'Mission complete, Col. Cole': Last of the WWII Doolittle Raiders interred, promoted to colonel
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (AFNS) — Remembered as a man who faithfully served his country and was a devoted father and a man of faith, the remains of Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole, the last of the Doolittle Raiders, were interred Sept. 7 at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in Texas.
On that same day, which would have been his 106th birthday, Cole's memory was honored and he was posthumously promoted to the rank of colonel during a memorial service at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
Cole died April 9, 2019, at the age of 103.
A frequent presence in Northwest Florida, where the Doolittle Raiders trained for their daring World War II bombing mission at what was then Eglin Field, Cole flew as copilot in the lead B-25 bomber with then-Lt. Col. James Doolittle as 80 airmen aboard 16 bombers made their way from the deck of the USS Hornet in the Pacific Ocean to Japan.
The April 18, 1942, raid caused relatively minor physical damage to its Japanese targets, but it forced Japan to recall combat forces for home defense and raised fears among Japanese civilians. In turn, it boosted morale among Americans just a few short months after the devastating Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941.
Low on fuel as they returned from their mission, 15 of the 16 crews either crash-landed or bailed out of their aircraft. Asked by the Daily News during a 2018 interview for his sharpest memory of the raid, Cole had a quick and deadpan response.
“The thing I remember most is my parachute opening,” he joked.
Cole was consistently humble about his role as a Doolittle Raider.
“I don’t think that the Raiders should be remembered any more than the millions of other people who took part in World War II,” Cole said during the 2018 interview at the Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin Air Force Base. Seven of the Doolittle Raiders lost their lives during the mission either as the result of crashes or while parachuting from their aircraft or at the hands of the Japanese.
Cole’s last visit to Northwest Florida came just one month before his 2019 death. He visited Hurlburt Field, headquarters of Air Force Special Operations Command, for a 75th anniversary commemoration of Operation Thursday.
Another piece of World War II history in which Cole was involved, the 1944 operation saw American air pioneers working alongside British special operations soldiers to extract British soldiers from the forests of Burma. The operation marked the birth of Air Commandos as part of the U.S. military.
Cole became the last surviving Doolittle Raider in 2016, after Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, an engineer and gunner on the mission, died in Montana at the age of 94.
In 2013, the four remaining Doolittle Raiders held their 71st and final public reunion in Fort Walton Beach. Cole joined Thatcher and Lt. Col. Edward Saylor for the reunion. The other then-remaining survivor, Lt. Col. Bob Hite, was ill and could not attend.
At the Sept. 7 observance in Texas, family members and distinguished guests, including Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., gathered to pay their respects to Cole.
Brown presented a certificate of Cole’s posthumous promotion to colonel to Cole’s children, retired Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Rich Cole and Cindy Cole Chal.
Brown said Cole and the rest of the Doolittle Raiders embodied the idea of service before self, as Cole volunteered for many dangerous missions during his 26-year military career.
“I would say Dick Cole lived a life and had a career that many of us would say was full of danger, but he was up to the task,” Brown said. “He is truly a member of our Greatest Generation. And I’m proud to say this heritage of volunteering to do what is right and answer the nation’s call lives with our Airmen today.”
After the Doolittle raid, Brown noted, Cole undertook other dangerous missions, including going to the China-Burma-India Theater to fly C-47s to carry supplies to China through “The Hump,” a difficult air passage through the Himalayan Mountains, to help the Chinese in their fight against Japan.
Rich Cole said his father was a faithful husband to his wife of nearly 60 years, Lucia Martha, or “Marty,” who passed away at the age of 79 in 2003, and a devoted father to his family of five children.
“I struggle with how you really put into words 180 years of collective life and 60 years of marriage,” Rich Cole said. “But if I had to say one thing about Mom and Dad, it would be that they fought their entire lives for their family, their faith and their friends and their flag.”
When one of the Cole children, Andy, contracted spinal meningitis that affected his brain when he was a year old, Rich Cole said instead of putting him in an institution as suggested by doctors, his parents decided to do whatever they could to make sure their son could have a normal life as possible.
“They brought him home and taught him how to walk and talk,” Rich Cole said. “He got his GED and led a productive life. Even though Andy remained special needs all his life, we all enjoyed him and Mom and Dad gave him every opportunity that they gave the rest of us to be successful in life.”
Retired Chaplain (Maj. Gen.) Charles Baldwin, who was a friend of the Cole family for 30 years, said Cole will now rest in peace with his beloved wife, Martha, and the rest of the Doolittle Raiders.
“After 103 years of serving his country, raising a beautiful family and honoring all of those who have served in the armed forces, Dick Cole went home to be with his beloved wife, and a group of (Doolittle) Raiders and is settled down in the Father’s house,” Baldwin said. “It’s a promise from God. Mission complete, Col. Cole; at ease for eternity. Amen.”
After the memorial service, the remains of Cole and his wife, Martha, were interred at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery during a graveside service, which included the presentation of colors and flyovers of B-25, C-47 Skytrain and F-15 Eagle aircraft.