ordered the raid to start early, at the extreme limit of the planes’ range, putting them over Japan in daylight and China at night.

The outlook in the Pacific was grim. In the months after the Pearl Harbor attack, Japanese forces occupied Guam, Wake Island, Hong Kong, Singapore, and most of the Philippines. The surrender of besieged U.S. holdouts at Corregidor, an island in Manila Bay, was weeks away.

Many Americans knew of Doolittle well before the raid became front-page news. His career was fodder for books and a Hollywood film starring Spencer Tracy. Doolittle had pioneered instrument flight, broke aviation speed records and made the nation's first cross-country flight in 1922.

On ExpressNews.com: Air Force salutes Cole, Doolittle raiders

Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Cole had idolized Doolittle and once rode a bicycle 25 miles to see him fly. Now he was co-piloting a bomber with him.

“I had my own confidence, but we all had Jimmy Doolittle,” Cole once told the Express-News. “His confidence flowed into us and we would have followed him anywhere.”

“It was no more of a one-way mission than the guys that were flying over Berlin at that time,” he said in a 2017 interview. “They never knew if they were coming back to England after they took off in the morning and we all had confidence in Jimmy’s plan, and that plan included making it to the target, doing the job and pressing on afterwards.”

Amazingly, some Japanese mistook the American bombers for their own and waved as Doolittle and Cole flew into Tokyo at 200 feet before ascending to 1,500 feet to drop four 500-pound bombs. They saw no enemy fighters and didn’t take flak until near the end.

The outcome would prove better than planners imagined. Navy carriers had already raided Japanese forward bases but the first strike on Japan’s homeland was cathartic for celebrating Americans and triggered decisions by Japanese war leaders that helped set up the Battle of Midway — a pivotal clash later that year that turned the tide of war permanently in favor of the United States.

The raiders spent nine more hours in the air before Doolittle took the plane to 9,000 feet and called the order to bail out over China during a terrible thunderstorm. No one in the crew had done that before.

Cole gave himself a black eye pulling the ripcord. He turned on a flashlight after the chute opened, hoping to see where he was headed, but it made no difference. He had a knife, compass, chewing gum and a pistol, but no canteen. Hung up on a tree, he swayed 12 feet above the ground for the night.

On ExpressNews.com: Birthday wishes pour in for Doolittle vet

Cole got off lightly compared to some of his comrades. A few were killed bailing out or crash landing. Of eight raiders captured, only four were repatriated at war’s end. Three were executed and one died of disease.

“One thing you think about is guys who didn’t make it, the fact that they have not been able to enjoy the popularity or whatever you want to call it, and enjoy life like we’ve been able to do,” Cole said in a reflective moment.

As a young man he had milked cows and plowed fields during the Depression, earning $75 a month on an aunt’s farm in Ohio. He saved the money for college.

Cole stayed in Asia after the Tokyo raid, flying cargo planes for 14 months before briefly landing a stateside assignment in Tulsa, Oklahoma, testing B-24s that were fresh out of the factory.

One day in the summer of 1943, a woman told him she was learning to fly and asked if she could get some flight time while he tested the plane. Cole fell in love with her on the spot, but said no.

Somewhere around 12,000 feet during that flight, she appeared in the cockpit. His co-pilot was apparently in on the scheme.

“The co-pilot, an older guy, took a match cover out of his pocket and gave it to her and said, ‘Put your number on here,’ and she did, but she gave the thing to me,” Cole said.

Two weeks later, they got married.

Cole went back to war that winter, this time building airfields in China. He stayed in the Air Force and retired as a lieutenant colonel. His wife, Lucia Martha Harrell, who went by Marty, died in 2003.

A son, Andrew, lost his life around seven years ago in a car accident. A daughter, Christina, suffered a fatal aneurysm in 2010.

Cole stayed active until only a few years ago, tending fruit trees on his 4-acre property near Comfort and cutting the grass with a 1949 Ford tractor. If something broke, he fixed it. Once he drove his Ford F-150 pickup seven miles into town to replace a water heater that had gone out.

He traveled, sometimes appearing for events put on by the Air Force and others by civilians who celebrated the Raiders’ heroics. But he thought less and less about the raid he helped lead.

On ExpressNews.com: Surviving Doolittle raider flies on restored D-Day plane

At 99, Cole was organizing his barn, re-gluing kitchen chairs, building a couple of storage cabinets and driving a riding lawn mower on his spread. He began to slow down after turning 100, even giving up his pickup.

He’d get out of bed after dawn and take short, measured steps while tackling the day’s agenda.

Cole always maintained his life wasn’t only about the Doolittle Raid, his service in the China-India-Burma theater, the luck he enjoyed or the tragedies and losses that followed. They were days on a calendar in his century. During the war he was just another American doing his duty, he said.

“I feel like the Tokyo Raid is pretty beat up,” he said one day before walking the 100 yards from his single-story brick home in the Hill Country to his mailbox. “I think there are more fertile stories to tell.”


Sig Christenson covers the military and veterans in San Antonio, Bexar County and the nation. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | sigc@express-news.net | Twitter: @saddamscribe
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Unread post10 Apr 2019, 00:05

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Unread post13 Apr 2019, 14:44

Bless his heart and Godspeed my friend.

A real American hero, who displayed courage beyond words...

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