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Honoring the last of Doolittle’s Raiders

Honoring the last of Doolittle’s Raiders

Written as a follow to C-47's That's All, Brother and Placid Lassie performing a special flyover for the family and friends of Dick Cole on September 7, 2021 in San Marcos, TX

Written by Michael Naya, Jr., young historian

Almost all of those reading this have heard the story of the April 18, 1942, Doolittle Raid. There is no doubt that the men who took part in the raid were the first to strike back against the Japanese following the attack on Pearl Harbor. They were the first to fly B-25 bombers off of the deck of the USS Hornet and launched the first strike back against the Japanese. Their attack, which would become known as the Doolittle Raid result raised morale throughout the nation and inspired many Americans that they were not yet defeated. The last survivor of the Doolittle Raid was Richard E. Cole who passed away on April 9, 2019, at the age of 103. Tuesday, September 7, 2021, which would have marked Richard “Dick” Cole’s 106th birthday celebration. The day was filled with tears, laughs, and many stories of Dick Cole who was being interred that very same day.

The day began with an opening narration by Major Nathal Chal, U.S. Air Force, grandson of Richard E. Cole, followed by remarks by Charles Q. Brown, Jr. 22nd Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, followed by the posthumous promotion of Lt. Colonel Dick Cole to Colonel at Fort Sam Houston Memorial Cemetery, San Antonio, Texas. Following the interment of Dick and his wife Martha the roars of engines could be heard throughout the air. A memorial flyover took place with components of the Air Force, the Commemorative Air Force, and members of the D-Day Squadron. In total the flyover consisted of five B-25 bombers, two C-47’s, and four F-16’s; a fitting send off for a heroic man. Those who flew from the D-Day Squadron included the crews from the That’s All Brother and Placid Lassie. Following the flyover, the presentation of Colonel Cole’s burial flag was presented by the U.S. Chief of Staff Charles Q. Brown, Jr. of the U.S. Air Force to Cindy Cole Chal, daughter of Richard E. Cole.

Doug Rozendaal, pilot of That’s All Brother, stated his connection to the Doolittle Raiders and what it meant to honor Dick in this way nearly two years after his passing,

"I first met Dick in 1992 so I knew him for almost thirty years and flew with him several times including on a B-25. I flew with him several times and to fly his funeral was a real privilege for me. He was a humble, yet a great man who will be missed. Dick considered himself to be a passenger on the Doolittle Raid and if you asked him, he'd say all he did was volunteer. He was proud of his service on the C-47's and the first Air Commandos. It was a great tribute to fly the C-47 for his memorial service."

Eric Zipkin, pilot of Placid Lassie stated, “The most important part is that it was an honor to be able to participate and honor Dick Cole as we did. It is always exciting especially from a D-Day Squadron standpoint. Often, the DC-3 doesn’t get the credit it deserves but Dick was really proud of his service aboard the C-47’s. I was fortunate enough to meet him and was proud to fly him on the C-47. Aside from being Doolittle’s co-pilot and participating in the raid on Tokyo Dick was a founding member of the Air Commandos. It is bittersweet, certainly, you’re saying goodbye to somebody but also an entire generation.

The number of WWII veterans currently continues to dwindle very quickly. The number of times flyovers will be conducted for a veteran of WWII is dwindling. The symbolism of the last Doolittle Raider to pass away is that so many people are disappearing and so are their stories. It is a bittersweet experience, but it was great to honor somebody like Dick Cole.”

Although Richard E. Cole’s passing marks the symbolic loss of the last witness who could speak firsthand about the raid the legacy of Doolittle’s Raiders will continue to live on. The Children of the Doolittle Raiders association continues to keep the memory of the raid alive for future generations to come. With Dick’s interment it is up to us to keep alive the memory of Richard E. Cole and all other raiders.

Arsenal Of Democracy Flover Washington DC, 75th Anniversary to the end of World War II. Staging area at Culpepper Regional Airport, Brandy Station, Va. on Wednesday, 9/23/2020. C-47's "Placid Lassie" and "That's All Brother." (Smithsonian Photo by Eric Long)

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