On Monday, one of the last two surviving members of the “Doolitte Raiders” from World War II will celebrate his 100th birthday.
As one of Doolittle Raiders, retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole defied the odds in what was considered a suicide mission to bomb Japan in 1942.
Mr. Cole was co-pilot for Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, who led 16 B-25 bombers on the mission that is considered an event that changed the nation’s morale following the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Mr. Cole was one of 80 Army Air Corps members who volunteered for the top-secret mission. The Raiders planned to take off from the deck of the USS Hornet, bomb targets in Japan and then land in China.
But the Japanese navy detected the Hornet, so the takeoff point was moved 200 miles farther away, leaving the Raiders with a very slim chance of making it to China after their bombing run.
The Doolittle Raid marked the first time that bombers attempted to take off from a carrier. The planes had less than 250 feet of runway, and as the first plane to take off, Mr. Cole and Doolittle’s plane had the least amount of runway.
In a telephone interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Cole attributed his survival and his long life to sheer luck.
“I guess I was just very fortunate,” he said. “I say its good luck.”
A native of Dayton, Ohio, Mr. Cole enlisted in the Army on Nov. 22, 1940, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in July 1941.
He told The Times that shortly before the Doolittle Raid, he had had second thoughts about becoming an airman.
“I recall thinking about when I enlisted in the Army Air Corps that I didn’t have any doubts about it,” Mr. Cole said. “But I wondered about if that was the route I should take and apparently it was.”
Asked why he volunteered, Mr. Cole told the Air Force Times, “Well, the country’s at war and that’s my job.”
After bombing Tokyo, Mr. Cole’s B-25 caught a tailwind that helped the crew make it to China. He was rescued by Chinese patriots who helped him and other Raiders make it home.
Since then, the Raiders have held annual meetings. In 1959, the city of Tucson, Arizona, resented the Raiders with a set of silver goblets, each bearing the name of one of the 80 men who flew on the mission. At each reunion, the surviving Raiders toast their fallen comrades in a solemn “Goblet Ceremony.”
With travel becoming increasingly difficult for the few remaining members, the Raiders held their final reunion Nov. 9, 2013, at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
But this Labor Day, North Texans will get a chance to celebrate again with Mr. Cole on his birthday at a movie screening of “Doolittle’s Raiders: A Final Toast.”
The screening will take place at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, and Mr. Cole will attend.
“The new documentary emphasizes the Doolittle crew as individuals,” museum CEO Cheryl Sutterfield-Jones said in a news release. “It shows their courage and how their incredible, and at the time considered suicidal, mission in the early days of World War II impacted them and our country for the rest of their lives.”