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Richard Cole, of Doolittle's Raiders fame, in Washington, D.C. during the 2014 Memorial Day parade.
Richard Cole, of Doolittle's Raiders fame, in Washington, D.C. during the 2014 Memorial Day parade. (Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes)

Retired Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole was celebrated during the final years of his life as the last surviving member of the legendary Doolittle Raid of World War II in which 80 crew members manning 16 aircraft bombed Japanese cities, including Tokyo.

Tuesday would have been the 106th birthday of the former Air Force pilot, who died April 9, 2019. To honor him and his service, Gen. Charles Q. Brown, the Air Force chief of staff, posthumously promoted Cole to the rank of colonel in a ceremony held at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas.

“We often get caught up in the daily static of life. Let us never forget that we truly stand on the shoulders of giants,” Brown said. “I'm forever grateful for the early aviators that paved the way for our nation and for Air Force.”

The ceremony included a memorial service followed by a burial service for Cole and his wife, Lucia Martha “Marty” Cole, who died in 2003.

The Doolittle Raid, named for Lt. Col. James Doolittle, who planned and executed it, began April 18, 1942, when 16 Army Air Force B-25B Mitchell medium bombers lumbered off the aircraft carrier USS Hornet with crew members instructed to land or bail out over neighboring China after unleashing their payloads over Tokyo and other Japanese cities.

There would be no triumphant return to the aircraft carrier for the crews. The best-case scenario for the 80 men involved was to survive hard landings in hostile territory as Japanese units dominated the ocean and land for hundreds of miles in each direction. Of them, 72 survived that mission.

Cole was Doolittle’s co-pilot for the raid. Piloting the lead aircraft, Doolittle and Cole dropped incendiary bombs to mark targets for other bombers.

“Although the mission was initially thought to be a tactical failure. It ended up being such a huge strategic success. Their raid proved to Japan and the world that airpower could be delivered on Japanese soil,” Brown said. “This man embodied service before self.”

Knowing the danger, all the men involved volunteered to participate. Brown likened their courage to that of the airmen and pilots who stepped up in recent weeks to fly Americans and refugees out of Afghanistan as America’s longest war came to a close. Those service members also volunteered for the mission, Brown said.

Following Brown’s remarks, two of Cole’s five children, Dr. Rich Cole, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, and Cindy Cole Chal, placed the rank of colonel on the box holding their parents’ cremated remains. Maj. Nathan Chal and Capt. Elliott Chal, two of Dick Cole’s grandsons who are Air Force officers, also participated in the ceremony.

Congress authorized Dick Cole’s promotion to colonel in December 2019.

“They worked hard to give us all the best that they could. Mom loved being a military wife, and she knew exactly what it meant. She knew and understood that her husband's job was to defend the Constitution of the United States, from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Even if it meant giving his life for our nation,” Rich Cole said of his parents.

After the military, the Cole family settled in Texas. Dick and Marty Cole’s remains were interred Tuesday at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

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