Richard E. Cole

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Richard Eugene Cole
Luncheon in honor of Doolittle Raiders 141107-N-CS953-014 (cropped).jpg
Cole in 2014
Born(1915-09-07)September 7, 1915
Dayton, Ohio, U.S.
DiedApril 9, 2019(2019-04-09) (aged 103)
San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
Arlington National Cemetery (not yet interred as of October 2019)
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Air Force
Years of service1940–1966
RankUS Air Force O5 shoulderboard rotated.svg Lieutenant colonel
Unit17th Bomb Group
1st Air Commando Group
Commands held831st Combat Support Group
Battles/warsWorld War II
Korean War
AwardsDistinguished Flying Cross (3)
Bronze Star Medal
Air Medal (2)

Richard Eugene Cole (September 7, 1915 – April 9, 2019) was an American career officer in the United States Air Force. He was one of the airmen who took part in the Doolittle Raid on April 18, 1942, serving as the co-pilot to Jimmy Doolittle in the lead airplane of the raid. He eventually reached the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Cole remained in China after the raid until June 1943, and served again in the China Burma India Theater from October 1943 until June 1944. He later served as Operations Advisor to the Venezuelan Air Force from 1959 to 1962. He retired from the Air Force in 1966 and became the last living Doolittle Raider in 2016.[1]

Early life[edit]

Richard Eugene Cole was born on September 7, 1915, in Dayton, Ohio.[2] He graduated from Marion L. Steele High School and went on to attend Ohio University for two years.[3]

Military career[edit]

Doolittle Raid[edit]

Doolittle Tokyo Raiders, Crew No. 1, 34th Bombardment Squadron. From left to right: Lt. Henry A. Potter, navigator; Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, pilot; SSgt. Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; Lt. Richard E. Cole, copilot; SSgt. Paul J. Leonard, flight engineer/gunner. On the deck of USS Hornet, April 18, 1942

He enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Army Air Forces on November 22, 1940, at Lubbock, Texas.

He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in July 1941 and rated as a pilot, when he was awarded his pilot wings at Randolph Field, Texas, on July 12, 1941. His first assignment was as a B-25 Mitchell pilot with the 34th Bomb Squadron of the 17th Bomb Group at Pendleton, Oregon, on July 1941.[4]

Cole was assigned as the co-pilot of the first aircraft, plane # 40-2344, for the famous "Doolittle Raid" in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor after two other pilots became ill[5]. The raid was daring not only because of the intended targets, the Japanese homeland and its capital Tokyo, but because the pilots trained to take-off in a B-25 Mitchell bomber from the deck of an aircraft carrier, something neither the designers of the B-25, nor the aircraft carrier, ever envisioned. Cole was co-pilot in the first B-25 medium bomber to depart the deck of the USS Hornet during the mission, and it was piloted by the leader of the raid, then-Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle.[6] giving him, and the plane, the very least amount of runway available.

On April 18, 1942, Doolittle and his B-25 crew took off from the Hornet, reached Tokyo, Japan, bombed their target,[7] then headed for their recovery airfield in China. Doolittle and his crew bailed out safely over China when their B-25 ran out of fuel after flying 2,500 miles (4,000 km). By then, they had been flying for about 13 hours,[8] it was nighttime, the weather was stormy,[3] and Doolittle was unable to locate their landing field in Chuchow. He and his crew linked up after the bailout and were helped through Japanese lines by Chinese guerrillas and American missionary John Birch.[9]

Post raid[edit]

After the raid, Cole remained in China and flew C-47 Skytrains to transport supplies from Burma to China over the dangerous Himalayan mountains known to as The Hump, from May 1942 to June 1943. He later served with the 5th Fighter Group in Tulsa, Oklahoma, from June to October 1943.

Cole then volunteered for Project 9, which was the birth of the Air Commandos. He served as an original Air Commando in the Transport Section of Project 9 in the CBI Theater. They took part in the Invasion of Burma, where they invaded with gliders, built a couple of airfields behind Japanese lines, which was the beginning of the march from northeastern India by the ground forces to retake Burma. Cole served with the Air Commandos from October 1943 until he returned to the United States in June 1944.[10]

His next assignment was as an Army Air Forces Plant Representative and Acceptance Test Pilot at Wichita, Kansas, from June 1944 to October 1945, and then as Officer in Charge of the Training Section at Victorville Army Air Field, California, from October 1945 to November 1946. Cole went on terminal leave beginning November 13, 1946, and left active duty on January 11, 1947.[4]

Post war[edit]

Cole returned to active duty on July 7, 1947, and served on the group staff at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, from July 1947 to January 1952, followed by attending the Armed Forces Staff College at Norfolk, Virginia, from January to September 1952.

During the Korean War, Cole next served on the staff of Far Eastern Air Forces in Japan from September 1952 to March 1955, and then on the staff of Headquarters U.S. Air Force in the Pentagon from March 1955 to July 1958.[4]

After attending Spanish Language Training, he served as an advisor to the Venezuelan Air Force in Caracas, Venezuela, from January 1959 to August 1962, followed by service with the 464th Troop Carrier Wing at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina, from August to October 1962. His next assignment was on the staff of the Joint Development Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, from October 1962 to February 1963, and then as Director of Operations, Executive Officer, and as Vice Commander of the 831st Combat Support Group at George Air Force Base, California, on February 1963.[4]

Cole retired from the military in 1966.

Post-retirement and death[edit]

Dick Cole, the last living Doolittle Raider (left), announces the name of the B-21 with Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James (right), during the Air Force Association conference on September 19, 2016.

Cole was the last surviving participant in the Doolittle Raid. Staff Sergeant David J. Thatcher, gunner of aircraft No. 7, died on June 23, 2016, at the age of 94.[4][11][12] Cole, who lived to be 103 was the only one to live a life longer than that of the raids leader, Jimmy Doolittle, who died in 1993 at age 96.[13][citation needed]

On September 19, 2016, the Northrop Grumman B-21 was formally named "Raider" in honor of the Doolittle Raiders.[14] As the last surviving Raider, Cole was present at the naming ceremony during the Air Force Association conference.[15]

Cole died in San Antonio, Texas, on April 9, 2019, at the age of 103.[16][17][3][18] A memorial service for Cole was held at Joint Base San Antonio on April 18, the 77th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid.[19] He was then buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.[20]


Richard Cole was married to Lucia Martha 'Marty' (Harrell) Cole, who died in 2003 at the age of 79, for 59 years. Richard and Marty had seven children and numerous grandchildren.[3][21]

Awards and Decorations[edit]

During his lengthy career, Cole earned many decorations, including:[22]

COMMAND PILOT WINGS.png  USAF Command Pilot badge
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Distinguished Flying Cross with two bronze oak leaf clusters
Bronze Star Medal
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Medal with bronze oak leaf cluster
Air Force Commendation Medal
Air Force Presidential Unit Citation
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four bronze campaign stars
World War II Victory Medal
Bronze star
National Defense Service Medal with bronze service star
Korean Service Medal
Silver oak leaf cluster
Air Force Longevity Service Award with silver oak leaf cluster
Republic of China Medal of the Armed Forces
United Nations Korea Medal
Republic of China War Memorial Medal


  1. ^ Goldstein, Richard (June 22, 2016). "David Thatcher, Part of '42 Doolittle Raid on Japan, Dies at 94". The New York Times. He was 94 and the next-to-last survivor among the mission's 80 airmen. His death... leaves Richard Cole, age 100, as the last surviving veteran of a legendary chapter in Air Force history. Mr. Cole was a co-pilot alongside Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, the raid's commander and pilot of its lead plane.
  2. ^ Piper, Gary (May 2012). "Surviving Doolittle Raiders Attending The Reunion" (PDF). EAA Chapter 863. Experimental Aircraft Association. Retrieved April 10, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d Goldstein, Richard (April 9, 2019). "Richard Cole, 103, Last Survivor of Doolittle Raid on Japan, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved April 9, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Richard E. Cole, 0-421602, Colonel, Co-Pilot Crew 1".
  5. ^ Losey, Stephen (April 10, 2019). "A legend passes: Dick Cole, last of the Doolittle Raiders, dies at 103". Air Force Times.
  6. ^ "80 Brave Men: The Doolittle Tokyo Raiders Roster".
  7. ^ Okerstrom, Dennis R. (December 31, 2015). Dick Cole's War: Doolittle Raider, Hump Pilot, Air Commando. University of Missouri Press. p. 153. ISBN 9780826273550.
  8. ^ Barber, Barrie (April 14, 2017). "WWII 75 years later: 101-year-old Dayton man relives Doolittle Raid". Dayton Daily News. Retrieved April 10, 2019.
  9. ^ Oliver, Charlotte C. (May 27, 2017). "Doolittle raid gave America a boost". Nevada Appeal. Retrieved April 10, 2019.
  10. ^ King, Lauren (April 9, 2019). "The last surviving Doolittle Raider, Richard E. Cole, dies at 103". ABC News. Retrieved April 25, 2019.
  11. ^ Howell, Kellan (September 5, 2015). "Richard Cole, last of two surviving 'Doolittle Raiders,' turns 100 on Labor Day". The Washington Times.
  12. ^ Horton, Alex (June 23, 2016). "1 member of the Doolittle Raid remains as fellow airman dies". Stars & Stripes.
  13. ^ Frank Kappeler and Thomas Griffin also lived to age 96, but not as many months as Doolittle.
  14. ^ Martin, Mike (September 19, 2016). "The B-21 has a name: Raider". Air Force Public Affairs Agency.
  15. ^ Giangreco, Leigh (September 20, 2016). "Last surviving Doolittle Raider rises to name Northrop B-21". FlightGlobal.
  16. ^ "Last surviving Doolittle Raider passes away". Troy Daily News. Troy, Ohio: AIM Media Midwest. April 9, 2019. Retrieved April 9, 2019.
  17. ^ Losey, Stephen (April 9, 2019). "A legend passes: Dick Cole, last of the Doolittle Raiders, dies at 103". Air Force Times. Sightline Media Group. Retrieved April 9, 2019.
  18. ^ Stephens, Andrew (April 9, 2019). "Lt Col Dick Cole, last surviving Doolittle Raider, passes away at age 103". Air Force Public Affairs Agency. Retrieved April 10, 2019.
  19. ^ Losey, Stephen (April 12, 2019). "Memorial for Dick Cole, last of Doolittle Raiders, to be held on 77th anniversary of his legendary mission". Air Force Times. Sightline Media Group.
  20. ^ Gast, Phil; Roth, Richard; Patterson, Thom (April 9, 2019). "Dick Cole, last of the Doolittle Raiders, dies at 103". CNN. Retrieved April 11, 2019.
  21. ^ "Lucia Cole Obituary - San Antonio, TX | San Antonio Express-News".
  22. ^ "Valor awards for Richard E. Cole". Military Times. Sightline Media Group. Retrieved April 23, 2019.

External links[edit]