One of the last two surviving Doolittle raiders is turning 100 on Monday, and you can wish him happy birthday by clicking here.
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.
Though damage to Japan’s infrastructure and industry wasn’t serious, the damage to Japan’s morale was. A myth of invulnerability had infused Japan’s culture for centuries. The Japanese thought their homeland enjoyed divine protection. Americans like Richard Cole shattered that illusion.
In just over two years, swarms of shiny B-29s launched from Guam, Saipan, and Tinian would be leveling Japanese cities. But it was the Doolittle Raid that raised American spirits, altered Japanese assumptions and showed the depths of American courage.