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Lt. Col. Richard Cole, last of the 80 Doolittle Raiders, turns 103

By Senior Airman Gwendalyn Smith | 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Sept. 10, 2018

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- —

On April 18, 1942, sixteen B-25 bombers lined up on the USS Hornet and prepared to drop bombs onto Japan for a much-needed comeback following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Bataan Death March. Leading the way for 80 men was Lt. Col. James Doolittle, giving them the title “Doolittle Raiders.”

At Doolittle’s side was his co-pilot, 26-year-old Lt. Richard “Dick” Cole. As the last living member of the famous Doolittle Raiders, Cole celebrated his 103rd birthday Sept. 7 at the Singing Water Winery in Comfort, Texas. At the celebration Cole was surrounded by family, friends and Airmen.

“This event is the celebration of a lifetime of achievements of a 103-year-old man,” said retired Col. Kevin Smith, event co-coordinator. “Dick Cole has done so much for our country. He’s a hero in every sense of the word. Ever since his retirement they have continued the tradition of paying tribute to those who died on the mission and those who have since passed all the way up to today.”

At the beginning of the celebration, 79 Airmen from Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph stood in a formation to represent the other 79 members of the Doolittle Raiders, not only to honor a tradition, but to symbolize the continuation of a deeply rooted legacy. During the formation, the 12th Flying Training Wing conducted a flyover with four T-38s while Cole stood at attention.

“Richard Cole is such a humble man,” said retired Col. Joe Jones, event co-coordinator. “At all of the celebrations like this they always recognize the other raiders. He knows he is one of 80 not just the one. That’s something he’s always carried with him.”

“These young Airmen that came out today need to see our history so they can be those future Doolittle Raiders themselves,” Smith said. “Honored isn’t even close enough to the word we could use to pay tribute to such a hero.”

For many of the Airmen who participated it was an event they will not soon forget.

“As a new officer and new member of the Air Force it’s really cool to be a part of this,” said 2nd Lt. Shawn, 12th Training Squadron Remotely Piloted Aircraft student. “The Doolittle Raiders is something we learn about in our education and it’s amazing to be able to see the difference from their generation to ours, it’s important to honor that tradition, and understand where we come from to carry on that legacy.”

(*Editor's note: for security reasons, some personnel are referred to by their first names*)