Last sur­vivor of the Doolit­tle Raid, now 101, re­calls at­tack.

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAN SEWELL

CINCIN­NATI | At age 101, re­tired Lt. Col. Dick Cole says his mem­o­ries are vivid of the Doolit­tle Tokyo Raiders mis­sion that helped change the course of World War II.

Now the sole sur­vivor of the orig­i­nal 80-mem­ber group, Mr. Cole re­calls the ex­cite­ment of learn­ing the bomb­ing tar­get they had been se­cretly training for was Ja­pan it­self.

He re­mem­bers the eerie quiet as they neared their tar­get, not know­ing whether anti-air­craft fire­power was ready for them; the pre­cise se­ries of or­ders, from open bomb bay doors to pre­pare to bail out, from mis­sion leader Jimmy Doolit­tle as Mr. Cole flew along­side him as his co-pi­lot; parachut­ing into dark­ness, then be­ing helped by Chi­nese vil­lagers to stay one step ahead of venge­ful Ja­panese troops.

Three of his com­rades were ex­e­cuted. Mr. Cole plans to take part in events Mon­day and Tues­day at the Na­tional Mu­seum of the U.S. Air Force near Day­ton, Ohio, mark­ing the 75th an­niver­sary of the at­tack that ral­lied Amer­ica and jarred Ja­pan.

It will be “a somber af­fair,” Mr. Cole said in a re­cent tele­phone in­ter­view with The Associated Press, when he ful­fills the long Raider tra­di­tion of toast­ing those who have died in the past year, us­ing gob­lets en­graved with their names.

In a pri­vate cer­e­mony, he will of­fer trib­ute to re­tired Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, who died last year at age 94 in Mis­soula, Montana.

Some­times chuck­ling, some­times re­flec­tive, Mr. Cole sounded clear and mil­i­tary of­fi­cer-cour­te­ous dur­ing an AP tele­phone in­ter­view, with his daugh­ter Cindy some­times re­peat­ing the ques­tions if he didn’t fully hear them in his home in Com­fort, Texas.

Mr. Cole is sorry he won’t have any of his mis­sion com­rades with him to share sto­ries and joke with as they did in an­nual re­unions that be­gan af­ter World War II. He didn’t ex­pect to be the last one stand­ing since he was older than many oth­ers on the mis­sion.

“I never thought in that vein,” Mr. Cole said. “We all know that some­where along the line, you have to drop out.”

The Raiders launched their as­sault April 18, 1942, in B-25 bombers not built to fly off an air­craft car­rier at sea. Sus­pect­ing they had been de­tected by Ja­panese pa­trols, they left sooner than planned from the USS Hor­net, uti­liz­ing their mis­sion training in Florida on short-run­way take­offs.

“Every­body thought that the take­off would be the most chal­leng­ing thing, but as a mat­ter of fact, it turned out to be eas­i­est thing,” Mr. Cole said.

The crews of the 16 planes were “very quiet” as they neared Ja­pan, he re­called, say­ing his role next to Doolit­tle was to “be seen, not heard. … You didn’t speak un­til spo­ken to.”

But the coun­try song “Wabash Can­non­ball” started run­ning through his head and he un­con­sciously be­gan tap­ping his toe, which caught Doolit­tle’s at­ten­tion.

“He gave me a look which didn’t need any con­ver­sa­tion,” Mr. Cole said with a laugh.

Doolit­tle soon or­dered bomb bay doors opened, and the at­tack was on against what turned out to be lim­ited anti-air­craft fire.

“The en­emy was do­ing some­thing else and [was] sur­prised that we were there, and then I just thought, ‘So far, so good,”’ Mr. Cole said.

They then headed to China, run­ning out of fuel. Mr. Cole said Doolit­tle gave the com­mand to pre­pare to bail out as they neared the coast, adding: “I wish you all good luck.”

Mr. Cole said it was scary to para­chute into a dark “unknown” in rough weather. His para­chute caught in a tree, leav­ing him dan­gling but safe.

Three Raiders died try­ing to reach China, and eight were cap­tured by Ja­panese sol­diers. Three were ex­e­cuted, and a fourth died in cap­tiv­ity.

Their at­tack in­flicted scat­tered dam­age but, more im­por­tantly, stunned Ja­pan’s peo­ple. Its mil­i­tary di­verted re­sources to guard their home­land, while news of the raid lifted U.S. morale af­ter the Dec. 7, 1941, sur­prise at­tack on Pearl Har­bor and a string of Ja­panese vic­to­ries in the Pa­cific.

Lt. Col. Dick Cole

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