Richard E. Cole

career officer in the United States Air Force and participant in the Doolittle Raid (1915-2019)

Richard Eugene Cole (September 7, 1915April 9, 2019) was a United States Air Force colonel. During World War II, he was one of the airmen who took part in the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, Japan, on April 18, 1942. He served as the co-pilot to Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Doolittle in the lead airplane of the raid by sixteen B-25 bombers, which for the first time took off from an aircraft carrier on a bombing mission.

Richard E. Cole in 1942

Cole retired from the Air Force in 1966 and became the last living Doolittle Raider in 2016.


  • Well, the whole flight took 13 hours…4 to Japan, 9 hours across the water to China. No particular or dramatic things happened. We ended up thinking about what could happen, especially after Hank, our navigator, handed me a note saying we were going to end up about 180 miles short of China. We didn’t know what to think about that. But we got to China with fuel to spare, a tailwind helped us.
  • When I think about it, the mission was not a highly dangerous affair. You could do something about it if there was a problem. But, looking back, I’d say we were pretty lucky.

Interview with HistoryNet (2019)


"Dick Cole, 103, Last Of The Doolittle Raiders" (10 April 2019)

  • I was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. As a young kid I used to ride my bicycle from where we lived three or four miles to McCook Field, the Army Air Corps’ first test base. I got to watch all the old-timers. They were testing air refueling, dropping a hose out of one airplane that was higher than another.
    • On how he gained interest in aviation.
  • Our airplane had incendiary bombs. Our mission was to light up Tokyo.
    • On the bombload the aircraft carried for the raid.
  • We placed the B-25 in the middle of the deck, with about seven feet between the right wingtip and the ship’s island. The Navy had painted a white line down the deck for the left main gear and another for the nose gear. We taxied up and revved the engine. A launcher picked the appropriate time, the peak of an up movement with the water, and the carrier just dropped out from underneath the airplane. We got off a good 20 or 30 feet from the end of the deck.
    • On the aircraft launch procedure for the raid.
  • The only thing we could do was fly until we ran out of gas and then bail out. It was dark, and we didn’t know anything about the terrain except that it was mountainous, but that was the only alternative, unless you wanted to commit suicide. We bailed out at around 9,000 feet.
    • On bailing out of the aircraft in the aftermath of the raid.
  • The raid was designed to do two things. One was to let the Japanese people know their leaders were not being truthful by saying Japan couldn’t be bombed by air. The other was to give the Allies, and particularly the United States, a morale shot in the arm.
    • On the objectives of the raid.
  • No, we were just doing our job, part of the big picture, and happy that what we did was helpful. We couldn’t have done it without the Navy. They risked two of their carriers and quite an armada.
    • On whether he feels like a hero.