WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Matt Gaetz is working to get an honorary posthumous promotion for Lt. Col. Dick Cole, one of the 80 Army Air Force aviators who participated in daring bombing raid on Japan in the early months of World War II.
Cole, the last surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders, died April 9 in San Antonio, Texas, at the age of 103.
On April 18, 1942, then-Lt. Cole climbed into the co-pilot's seat of a B-25 bomber piloted by Lt. Col. James Doolittle, the famed air racer and aeronautical engineer who led the raid. Doolittle, Cole and the other 78 volunteer crew members took off aboard 16 B-25s from the deck of the U.S.S. Hornet in the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles from Japan. Plans had called for the aircrews to land at various Chinese airfields after dropping their bombs, but most of the bombers were low on fuel, and Cole was among the crew members who had to bail out.
During his lifetime, Cole had been a frequent visitor to Northwest Florida. He and the other Doolittle Raiders had trained at what is now Eglin Air Force Base, and Cole would become an early Air Commando, whose heritage lives on at nearby Hurlburt Field, headquarters of Air Force Special Operations Command.
In a July 2018 interview during one of his visits to the area, Cole shared his sharpest memory of the 1942 raid.
“The thing I remember most is my parachute opening,” he deadpanned.
The raid didn't do much damage to its Japanese targets, but historians say it was a psychological victory for the United States because just months after the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, it proved that American forces could reach Japan.
Cole enlisted in the Army Air Corps in November 1940, completed pilot training in July 1941, and retired from the Air Force in 1967 after a career that included flying transport planes across the Himalayas in World War II's China-Burma-India theater.
On Wednesday, Gaetz introduced an amendment to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual federal defense spending and policy bill, recommending that President Donald Trump promote Cole posthumously from lieutenant colonel, his final rank in the Air Force, to colonel.
Gaetz's amendment notes Cole's status as Doolittle's co-pilot and also notes that Cole, like other Doolittle Raiders, was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2014 for "their outstanding heroism, valor, skill and service to the United States." The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest award presented by the U.S. Congress.
"Lt. Col. Dick Cole answered the call during one of America’s darkest hours and risked his life to preserve our freedom," Gaetz said in an email Thursday. "His courage, valor, and patriotism represent the best of what every American could ever hope to live up to. I am honored to recommend that President Trump posthumously promote Lt. Col. Dick Cole to the rank of colonel, and I trust that his memory will continue to inspire Americans to fight for and cherish our freedom."
The granting of posthumous and honorary promotions is governed by federal law, and requires the secretary of the military service involved to review the request and submit a determination to the U.S. House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
The National Defense Authorization Act, a $733 billion defense spending proposal for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, is under consideration in the House of Representatives. From there, it will go to the U.S. Senate for consideration, and will eventually make its way to the president's desk for action.