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Last Doolittle Raider dies at age 103

Doolittle Raiders take to the sky 60 years after historic battle

Surviving members of the Doolittle Raiders had an opportunity in 2009 to fly in vintage planes.
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Surviving members of the Doolittle Raiders had an opportunity in 2009 to fly in vintage planes.

The last of the Doolittle Raiders — the 80 men who led a daring mission to bomb Japan four months after the Pearl Harbor attack — died Tuesday.

Richard “Dick” Cole was 103 years old.

He was one of the airmen who volunteered for the secret and “very hazardous” mission without knowing the target. The crew members began training for the mission at the old Columbia Army Air Base, now Columbia Metropolitan Airport.

From left, Lt. Col. Richard Cole, Maj. Thomas Griffin, Lt. Col. Robert Hite and Staff Sgt. David Thatcher were five of the surviving Doolittle Raiders who reunited in Columbia in 2009. Tim Dominick tdominick@thestate File photo/The State

The Doolittle Raiders were named after their charismatic leader, Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle.

Cole, a Dayton, Ohio native, was Doolittle’s co-pilot aboard the first B-25 bomber that set off from the USS Hornet aircraft carrier bound for Tokyo and other Japanese cities on April 18, 1942.

Richard Cole was co-pilot to James Doolittle on the epic raid to Japan during WWII. The State archives

Because the Hornet was spotted early by a Japanese fishing boat, the raid had to start sooner than planned, ensuring the planes couldn’t reach their landing strips in China, then an American ally. But the crews launched anyway.

As a result, Cole and Doolittle’s plane ran out of fuel and they had to bail from the plane.

For decades, the Doolittle Raiders met each year to offer a toast to their fellow Raiders who had passed away and to turn over silver goblets in their memory. Each of the 80 goblets carried the name of a Raider.

In 2017, Cole attended the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio. As the last surviving Raider, he turned over the penultimate goblet in memory of David Thatcher, who died in 2016.

Cole died 11 days before the 77th anniversary of the raid.

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