|Task Force 16.2 under Captain Mitscher, CO of USS Hornet enroute to Japan in April 1942.|
His death was announced by Gen. David L. Goldfein, the chief of staff of the Air Force.
The Doolittle raid was a low-level daylight attack in April 1942 that resulted in only light damage to military and industrial targets. But it buoyed an American home front reeling from unbroken reverses in the Pacific, beginning with the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941, and it shattered the Japanese government’s assurances to its people that they were invulnerable to an American air attack.
It also prompted Japan to launch a naval attack on the American base at Midway in the mid-Pacific in June 1942 out of the mistaken belief that the Doolittle bombers had departed from an aircraft carrier based there. The Americans, having broken the Japanese codes, knew the attack was coming and dealt the Japanese Navy a major defeat.
The commander of the American bombing raid, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, was awarded the Medal of Honor, becoming one of the nation’s first heroes of World War II.
The raiders’ story was reprised for succeeding generations at their annual reunions. Mr. Cole was among three survivors at the airmen’s final reunion, on Nov. 9, 2013, Veterans Day weekend, at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force near Dayton, Ohio.
On the morning of April 18, 1942, 16 Army Air Corps B-25 bombers flew to Japan off the aircraft carrier Hornet from a point more than 650 miles offshore.
Doolittle and Lieutenant Cole alternated in flying their bomber, armed with high-explosive and incendiary bombs.
“Everyone prayed but did so in an inward way,” Mr. Cole recalled in an account for the Air Force information office in 1957. “If anyone was scared, it didn’t show.”
Then came a moment that perplexed Doolittle. As Mr. Cole remembered it: “The tune ‘Wabash Cannonball’ kept running through my mind. One time I was singing and stomping my foot with such gusto that the boss looked at me in a very questioning manner, like he thought I was going batty.”
The five-man crew of the Doolittle plane spotted more than 80 Japanese aircraft while approaching its target area, the western section of Tokyo. But no fighters attacked them, and antiaircraft fire made only a few holes in the bomber’s tail.
The lack of a formidable Japanese response evidently resulted from their belief that an American air attack was improbable, at the least. And the relatively few Doolittle bombers in the mission did not suggest to the Japanese that a large-scale strike was in progress, one that would require a furious response.
After dropping its bombs, the plane with Doolittle, Lieutenant Cole and their navigator, bombardier and engineer/gunner descended to treetop level to avoid flak. To the Japanese civilians on the ground in Tokyo, it seemed to be just another plane in the skies that day, when a scheduled civil defense drill was being conducted.
The 16 planes were supposed to fly on to China after the attack and land at Nationalist Chinese airstrips, since they could not return to the Hornet. Army bombers were not designed to take off from or land on aircraft carriers. The planes ran low on fuel and none of them made it to the airstrips prepared by the Chinese. Fifteen crash-landed in Japanese-occupied territory or ditched off the Chinese coast, and one plane flew on to the Soviet Union.
Doolittle, Lieutenant Cole and the other three crewmen of their plane bailed out in rain and fog soon after their bomber crossed the Chinese coast as darkness arrived.
After the Doolittle mission, Lieutenant Cole flew transport planes over the Himalayas in the China-Burma-India theater
Richard Eugene Cole, who was known as Dick, was born on Sept. 7, 1915, in Dayton. He became enthralled with flying as a teenager when he watched Doolittle, a trophy-winning aviation pioneer, making test flights from an airfield there.
After attending Ohio University, he enlisted in the military in November 1940. He flew Army Air Corps planes seeking Japanese submarines off the West Coast before he was chosen to be among the volunteers for what was described as a dangerous mission, with many of the details to come later.
Lieutenant Cole was the co-pilot on a training flight in Florida when its pilot became ill and Doolittle filled in for him. Doolittle was so impressed with how the crew worked together that when the ailing pilot was unable to return to duty, he became the pilot for that crew in the raid.
Mr. Cole retired from the Air Force in 1967 as a lieutenant colonel with three Distinguished Flying Crosses. He settled in Comfort, Tex., about 45 miles northwest of San Antonio, and owned a citrus farm there. He was the subject of a 2015 book, “Dick Cole’s War: Doolittle Raider, Hump Pilot, Air Commando,” by Dennis R. Okerstrom.