Dick Cole, Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot in the famous Tokyo raid, buried at Fort Sam in San Antonio


The five B-25B Mitchell bombers slowly flew over Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, soon followed by a pair of C-47 Dakota cargo planes, then a formation of four F-15E ships.

Crowds in the cemetery assembly area craned their necks as one of the supersonic F-15s, roaring engines, pulled away from the formation and raced high into the blue to greet Col. Dick Cole, the last of the legendary Doolittle Raiders.

The elaborate shipment included a caisson ride to the cremated remains of Cole, who was Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot in the daring bombing mission to Japan that boosted American morale after five months of spectacular defeats across the Pacific.

The bombs caused minimal damage to the ground but shredded the air of invincibility that Japan had maintained until then, both to its own people and to the outside world. Tokyo’s red-faced commanders advanced their timeline to attack Midway Atoll, and after losing that battle, they were on the defensive for the remainder of the war.

Cole, who lived outside of Comfort, once said of his longevity: “For me, I think the secret is that you have to keep moving forward like the sheriff is after you.” He passed the sheriff until April 9, 2019, dying at age 103 at Brooke Army Medical Center.

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His family wanted him to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Cole’s daughter Cindy Chal said the Pentagon was heavily involved in planning a service for this August, but senior Air Force officials were unable to attend.

The family then decided on April 18, 2020, the 78th anniversary of the raid, but the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic turned that plan upside down.

“It wasn’t anyone’s fault,” said Chal, 76, of Comfort. “It was just a matter of timing and world events.”

Tuesday would have been Cole’s 106th birthday. He joined five other Doolittle Raiders who rest at Fort Sam – Col. Edward “Ski” York, Col. Joseph Manske, Col. James “Herb” Macia Jr., Col. Travis Hoover and Brig. General Richard “Dick” Knobloch.

Cole himself saw nothing special in the success of the raid. He always believed that the real heroes of war flew bombers over Germany, landed on the beaches of Normandy, or fought island hopping in the Pacific. Late in his life, as the tributes piled up, he was known for his sense of humor, easy going personality, and humble heart.

“One of my favorite stories, out of many, was about the nurses telling me that he demanded to get up and get up that morning. The nurses helped him up and he stayed there until one of them asked him, “Sir… why did you want to get up?” “Said retired General David Goldfein, who had been the Air Force Chief of Staff. of a hospital visit he and his wife, Dawn, made the day before Cole died.

“His response: ‘Because I don’t want to die lying down.'”

The Air Force decided to posthumously promote Cole, a retired Lt. Col., to the rank of full Colonel and did so during a memorial service at the Fort Sam Houston Golf Club prior to the interment. During the ceremony, Chal received the eagle badge worn by Cole’s friend and colleague Doolittle Raider, Col. Bill Bower.

“It’s something that I think has been a tradition in the service over the years, that a senior officer ranks the man who comes below him and pins him,” said the Bower’s son, Jim, who handed over his father’s eagles to Chal. “It starts when you’re a cadet and you’re pinned down with your second lieutenant bar. “

The promotion and burial closed an epic adventure that began 79 years earlier, in the days after Pearl Harbor, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt repeatedly asked questions about the attack on Japan’s main islands. . Everyone agreed that a strike should happen quickly. The question was how.

The idea of ​​launching medium bombers from an aircraft carrier originated with the Navy, but Army Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle, a famous pilot with advanced degrees in aeronautical engineering, was approached for direct it.

The B-25B Mitchell bombers were scheduled to take off from the USS Hornet to strike Tokyo and four other cities, but it was feared that the surprise would be lost when an enemy trawler was spotted more than 200 miles from the intended launch point. Doolittle ordered an immediate takeoff, at the extreme limit of the bombers’ range.

Lt. Richard Eugene Cole, then 26, sat next to Doolittle, whose time in the Air Force included a stint at Kelly Field in San Antonio as a flight chief and a range instructor. It was Cole’s first combat mission, and Doolittle had been his childhood hero.

They were part of Crew 1, the lead bomber among 16 as the aircraft carrier turned into the wind in choppy seas, swells topping 30 feet and lapping on the flight deck.

Of the 80 volunteers, 55 jumped over China or its coast. Three bombers crashed, crashing in waters off China, a paddy field and in Russia.

Some 17 would not live to see the first anniversary of the raid. Some died after continuing the war in the China-Burma-India theater, in North Africa or in Europe. A total of 13 were taken prisoner in various theaters of war and survived.

Retired in California, Doolittle died in 1993. All raiders received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2015.

By the time a large crowd celebrated Cole’s 103rd birthday at Singing Water Vineyards near Comfort in 2018, he was the sole survivor and had put some distance between himself and the legend of courage and glory.

“I have the impression that the Tokyo Raid is rather out of whack,” Cole said in an interview the year before. “I think there are more fertile stories to tell.”

After the raid, it transported supplies from India to China over the Himalayas and towed gliders to Burma at night, carrying commandos on secret missions. Cole retired in 1966 as a command pilot with over 5,000 hours in 30 different aircraft, over 250 combat missions, and over 500 combat hours.

Originally from Dayton, Ohio, Cole settled with his wife, Lucia Martha “Marty” Cole, and five children in the small town of Alamo in the Rio Grande Valley. They grew grapefruits, oranges and avocados on 20 acres.

In the 1980s Cole moved to San Antonio, then to Canyon Lake and finally to a 4 acre location near Comfort where he sent fan mail, signed autographs, and planned visits to air shows and d ‘other events.

“I have met Dick Cole on several occasions and have the utmost respect for him,” said Lt. Gen. Brad Webb, who heads Air Education and Training Command and has had a long career in special operations. of the Air Force. “He was a thoughtful leader and an amazing person. I know Colonel Cole enjoyed his time as an Air Commando, besides being a Doolittle Raider, and we are able to trace a direct line of his many accomplishments to our current Special War Airmen.

Deep down, the raiders were inspired by their charismatic and fiercely loyal commander.

“I had my own confidence, but we all had Jimmy Doolittle,” Cole said. “His confidence came over us and we would have followed him anywhere. “

When he wasn’t attending Doolittle Raider’s annual reunions, he traveled to Colorado to hunt and fish with a few of them: Hank Potter, Dick Knoblach, Bobby Hite, Bill Bower, and occasionally Doolittle. Hite had a cabin near Creede

“Sometimes they would go pheasant hunting – just dad and Jimmy would go hunting in eastern Colorado and western Nebraska – and Jim would come to Creede and go fishing with him and hang out at the resort,” said the Bower’s son, Jim, now 71 and a Denver resident.

“And they were good friends. They were like a tight little group and he was their mentor, he was their boss – he was still the boss. But every time he came to visit them, he was just one of them.

During the Doolittle Raider reunions, the man who would become the last of the 80 crew members was known to be the life of the party after hours. Jim Bower remembers Cole staying late, chatting with people in the room.

“It wasn’t like you had to entertain Dick, that’s for sure,” Bower recalls. “She was a great person to be in the reception room after the party.”

“He was just that kind of guy, and he made my dad a better person in every way. He just did it. Dad was a quintessential cranky old man. He got along well with everyone, but he was pretty much in himself, and Dick changed his mood so quickly, ”he added.

For many years, however, Cole rarely spoke about the battle that had changed his life.

Chal said she didn’t even know it until she read a book in fifth grade.

“Dad just had real inner peace about himself,” she said. “He didn’t need someone to tell him he did a good job, now you’re a hero or whatever you wanted to say.” He is one of those humans who did their best and were happy with what they did.

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