Hundreds gathered for a memorial service Thursday to celebrate the life of Dayton native, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” E. Cole, the last of World War II’s Doolittle Raiders.
Cole passed away in San Antonio on April 9 at the age of 103.
On April 18, 1942, Cole was mission commander Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot in the U.S. attack on Japan less than five months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The attack was a psychological blow for the Japanese, who moved four fighter groups and recalled top officers from the front lines of the Pacific to protect the cities in the event American bomber forces returned.
“Our family is profoundly saddened by the loss of our dad. Beyond his place in history, he was a father that relished his family and husband that deeply loved our mom,” Rich Cole and Cindy Chal said, Lt. Col. Cole’s son and daughter.
Several Air Force leaders including Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein attended the memorial. Thursday also marked the 77th anniversary of the Doolittle Tokyo Raid.
“It turned the tide of the war in the Pacific,” Wilson said of the Doolittle raid during the service. “Nobody thought such an attack was even possible, except those who threw out the rulebook.”
“On this, the 77th anniversary, of the Doolittle Raid we remember Dick Cole, the last of the Doolittle Raiders,” Wilson said.
In a show of honor prior to the memorial, hundreds of airmen lined a road near the base to salute the Cole family as they entered.
Goldfein recalled meeting Cole at the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.
“He was larger than life and will remain a cherished part of the Air Force family forever,” Goldfein said.
Brig. Gen, Laura Linderman, commander 502d Air Base Wing, also ordered the national flag to be flown at half-staff at all Joint Base San Antonio locations.
At the memorial, Aaron Cole, a grandson of the late Lt. Col. Richard Cole sang the national anthem. SSgt Michelle Doolittle, who is a great-grandniece of Jimmy Doolittle sang America the Beautiful.
In addition to this tribute, there was a B2 flyby and missing man formation.
In 1938, Cole graduated from Steele High School in Dayton and attended two years of college at Ohio University before enlisting as an aviation cadet on Nov. 22, 1940.
Soon after he enlisted, Cole received orders to report to Parks Air College in East St. Louis, Illinois, for training before arriving at Randolph Field, Texas and later, Kelly Field, Texas. He completed pilot training and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in July 1941.
Cole’s decorations include the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters; Air Medal with oak leaf cluster; Bronze Star Medal; Air Force Commendation Medal; and Chinese Army, Navy, Air Corps Medal, Class A, First Grade. All Doolittle Raiders were also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in May 2014.
Cole’s final resting place will be at Arlington National Cemetery.