Sad news—the last Doolittle Raider has died. Lt. Col. Richard Cole passed away Monday at the age of 103.
Cole was the final surviving member of the daring raid on Tokyo by carrier-launched B-25s. As I wrote for his 100th birthday in 2015:
Col. Richard Cole was the co-pilot of “Crew 1,” which means he sat alongside Col. Jimmy Doolittle at the tip of the tip of the American spear aimed at Imperial Japan. The Doolittle Raid on April 18, 1942, was a virtual suicide mission. It was a daring sea-launched bombing mission in the earliest days of World War II.
After Pearl Harbor, Americans were desperate to hit back, and that first hit was the Doolittle Raid. Sixteen Army Air Force B-25s took off from the USS Hornet to hit multiple Japanese cities. The plan was to fly to China because a B-25 could not land on an aircraft carrier. Only one of the 16 planes actually landed safely — in the Soviet Union. The fate of the rest of the crews was a story of heroism and sacrifice.
Many didn’t survive. Some were beheaded by the Japanese. The Japanese burned entire towns in occupied China that helped the Raiders.
One of the first teams that went into Japan after the bombing of Nagasaki was a unit solely focused on finding and extracting the surviving Doolittle Raiders imprisoned in Japan. America knew they were treasured heroes.
In 1942, the Doolittle Raid bucked American spirits. For four months after Pearl Harbor, Americans wanted to punch back. While not causing serious infrastructure damage, the Doolittle Raid caused a profound psychological blow to the Japanese. All of Tokyo learned that the United States could punch the Japanese homeland from across the Pacific.
In three years, swarms of Boeing B-29s based on Guam, Tinian, and Saipan would be leveling Japanese cities, culminating in the nuclear attacks of August 1945 that caused the end of the war in the Pacific.
Richard Cole deserves a salute from all Americans today. An American hero in the truest sense of the word has passed.