Last week an airman died, and with his passing so too comes the end of the journey of 80 men who, during World War II, did more to assure our victory and raise the spirits of citizens, during those dark days after Pearl Harbor, than any other event of that time.
Lt. Col. Richard Cole was the copilot of Jimmy Doolittle’s B-25 and the last survivor of those 80 men who took part in the famous raid on Tokyo on April 18, 1942.
At the age of 103 years he was the last crewmember alive who took off that day and the very last of the 80 silver goblets to be turned over during a toast to the Raiders, honoring those who were no longer with us.
Last week Dick Cole took that last breath and brought to an end the living testimony to that incredible event in American history.
We here in the Antelope Valley have a connection to that mission ourselves as the leader and one of the architects of that raid, Maj. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, was no stranger to our High Desert home. Many times he was the guest of honor at many of our community events.
With that notoriety and his incredible aviation career, he was a shoe-in for the first class of inductees on the Aerospace walk of Fame on Lancaster Blvd., with a monument and a beautiful mural depicting his dedication and skill. An original mural had also depicted those B-25s that so defined the lives of the 80 men who took part in that famous raid.
Some of us felt that the passing of Dick Cole was a watershed moment in history and that event should not go by here in our valley without some kind of recognition.
On the morning of April 13, there was a gathering on Lancaster Boulevard at the site of the Jimmy Doolittle monument to remember the co-pilot who sat beside him when he took off from the deck of the USS Hornet so many years ago. With words, flowers, pictures and memories we told the story of Richard Cole to those in attendance and shared the heartache of those who now feel the void of a world where the Doolittle Raiders no longer walk.
But as with all things with an incredible story, Saturday morning would also have its own incredible moment.
As the event was winding down a couple walked up and pleasantries were exchanged and the question was asked, why are you here? A hush fell over the gathering when Palmdale resident Harold Watson said he was here to honor the Raiders Dick Cole and his father, Harold F. Watson — the pilot of plane number nine of the 16 that comprised the entire strike force.
We were standing with the son of a legend and we were left pretty much speechless. As he told the story of that famous day from the perspective of a son we realized how his appearance brought a special feeling and meaning to the gathering.
It was made even more so when we learned that he is the recent recipient of a heart transplant and that he didn’t really know if he should take the chance to attend as he’s still on the mend. But in that new heart of his he felt the need to remember the last survivor who served with his father on that fateful day and made the trip with his wife to join us on the Boulevard.
It was the perfect day in so many ways to say goodbye, but it came with a message from the son of pilot Harold Watson when he said let us not fail to tell the story of the Doolittle Raiders to future generations so that their legacy will live on long after that last silver goblet is turned over and how just ordinary men became giants that all of America looked up to when the chips were down.
Thanks to all those who helped make this a special event — Chris Spicher, Bill Warford, Ida Ketchum and her son, Robert Broad, and those who took time out of their day to take a few moments to remember a great man and some fellow airmen.
God speed Lt. Col. Richard Cole, the gathering now in heaven must be one for the ages.