Richard “Dick” Cole was Jimmy Doolittle’s copilot on the first bomber to launch from the USS Hornet, during the famous Tokyo Raid. Born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1915, Dick Cole enlisted in the Army on 22 November 1940. He was accepted into the Army Air Corps and graduated in 1941 from advanced flying training at Kelly Field, Texas. Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in July 1941, he was first assigned to the 17th Bombardment Group, Pendleton, Oregon.
After Pearl Harbor, the group conducted anti-submarine patrols off the coast of Oregon and Washington. In late January and early February 1942 the group transferred to Columbia, South Carolina, where Cole volunteered for a top secret mission under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle. Following intensive training at Eglin Field in Florida, Cole and the other crews flew their North American B-25 Mitchells to California where 16 of the aircraft were loaded onto the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.
On 18 April 1942, only four months after the Pearl Harbor attack, the Doolittle Raiders accomplished the first air raid on Japan. Cole was the co-pilot of the number one B-25. The crews launched 250 miles earlier than planned after a Japanese fishing boat spotted the carrier. All 16 crews had to ditch or crash land after striking their targets because they did not have enough fuel to make it to their intended landing sites. Cole and Crew One luckily caught a rare tailwind and were able to reach land before fuel ran out. Bailing out of his aircraft over China into the pitch-black void, Cole landed in a tree where he slept the remainder of the night. The next day, he evaded capture and located Chinese nationalists who helped escort him to safety.
Cole stayed in China and India flying cargo aircraft until he returned home in June 1943. In October 1943, Cole volunteered for duty as pilot and engineer officer with the 1st Air Commando Group, India-Burma Sector. In Burma, he took part in Operation Thursday, the first Allied all-aerial invasion. Cole landed soldiers more than 200 miles behind Japanese defenses enabling them to establish an airfield in the middle of enemy-held territory. He had numerous assignments after the war, retiring in 1967 as a Lieutenant Colonel. Awarded three Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Congressional Gold Medal, Cole is a command pilot with 5,078 hours in 30 aircraft including 250 combat missions with 500 combat hours. He currently lives in Comfort, Texas and is the last surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders.
LtCol Cole was first selected as an Eagle by Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles in 2004 and subsequently honored in 2013 and 2016 respectively.