By Chuck Woodbury
Have you heard the name Dick Cole? He died last Tuesday at age 103. He lived in the little Texas Hill Country town of Comfort, where he was a living legend.
I learned about him when I was there a year ago. I tried to interview him, but no luck.
On April 18, 1942, Cole was the co-pilot of a B-25 bomber that took off on what most considered a suicide mission. The pilot of the plane was Colonel Jimmy Doolittle, and “The Doolittle’s Raiders” as they came to be known, were headed to Tokyo.
It would be America’s response to Pearl Harbor — a surprise attack on the Japanese homeland that its citizens were told would never happen. Sixteen B-25s, stripped of any extra weight, took off from the aircraft carrier the USS Hornet bound for Tokyo, where they would drop their bombs at low altitude and keep going toward China.
It was thought unlikely they would make it because they could not carry enough fuel. But, miraculously, the planes picked up a tailwind. Cole’s plane reached China, where he and his crew bailed out and eventually were led to freedom by Chinese Nationalist guerrillas. Three “Raiders” died in the operation and four were captured by the Japanese and executed or starved to death.
The daring raid stunned Japan and is credited with boosting U.S. morale and helping turn the tide of the war in the Pacific.
Cole was soon back in action, flying more than 100 missions on the dangerous Hump route over the Himalayas between India and Burma. The Doolittle Raiders received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2015. Cole was last survivor of the group. With this death goes the last living link to one of the most famous military missions in American history.
Cole will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. If you are wearing a hat right now, tip it to this hero. If you want to learn more about him and the mission, read his wonderful book “Dick Cole’s War.”