Last surviving Doolittle Raider turns 102
The last of the 80 Doolittle Tokyo Raiders of World War II celebrated his 102nd birthday on Thursday.
Retired Lt. Col. Richard E. "Dick" Cole has remained active, attending commemorative events in recent years including April ceremonies for the raid's 75th anniversary at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
"I'm holding together," Cole said Thursday by telephone, adding with a chuckle: "The only thing is I need a lot of WD-40."
Chief of the Staff of the Air Force, Gen. David L. Goldfein, talks to Lt. Col. (Ret.) Richard E. Cole, the sole surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders (right) during the 75th Anniversary of the Doolittle Raid Memorial Ceremony at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, April 18, 2017. Also attending was Jeff Thatcher (left), the son of Doolittle Raider Staff Sgt. David Thatcher, who passed in June 2016. (U.S. Air Force Photo/ Wesley Farnsworth)
President Donald Trump called the Ohio native in July as Cole was recovering from a fall, to check on him and thank him for his service.
"It was a nice surprise," Cole recounted. "He was very polite and cheerful. It was very upbeat."
Cole is originally from Dayton, and now lives in Comfort, Texas. He has a daughter who lives nearby and two sons.
He said in April he hadn't expected to be the last Doolittle Raider survivor because he was older than most on the mission. Cole attributed his longevity to being an optimist and living a life of "moderation."
160418-N-HI816-001 WASHINGTON (April 18, 2016) This infographic shares the history of the Doolittle Raid – how America struck back after Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy graphic by Annalisa Underwood/Released)
He was mission commander Jimmy Doolittle's co-pilot in the bombing attack less than five months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The bold raid is credited with lifting U.S. spirits and helping change the tide of the war in the Pacific.
Three Raiders died trying to reach China after the attack, and eight were captured by Japanese soldiers. Three were executed, and a fourth died in captivity. Cole parachuted and he and other Raiders were helped to safety by Chinese partisans.