Crew No. 1 in front of B-25 #40-2344 on the deck of USS Hornet, 18 April 1942. From left to right: (front row) Lt. Col. Doolittle, pilot; Lt. Richard E. Cole, copilot; (back row) Lt. Henry A. Potter, navigator; SSgt. Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; SSgt. Paul J. Leonard, flight engineer/gunner. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Recently, 101-year old Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole, the last living member of Doolittle’s Raidsent out a fundraising letter from the American Veterans Center.

In that letter he introduced himself and reminded us of The Doolittle Raid, one of the most outrageously conceived battle plans of World War II. On April 18, 1942, 80 volunteers (52 officers, 28 enlisted), 5-each in 16 B-25B Mitchell medium bombers, took off from the USS Hornet aircraft carrier, to bomb targets in the Japanese homeland. The plan was to attempt to reach China after the raid and be rescued by friendly Chinese.

He said the purpose of the raid was

to show the Imperial Japanese military they were not invincible. Just four months after Pearl Harbor, no one ever thought this was possible.”

Of the 16 bombers, 12 crashed in China, 3 ditched in Chinese coastal waters, and one landed in the Soviet Union. Of the 80 airmen who participated in the raid, 69 escaped capture or death. One died falling down a cliff shortly after landing safely. The crews of two aircraft (ten men in total) were unaccounted for. It was subsequently learned that two crewmen drowned after crash landing in the ocean and that eight of the others were being held as prisoners of the Japanese in the Shanghai Police Station. Of those eight, three were executed, one died in captivity, and the remaining four were rescued by American troops in August 1945.

Cole has traveled across the U.S. over the years, saying he was spending his

last breath going around the country to speak with young students about the importance of our mission and what it meant to Americans 74 years ago, and what it STILL means today.”

Just over ten years ago, Patrick Mccaslin (Col., USAF Ret.), Vietnam Era pilot (Thailand), saw Cole at a meeting of the Daedalian squadron in Austin, Texas, and recalled:

He was 90 and clear as a bell. I remember he told us that Doolittle told them that if they had to ditch for lack of fuel because they launched early, they would ditch near a ship. If it was a friendly ship, their problems were over. If it was a Japanese ship, they would take it over and sail it to freedom! That’s when we had real leaders.”

Although Doolittle’s statement was obviously a pre-flight pep talk, many of today’s servicemembers and veterans would agree that Cole’s words are still true today.

Chuck Yarling has had many titles in his career thus far: veteran, engineer, math teacher, consultant, technical writer, book author and publisher, and triathlete. He was a member the Military Order of the Purple Heart and Bugles Across America, which plays Taps at military funerals and special events. Spec. 5 Chuck Yarling served with the 26th Combat Engineering Battalion in Vietnam as an awards clerk. His service with the U.S. Army resulted in being awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Army Commendation Medal. You may reach Chuck at [email protected]