HOLT, Fla., April 18, 2019—The last member of the Doolittle Raiders passed away this month just shy of the 77th anniversary of the famous bombing mission over Tokyo during World War II.
Retired Lt. Col. Richard E. “Dick” Cole flew in the first B-25 Mitchell bomber to take off from the deck of the USS Hornet April 18, 1942, leading the one-way mission as a young lieutenant copilot for then-Lt. Col Jimmy Doolittle.
Final stateside flying training for the top-secret mission took place in March 1942 at Eglin Field’s auxiliary field No. 1, also known as Wagner Field, where the aircrews practiced aircraft carrier takeoffs, cross-country flying, night flying and navigation, according to Doolittle’s official June 1942 report.
Special training missions over the Gulf of Mexico helped aircrews adjust to flying without visual or radio references or landmarks.
The crews also practiced low-altitude bombing, rapid bombing and evasive maneuvers while in the area.
All this was accomplished in three weeks despite dense fog and “bad weather,” according to Doolittle’s report.
On March 25, 22 B-25s left Eglin for the California coast where they met up with the Navy’s USS Hornet.
For the mission, 16 planes were selected and loaded onto the Hornet’s deck.
The first plane with Doolittle as pilot and Cole as copilot, took off at 8:20 a.m. April 18.
After dropping its load on a factory in Tokyo, the plane turned toward a rendezvous point in China before running out of gas.
The five-man crew bailed out just after midnight as the fuel warning lights came on, jumping into a dark, rainy night in the order of gunner, bombardier, navigator, co-pilot (Cole) and pilot (Doolittle), according to a 1973 letter by Cole.
Cole’s parachute drifted him into a tree about 10 feet off the ground. Uninjured, he decided to spend the night in the tree and used his parachute canopy as a hammock, but didn’t get much sleep.
After hiking the next day, he met up with Chinese Nationalist guerillas operating behind Japanese lines who led him to Doolittle. The rest of the crew joined them a short time later.
The crew was smuggled out of occupied China to safety.
Of the 80 crewmembers who flew the mission, 77 survived. Eight crewmembers were captured by the Japanese and of those, three were executed.
Cole, the last of the Doolittle Raiders, passed away April 9 at age 103.