Doolittle Raiders honored at NAS Pensacola
By 1st Lt. Ben Sowers, 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 12, 2015
NAVAL AIR STATION PENSACOLA, Fla. --
Retired Lt. Col. Dick Cole was the honored guest at a ceremony commemorating the Doolittle Raid at Naval Air Station Pensacola May 8.
Cole was Jimmy Doolittle's co-pilot in the lead B-25 bomber that took off from the USS Hornet to bomb Tokyo on April 18, 1942. The Doolittle Raid was America's first strike back at Japan after Pearl Harbor, and was a major morale boost for the United States early in World War II.
Before the ceremony, 479th Flying Training Group students toured the National Naval Aviation Museum. Later, under the four Blue Angels hanging from the ceiling in the museum atrium, Dr. Robert Kane, Air University director of history, emphasized to the 479th FTG students the Doolittle Raid's strategic importance.
"Since the 1200s, the Japanese Islands had never been attacked," Kane said. "[The Doolittle Raid] literally shattered their sense of security."
Kane also lauded the 80 crew members who volunteered to follow Doolittle on such a daring raid.
"They don't think of themselves as heroes," Kane said. "They think of themselves as ordinary men. They had a job to do, and they did it."
Kane's briefing was interrupted by the arrival of one of these men, retired Lt. Col. Dick Cole. The atrium erupted in applause as the students leapt to their feet. One of only two living Raiders, Cole smiled and greeted the students.
After Kane's briefing, close to 400 people packed into a hangar to celebrate the Doolittle Raid and meet Cole. The line to see Doolittle's co-pilot snaked around the hangar and out the door. The 99-year-old stood for two hours shaking hands, posing for pictures and signing autographs. He specifically requested that the rest of the event be delayed so he could meet everyone in line.
Cole then took the stage and recounted his experience as a Doolittle Raider. He explained how he found out about the mission on the squadron bulletin board and decided to volunteer, not knowing what exactly he was singing up to do.
"We were not told anything except that we had volunteered for a very dangerous mission," he said.
Cole trained with the other Raiders at Eglin Airfield, practicing takeoffs with less than 500 feet of runway to simulate taking off from an aircraft carrier.
"We had 498 feet to be airborne, with a full load of bombs,"he said.
Cole also recalled bombing Tokyo. He said they flew so low that he could see fishermen in boats and people on the beach. His B-25 was laden with incendiary bombs, in order to "light up Tokyo."
After striking their targets in Tokyo, Cole's aircraft was forced to bail over China. As he parachuted to safety, his parachute got stuck in a pine tree, leaving him suspended 12 feet above the ground. After cutting himself loose, he walked all day to find a Chinese village, where he was picked up by Chinese troops.
A few days later, Cole was reunited with Doolittle and the rest of his crew, none of whom were injured. He said Doolittle was "despondent" because he believed he would be court-martialed. Instead, Doolittle was promoted to brigadier general and awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
When asked what was the proudest moment of his life, Cole unhesitatingly replied, "When I raised my hand and became a member of the military."
Lt. Col. Robert Johnson, 451st Flying Training Squadron director of operations, helped organize the event. He said that it was important for members of the Air Force and Navy to remember their rich heritage.
The event had the feel of a 1940's party, with many dressed in WWII-era clothing and uniforms, a B-25 parked in the hangar, and a live performance to the music of the time.
"The point was to bring everyone together just like we did 73 years ago," Johnson said.
Johnson hopes that the ceremony becomes an annual event to honor those who sacrificed their lives in the Doolittle Raid.